By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
A teller at a branch on 20th Street in Phoenix recalled a man who fit the bill. On June 11, and then June 22--exactly a week after Manning's bizarre performance in Baum's courtroom--she recalled that a clean-cut man had walked in with a stack of checks made out to Manning and Associates.
It's uncertain if the man took out a cashier's check or deposited the checks into accounts controlled by Manning/Majors. It's also uncertain how many checks the man had been holding or their total amount.
Former Manning clients who have seen photos of the transaction identify the man bearing the postdated checks as Tommy Majors, a nephew of Wayne Majors who was on Manning's payroll at that time.
But in an August 24 deposition, Tommy Majors' brother, Jeff--a former Manning and Associates salesman now working for the firm of Hull and Lewis--denied that the man in the photos is Tommy. (Jeff Majors also swore his uncle Wayne Majors had little to do with the Manning firm, a statement that flies in the face of evidence provided by former clients and employees.)
On June 28, Mike Manning appeared at the Phoenix offices of Snell & Wilmer for a deposition in the civil suit against him and the Majorses.
Attorney Don Gaffney got to the point: "Mr. Manning, when did you first hear of Mr. Jimenez of Jimenez Financial?"
"Upon the advice of counsel," Manning replied, "I have been advised that there is a pending criminal investigation into these same matters by the United States Attorney's Office."
Thus, Manning concluded, he planned to take the Fifth at the deposition so as not to incriminate himself.
New Times tried to contact Jimenez at the phone number listed in the May 13 promissory note. A woman who answered said she was a reservations clerk for the Camino Real Hotels in Mexico City. She said she'd never heard of a James Jimenez.
A directory-assistance operator had no listing for a Jimenez Financial in Mexico City.
@body:Hessinger and Associates, the Valley's other major zero-down law firm, also has hit the skids in recent months. Rather than ask their clients to postdate checks, Hessinger employees--attorneys and salespeople called "credit specialists"--had clients sign promissory notes before filing for bankruptcy protection. The notes carried an 18 percent annual interest rate.
If clients didn't pay up on time, collection companies working with Hessinger would threaten an end to their "fresh starts."
On February 24, however, Judge Baum ruled that the Hessinger method of collection defeated the purpose of bankruptcy. Baum then ordered Hessinger and Associates to cease all collection efforts until further notice. Several other Arizona judges followed Baum's lead, agreeing that the Hessinger fee collections are "void and unenforceable."
But on May 9, the lead bankruptcy attorney of Hessinger and Associates sent a letter to four Arizona bankruptcy judges.
J. Murray Zeigler was in a jam. His career perhaps hanging in the balance, Zeigler wrote:
"I have very recently discovered that the statements I made at the time of the hearing are not true. Hessinger and Associates, through its collectors, is continuing to pursue clients for fees. Collection efforts are being made on both current and delinquent accounts."
This was quite an admission for Zeigler to make.
He had avowed at an April 21 hearing that his firm was obeying the February 24 court order not to collect zero-down fees.
But in early May, Zeigler continued, he had "learned" that Hessinger bill collectors were again threatening clients' debtors. That's when he wrote his beat-them-to-the-punch letters to the bankruptcy judges.
Baum scheduled a May 24 hearing on Zeigler's revelations. If the collections continued, the judge told Joseph Hessinger at the hearing, "I can promise the full wrath that I have the power to deliver will be delivered."
After the hearing, Zeigler and Hessinger penned an in-house memo to the collectors. It warned that the judge seemed to mean business.
But in mid-June, according to Zeigler's affidavit, he was contacted by Mesa-based bill collector Kevin Miller, who has held about 90 percent of Hessinger's zero-down contracts in Arizona.
Miller said a Utah lawyer had given him the go-ahead to return to business as usual, no matter what the Bankruptcy Court had ordered.
Zeigler phoned Joe Hessinger in Pinetop. Hessinger told him he knew nothing about the Utah attorney's instructions and would look into it. A week passed, during which Zeigler got calls from zero-down clients complaining that bill collectors were pushing them for payments.
Skittish about "the full wrath" of Judge Baum, Zeigler and two other Hessinger attorneys wrote to Joe Hessinger on July 7. "Be advised," they said, "that we will not appear on behalf of the firm at any hearings, meetings or other proceedings relating to collection activities from bankruptcy clients. None of us wishes to place our careers and licenses in jeopardy."
On the morning of July 11, Zeigler concluded in his affidavit, he "discovered that my office computer was missing and that my office had been ransacked."
He had been fired. Sources inside Hessinger say the firm had decided to scale back its bankruptcy section, at least until things blew over.
It would be nice to cast Murray Zeigler as an attorney who finally saw the light and took steps to correct things before it was too late. But that's not entirely true.