Joshua Leventhal, 44, Easton, Massachusetts, has pleaded guilty and been sentenced to jail in connection with stealing $112,000 from customers in a “Rent to Own” advance-fee scheme. He was also ordered to make full restitution to his victims.
The defendant pleaded guilty in Bristol Superior Court to the charges of Larceny over $250 (4 counts) and Larceny by a Single Scheme.
After the plea was entered, Superior Court Judge Robert J. Kane sentenced Leventhal to two years in the House of Correction, with 10 months to serve and the balance suspended for 10 years, during which time he will be on probation. Judge Kane also ordered Leventhal to pay restitution in the full amount of $112,000. Leventhal will begin serving his sentence on Feb. 17, 2015.
Several victims were present in court today and provided impact statements about the effect of Leventhal’s actions.
An investigation began in the fall of 2012 after the matter was referred by the Bristol District Attorney’s Office and the Easton Police Department. The investigation revealed that Leventhal operated a “Rent to Own” scheme out of his Easton home, ultimately stealing over $100,000 from customers between 2010 and 2011.
Leventhal described his “Rent to Own” program as a way for first-time home buyers or people with poor credit to rent a property through a complicated agreement with the homeowner, which allowed the buyer to later purchase the property for a set price and for a portion of each monthly check to be set aside for the renter to use as a deposit for that purchase. Investigation revealed that not one of Leventhal’s customers ever purchased a property under his program.
Leventhal targeted first-time homebuyers and consumers with poor credit through online advertisements. Leventhal posted thousands of online advertisements including deceptive claims, such as: “Our rent2own program WILL turn you into a homeowner ASAP,” and “Rent 2 Own WILL Turn You Into A Homeowner Even If You Have Bad Credit and/or No Down Payment.”
Leventhal, on a now-shuttered website, also fabricated customer testimonials, including one in which a customer purportedly wrote, “I saved $44,000 on my Rent 2 Own Purchase. All I can say is WOW.”
In reality, investigators learned that out of Leventhal’s nearly one hundred customers, only three customers ended up occupying a property through his program, and not one of his customers ever purchased a property through his program.
According to investigators, after he convinced potential customers that his program was a functional and successful path to homeownership, Leventhal charged them an enrollment fee, typically ranging from $150 to $2,000.
In some cases, Leventhal also received additional deposit money from his customers, ranging from $4,350 to $7,000. However, Leventhal did not use these funds to pursue homeownership for his customers, but rather kept the money for his own personal use.
A Statewide Grand Jury returned indictments against Leventhal on August 15, 2013 and he was later arraigned in Bristol Superior Court. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced in Bristol Superior Court. He will begin serving his sentence on Feb. 17, 2015.
Attorney General Martha Coakley’s Office announced the sentence.
The case was prosecuted by Assistant Attorney General Andrew Doherty of AG Coakley’s Fraud and Financial Crimes Division, with assistance from Investigator Marco DePalma, Victim Advocate Megan Murphy, and Sergeant Jack Lynn of the Easton Police Department.
“This defendant tricked consumers into believing his program would result in easy homeownership, when in fact, not one of his nearly 100 customers was ever able to purchase a home through that program,” said AG Coakley. “He will now serve time in jail for his crimes and will be required to pay full restitution to the victims.”