SALEM, Mass. — A Lawrence man accused of impersonating a lawyer and stealing money from people in need of legal help told a judge Wednesday he's having trouble finding an attorney to represent him.
Homayoun Maali, who regularly attends Lawrence City Council meetings, was indicted on March 28 by a statewide grand jury on five counts of larceny involving false pretense.
Maali, 64, was arraigned in Salem Superior Court in early May on the charges and released on personal recognizance. He did not have a lawyer at his arraignment despite being accused of "unauthorized practice of law, or his promises to refer matters to actual attorneys," according to court papers.
Wednesday morning, Maali was back in superior court, again without a defense attorney. He told Judge Thomas Dreschler he needs more time to come up with a retainer to pay an attorney and asked for 60 more days to do so.
Dreschler gave him another 30 days to either hire an attorney, ask for a court-appointed attorney or to represent himself.
Maali is considered indigent and does qualify for a court-appointed lawyer, according to the probation department. However, he insisted he wants to hire a private attorney.
He is now scheduled to return to superior court on July 12.
During the past four years, Maali "engaged in a scheme where he made false statements about his ability to assist victims with legal issues, including bankruptcy and immigration issues," according to court papers.
Maali "did this to induce his victims to part with money for filing fees and mortgage payments that were never made and for services the defendant had no authority to provide. The defendant is not a licensed attorney but knowingly offered to provide these legal services nonetheless," according to a statement of facts filed in the case by Assistant Attorneys General Michael Lecaroz and Matthew Berge.
In December 2017, Maali took $4,000 from a victim who needed help with an immigration matter "knowing he would never submit any application, let alone one requiring fees, on behalf of the victim. He made that false promise to induce the victim to part with the money, which the defendant intended to keep for himself," according to the statement of facts.
Also in 2017, prosecutors said, Maali told two victims he could stave off foreclosure of their home for a $5,000 fee which he claimed he would give to a licensed attorney. Instead, he "kept the money for himself," according to the prosecutors.
In a similar scheme, Maali took $2,500 cash from a man whose grandson needed help with a criminal matter. He again kept the money, according to the statement of facts.
And, on various dates since 2015, a woman gave Maali "at least $21,600" in what she thought were mortgage payments to prevent foreclosure, according to court papers.
However, Maali "knowingly and falsely told the victim that he had communicated with her mortgage company and she was approved for a reduced mortgage payment through loan forbearance," according to the statement of facts.
Discovery or potential evidence in the case includes grand jury transcripts and numerous reports from investigators, according to court papers.
Maali was charged 18 months after a superior court judge issued an injunction prohibiting him from acting as a lawyer or real estate broker and from accepting fees for helping people apply to modify loans.
The court issued the injunction after Attorney General Maura Healey accused Maali of charging consumers fees for legal services he is not licensed to provide and promising to help lower their mortgage payments or avoid foreclosure or eviction by preparing loan modification applications and filing bankruptcy petitions.
When consumers followed Maali’s instructions, they often wound up facing foreclosure or eviction proceedings instead of avoiding them, Healey said.
Maali had filed a $1 million counterclaim against Healey saying he never represented himself as a lawyer or real estate broker and alleging her complaint was motivated by her “hate against minority (sic) as the defendant (is) a United States citizen from the Middle (East).”
Maali immigrated to the United States from Iran 40 years ago and is a naturalized U.S. citizen.
The counterclaim was dismissed.
After the Sept. 13, 2018, gas explosions and fires in the Merrimack Valley, Maali filed a civil lawsuit against Columbia Gas through attorney, Daniel Faneuf of Boston.
That suit alleges Columbia Gas "negligently, carelessly, and recklessly delivered natural gas" into Maali's home "causing an explosion."
The suit against the gas company, among numerous others, has yet to be resolved.
Follow staff reporter Jill Harmacinski on Twitter @EagleTribJill.