Ex-Ellicott City agent files $180 million suit against 17 Goldberg, under probe, alleges conspiracy

September 04, 1996|By Mark Guidera | Mark Guidera,SUN STAFF

A former Ellicott City property title insurance agent, who is under criminal investigation by the state, has filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit against 17 people, including federal law enforcement agents and former business associates, alleging that they conspired against him after his firm was seized by state regulators two years ago.

The suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Baltimore by Joseph E. Goldberg Sr. of Elkridge, seeks a total of more than $180 million in damages. Goldberg filed the suit on his own, but says he intends to hire an attorney to pursue it for him.

The suit is the latest chapter in a saga that has been unfolding for two years since the collapse of Goldberg's firm, Land Title of Maryland.

The company conducted property settlements and sold title insurance, which protects properties against bad titles and fraud. Land Title was seized by the state in October 1994 after it was discovered that mortgage money wasn't being properly disbursed and important land records weren't being filed with the court.

Baltimore attorney James Gordon, who was appointed by the state insurance commissioner to unravel Land Title's records after it was seized, has said he found that Goldberg diverted at least $897,000 of his customers' money from company escrow accounts. A criminal investigation is continuing.

To date, Baton Rouge, La.-based United General Title, an insurance underwriter for which Goldberg sold title policies, has paid $2.1 million in claims as a result of Land Title's collapse. Millions in other claims remain unresolved.

Among those Goldberg is suing are his own former attorney, E. Lawrence Knutson, whom he contends colluded with others against him; U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno; Howard County State's Attorney Marna McLendon; Howard County Chief of Police James Robey; and two assistant U.S. attorneys.

"The biggest mistake of my life was trusting the ATF and Howard County police," said Goldberg. "I'm in tears. These people have destroyed me. I have nothing, zippo."

But Joseph B. Espo, a Baltimore attorney named in the suit, said, "This suit is the equivalent of man bites dog."

"It's unbelievably frivolous and untrue," added Espo, who represented United General Title, a large title insurance underwriter, in its actions against Goldberg after his company was closed.

Goldberg also names in the suit United General Title and Espo's partner, Andrew D. Levy.

Goldberg contends in his suit that the lawyers and United General falsified information in court against Goldberg to gain access to his office and his records.

As a result, Goldberg contends, his office was left open and burglarized nine times. He alleges that, because of the false information filed against him by United General, his entire estate has been illegally liquidated.

He is seeking $20 million in damages against the attorneys and United General.

Espo said Gordon's findings for the insurance commissioner are clear evidence "who was stealing from who."

Goldberg also names in the suit Donald Toll, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) agent in the ATF's Baltimore office. He alleges that Toll did not properly investigate Goldberg's claim that his gun collection had been stolen and that the agent stole Goldberg's federal firearms license.

Goldberg is seeking $12 million in damages from Toll and his boss, John W. Magaw, director of the ATF in Washington.

Goldberg is seeking $4 million in damages from retired South Carolina businessman Keith Himebaugh. He alleges that Himebaugh broke into the office after it was closed by the state and took his gun collection, including assault weapons and "thousands of rounds of ammunition."

But Himebaugh said he removed Goldberg's gun collection at the request of other tenants in the building who were worried about safety. He said he notified Howard County police before he did so, and turned the guns over to the ATF.

"He is playing some kind of games isn't he," said Himebaugh who owns two Ellicott City office condominiums where Goldberg's business was located and had a lease-purchase agreement with Goldberg for the properties.

Because of that agreement, the properties are being held in receivership by Gordon while the tangle of Land Title's assets are sorted out, Himebaugh said.

"Oh, yes, he's ruined me financially, and now this suit," said Himebaugh. "I haven't been able to derive any income from those properties because of the receivership case."

Pub Date: 9/04/96

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