Longform

ZEROING IN ON ZERO-DOWNLIKE VAMPIRES, LAWYERS GOUGING THE POOR WITH QUICK-FIX BANKRUPTCIES

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"No," Manning told Gaffney.
The following day, June 16, the Manning/Hull team turned over about 100 checks--just a handful, considering the firm's vast client base.

They also produced the promissory note allegedly signed with a flourish May 13 by the mysterious Mr. Jimenez.

The business address for Jimenez Financial was said to be the #2 Latino Americana Tower Building in Mexico City. His telephone number also was listed on the note.

But the one-page note made no mention of the sum of postdated checks Manning allegedly sold to Jimenez.

"Got any inventory documentation on those checks, Mr. Manning?" Judge Baum asked Manning at the June 16 hearing.

"Not today," Manning said.
The noose around the Manning crowd seemed to be tightening. But that didn't stop a man on June 22 from passing postdated checks made out to the firm. Surveillance cameras at a Bank of America branch office near 20th Street and Camelback in Phoenix photographed the transaction.

Bank of America is a client of the Snell & Wilmer law firm, a fact that had bearing on events that followed. The firm had asked bank officials in early June to keep an eye out for someone trying to pass postdated checks made out to Manning and Associates or the Bankruptcy Center.

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.

@rule:
@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.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin