Not in Westchester County?
October 15, 2019Cart

Business

by Westchester County Business Journal
by WCBJ

Mortgage fraud defendant wonders why he is treated as ‘Public Enemy No. 1’

Bruce Lewis has spent his second Christmas in jail, having been declared a flight risk and danger to the community, as he prepares to fight a mail fraud charge, despite having been denied the right to represent himself in court.

“I’m so sad I can’t stop crying,” Lewis wrote in a Dec. 26 letter to U.S. District Court in White Plains.

The government, he said, is using his beliefs to “discredit me, defame me, persecute me, deny me bail.”

He was arrested four days before Christmas 2016 on a charge of conspiracy to commit mail fraud and is being held in Westchester County Jail.

Lewis, 66, and four co-defendants operated a business called the Terra Foundation, formerly the Pillow Foundation, in Valhalla. They offered homeowners a way to reduce or eliminate mortgage debts but allegedly filed phony documents. The co-defendants were all released on bail last year.

From 2011 to 2012, the indictment states, they filed nearly 60 mortgage discharge papers with county clerks, on loans worth $33 million. Lewis was accused of signing discharges as an authorized representative of the financial institutions.

Terra Foundation charged a monthly fee for audits and other services that were never done, the government said.

In April, Lewis fired his court-appointed attorney.

“I have realized I cannot have any corporeal attorney due to a private contract already in existence,” he wrote to his lawyer. He identified the contract as being with “I, me myself.”

That prompted U.S. District Judge Nelson S. Roman to appoint attorney Domenick J. Porco to assist Lewis, and to question whether Lewis could represent himself in court.

“There is reasonable cause to believe the defendant may be suffering from a mental disease or defect rendering him mentally incompetent,” Roman ruled in June, “to understand the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him.”

Roman ordered a psychological evaluation. Cheryl Paradis, a psychologist, met with Lewis and determined that he was not currently suffering from a mental disease or defect that rendered him incompetent.

Roman then formally ruled that Lewis was competent, but denied his request to represent himself.

The judge expressed concerns about inaccurate pronouncements on the law, “continuous ramblings when asked very specific questions” and illogical statements.

“So is it your opinion,” Roman asked Lewis at a May hearing, “that you’re assisting President Trump in bringing down and paying down the national debt?”

“Yeah,” Lewis responded. “I plan to bring the national debt down by $3 trillion.

Given the complexity of the case at this stage, Roman ruled, allowing Lewis to defend himself “would be akin to allowing legal malpractice to occur.”

He left open the possibility that Lewis could represent himself in a later phase of the case.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael D. Maimin has asked Roman to reconsider his ruling.

The judge’s concerns strongly counsel against Lewis representing himself, Maimin wrote. But absent an inability due to mental illness, and given his awareness of the consequences of his decision, he is entitled under the Sixth Amendment to defend himself without assistance of an attorney.

“Although a defendant may conduct his own defense ultimately to his own detriment,” he quoted a legal precedent, “his choice must be honored out of that respect for the individual which is the lifeblood of the law.”

On Dec. 1, Lewis renewed his request to be released from jail on bail. He argued that he is old and in poor health and that he is committed to fighting the charge. He said a diplomat from Guinea-Bissau would lend him an apartment in New York City and offer him a position as an attorney. He noted that in a previous federal case he was granted release on $100,000 bail.

Lewis is a flight risk, the government said, because he considers himself a “sovereign citizen” to whom the laws do not apply. He has failed to comply with numerous state bench warrants. He has no contacts in the community and no real proof of a place to stay.

He is a danger to the community, the government said, because of a criminal history that includes drug cases, a carjacking, larceny, theft and robbery.

Roman denied the request for bail on Dec. 20, one year after Lewis was jailed.

In 2011, Lewis wrote in the Dec. 26 letter, he had rejected an offer of 3.8 billion euros for commercial liens he had prepared.

“I was poor, but I turned it down as my goal was always only to help pay down the national debt.”

Now, he wrote, the “same entities” he worked for have branded him a criminal and have used liars to frame him.

“It is a mystery,” he said, “why I am being treated as if I of all beings is ‘Public Enemy No. 1.’”