Accused prosecutor fired in real estate fraud case

March 10, 2006

Assistant D.A. alleged to have forged closing documents

Inman News

A Pennsylvania assistant district attorney was fired this week after a California title insurance company filed a lawsuit alleging he and his wife forged closing documents bearing its name on real estate transactions through his private law practice, media reports said.

First American Title Insurance Co. filed the complaint Monday against Mark F. Morrison and Deborah DeFranks Morrison in Fayette County, Pa., Common Pleas Court, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported Wednesday.

Morrison "categorically denied" all accusations, the Uniontown Herald-Standard reported. The attorney told the Herald-Standard he had "plenty of proof that there is no validity to the accusations."

In one instance, First American alleges Morrison and his wife, who is a secretary at his law office in Hopwood, South Union Township, were unable to account for money received from a mortgage company to pay off a mortgage for a client's Hopwood residence at the time of the Aug. 17 closing, the Tribune-Review reported.

In lieu of satisfying the outstanding mortgage to Vanderbilt Mortgage, Morrison's law office continued paying the monthly amount due, the lawsuit claims. As of Feb. 7, the outstanding mortgage was $46,615, according to the lawsuit, reports said.

Among the five counts in the lawsuit are misappropriation and conspiracy, reports said.

During an interview with the Tribune-Review, Morrison denied that he or his wife forged any documents and said the mortgage has been paid off.

"I feel in the end, it's going to be shown that I haven't done anything wrong," Morrison said, according to reports. "The main point is the money was always there. There's no money missing."

Morrison has practiced law in Fayette County for more than two decades, serving as a defense attorney, solicitor for county departments and, most recently, as a prosecutor, reports said.

District Attorney Nancy D. Vernon hired Morrison in August to fill a new position, administrative assistant district attorney, which the county salary board set at $34,963 annually, according to reports.

Vernon said yesterday that Morrison had been very helpful in prosecuting some high-profile criminal defendants, but some of the allegations could constitute criminal charges, leaving her with no alternative but to fire Morrison, Vernon told the Tribune-Review.

"I terminated him to avoid the appearance of impropriety in this office," Vernon reportedly said. "I felt that I had no recourse."

If any criminal allegations were to arise, Vernon said she would refer the matter to the state Attorney General's Office, according to reports.

In its lawsuit, First American says it believes Morrison and DeFranks Morrison forged documents in the form of closing protection letters, title commitment letters and title insurance policies. In turn, those documents were issued to buyers and lenders in real estate transactions in which the defendants supplied the closing services, according to attorney Stacey F. Vernallis, of Pittsburgh, reports said.

The company claims it has no way to ascertain how many transactions were involved, though it alleges at least two transactions were identified during an investigation it launched, reports said.

"Defendants have defrauded and will continue to defraud prospective buyers of real estate, and lenders, if not restrained," the lawsuit states, according to reports.

First American also filed a motion for an emergency hearing this week requesting a preliminary injunction against Morrison and his wife, reports said. Among several conditions, First American asked Judge Steve P. Leskinen to enjoin the Morrison law office from engaging and providing services involving the closings of any real estate transactions, according to reports.

The judge ordered that his ruling on the motion be sealed until further order from the court, reports said.

Copyright 2006 Innam News

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or