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Fired in scandal, former assistant AG on ethics panel

The Tampa Tribune
Published:   |   Updated: March 19, 2013 at 09:52 AM
TAMPA -

Erin Cullaro, a former assistant Florida attorney general who was fired last year after moonlighting for a "foreclosure mill," continues to serve on a state committee that investigates other lawyers for ethical violations.

Some lawyers and consumer advocates question whether such a position of authority with the Florida Bar is appropriate.

"The bar's self monitoring leaves much to be desired," said Lisa Epstein, of Foreclosure Hamlet.org, which tracks cases of foreclosure fraud.

Cullaro, who worked for the attorney general's economic crimes division in Tampa, was fired in April following a formal reprimand by Gov. Rick Scott's office, which questioned variations of her signature on legal documents.

The attorney general's office had reprimanded Cullaro in 2010 for notarizing documents on behalf of a "foreclosure mill" that the office was investigating. The firm, Florida Default Law Group, was suspected of "fabricating and/or presenting false and misleading documents in foreclosure cases."

Cullaro worked full time with the firm before joining the attorney general's staff. She continued to do notary work for the office after she was hired by the state – with the permission of her new employer.

In April 2008, the attorney general's office signed off on Cullaro's dual employment, allowing her to notarize Florida Default Law Group documents for 15 minutes a day, three days a week.

But according to the written reprimand, Cullaro failed to renew the application for the new fiscal year, "which would have alerted the (attorney general's office) to your continued outside employment and accurately reflected the time commitment involved."

Scott's office also questioned the signature used to notarize Florida Default Law Group affidavits of "reasonable attorney fees." The signature varied widely in some cases from the one she was commissioned to use, according to a letter from Scott's office.

In addition, the reprimand states, "your continued dual employment created an appearance of impropriety" because the attorney general's office was looking into the practices of foreclosure law firms.

Ricardo A. Roig, a Tampa lawyer who represents Cullaro, said he doesn't see what the allegations against her have to do with her role on the Florida Bar committee.

"It was never found that she did anything unethical," Roig said.

The bar agrees with Roig.

"It has been determined that the conduct did not rise to the level of a violation," according to a letter the bar sent Cullaro in July.

Tom Ice of Ice Legal in West Palm Beach raised questions in legal documents about Cullaro's signatures on foreclosure paperwork.

He said he thinks the suspicion of impropriety should be enough to keep Cullaro from serving on the committee.

"I would think the bar could find people to serve on this committee whose reputations aren't clouded," Ice said.


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