EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

March 8, 2013

Coakley targets finance company

Lawsuit alleges Pinnacle Financial owner practiced law without license

By Mark E. Vogler

---- — LAWRENCE — Pinnacle Financial Consulting LLC promotes itself as a firm that’s “dedicated to the financial security of your family or your business.”

“We help you with debt management and planning for your financial future,” the city company declares on its website, while also claiming to “charge much less than law firms” for “the same high-quality home loan modification and tax strategy services.”

But state Attorney General Martha Coakley’s office this week sued Pinnacle and its owner Robert Burton, alleging they “have sought to capitalize on the foreclosure and economic crisis by preying upon homeowners who are facing the imminent loss of their homes.”

“Defendants target distressed homeowners in Massachusetts who are often minority and/or non-native English speakers, and falsely represent that defendants can negotiate loan modifications which will dramatically improve homeowners’ finances and/or otherwise save their homes from foreclosure,” the attorney general said in a 22-page complaint filed in Suffolk County Superior Court.

The lawsuit also accused Pinnacle and Burton of practicing law without a license and engaging in unfair or deceptive conduct while marketing, soliciting and providing loan modification, bankruptcy petition preparation and financial advising services.

Other allegations include misrepresenting to consumers the services the company could provide, exaggerating the benefits of their services, charging unlawful advance fees, failing to take any action to provide the promises services after receiving payment and refusing to provide refunds upon request.

Pinnacle and its owner “harmed consumers by inducing people who were already in vulnerable and fragile financial situations, to pay monies for services that Defendants could not and/or were not authorized to provide,” according to the lawsuit.

Burton could not be reached for comment last night. Voice and email messages left at Pinnacle’s second floor office at 170 Common St. went unanswered.

The website lists Burton as Pinnacle’s chief executive officer and cites his legal education: a 2005 graduate of the Massachusetts School of Law at Andover.

After law school, Burton worked for Foley Hoag LLP, a law firm in Boston, and Deutsche Bank, the fifth largest investment bank in the world, according to the company website.

The Pinnacle website doesn’t mention that Burton is not a licensed lawyer in Massachusetts, although it has recently posted a “Non-Attorney Disclaimer,” with a one-page form to be filled out by its clients. The first paragraph of the disclaimer notes Pinnacle “is not a law firm, and the employment service is not a substitute for the advice of an attorney.”

But in its lawsuit, the attorney general alleged that Burton and Pinnacle in personal meetings with clients misrepresented themselves by saying “they are attorneys authorized to provide legal advice and services when, in fact they are not.”

Attorney General spokesman Grant Woodman said yesterday that Coakley’s office has obtained a temporary restraining order prohibiting Pinnacle from dissipating or concealing assets and destroying records.

The attorney general also seeks a court order that Pinnacle pay restitution to all clients who lost money because of practices in which the company violated state laws and that the company also pay civil penalties for each violation, in addition to the state’s investigation and legal fees.