LANSING (WWJ) – Some people apparently just don’t learn from their mistakes.
An Oakland County attorney who stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Michigan residents facing mortgage foreclosures is back in trouble with the law just a year after being released from jail.
Steven Barry Ruza, 54, on Wednesday pleaded guilty to one count of intent to pass false title, a 10 year felony, and one count of falsely certifying a driver’s license, a five year felony.
Ruza was initially charged with four felonies in July 2017. Those charges stem from allegations that Ruza committed identity theft to hide assets that could be used for restitution to the Michigan Department of Attorney General. Ruza owes $348,025.50 in restitution to the department’s Foreclosure Rescue Scam Victim Restitution Fund from his previous conviction in 2015 of conducting a criminal enterprise for running a bogus mortgage scheme.
“This man has violated the law for his own personal gain twice in two years,” Attorney General Bill Schuette said in a statement. “This kind of illegal behavior is not acceptable and there are always consequences. I hope that this guilty plea means Mr. Ruza has learned his lesson and will serve as a reminder to others that greed and illegal activities are never the answer.”
Ruza is scheduled to be sentenced October 25. He will be sentenced as a second habitual offender.
In 2015, Ruza and his business were charged with multiple felonies for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his clients who were facing mortgage foreclosures and seeking assistance. He pleaded guilty to conducting a criminal enterprise in 2015 and was sentenced to one year in county jail, five years’ probation, and ordered to pay $610,000 in restitution. Officials say $250,000 was paid to the victims and the other $360,000 was owed to the State of Michigan.
Ruza’s victims were repaid at the time of Ruza’s guilty plea through Michigan’s Foreclosure Rescue Scam Victim Restitution Fund, meaning the restitution he owes must now be paid back to the state. Ruza was disbarred as an attorney after his initial conviction.
In 2017, the state received information that Ruza had hidden a large sum of money. The Attorney General’s Corporate Oversight Division began an investigation into the matter. The investigation found Ruza had obtained a Michigan driver’s license in December 2016 with his photo but someone else’s name. He obtained the license using the birth certificate of the individual whose identity he stole.
Further investigation showed Ruza falsified information on a car title application with the state. The title claim form states Ruza purchased a used vehicle for $500 but in reality, he paid thousands of dollars in cash for the car.
At this time, Ruza still owes $348,025.50 in restitution. He is currently imprisoned, serving a sentence of 40 months’ to 20 years’ imprisonment for violating probation related to his 2015 conviction.
Foreclosure Rescue Scam Victim Restitution Fund
In August 2013, Schuette announced the launch of a $7.5 million Foreclosure Rescue Scam Victim Restitution fund as a part of the Homeowner Protection Fund monies received by the State of Michigan to resolve the National Mortgage Settlement. This program is intended to provide restitution payments for victims of foreclosure scams who would otherwise never see a penny of court-ordered restitution.
To date, over $4.1 million has been paid to Michigan victims of mortgage related crimes.