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MN AG Sues Company For Defrauding Seniors

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) - Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson is going after a company she says tricked hundreds of people into believing they were protecting their families.

The lawsuit filed Monday claims Heritage Partners, LLC convinced aging Minnesotans that a licensed attorney would prepare a living trust of will to protect their assets.

Customers claim they were actually sold lies.

The government estimates 10,000 Baby Boomers retire each day, many of whom have already begun planning for their future.

Swanson claims Heritage Partners has collection thousands of dollars in selling illegal living wills to over 500 Minnesotans.

Showing an advertising flier, she says the company lures people in by saying they're experts in estate planning, and offer a free dinner seminar to learn about probate estate planning.

Once at the meeting, the lawsuit claims, customers are talked into buying a living trust or will for around $2,295. This is something Swanson says they may not actually need.

Agents then arrange additional meetings at the customer's homes and recommend insurance policies.

"The Attorney General's office is doing the right thing, to expose a business that's taken real advantage of our generation of Baby Boomers," said Tim Pietila of White Bear Lake.

Pietila and his wife Penny said they felt "numb," and called the turn of events a "real shock."

"They come to a meeting and really build your confidence in them, and then turn around and walk away with your money," Penny Pietila said.

Swanson says customers complained after purchasing their trusts, then waiting months to receive them.

Others said there were errors on the legal work and lengthy delays from the company after they were asked to correct them.

The Hagers questioned why the company was using Dennis Lawrence, an attorney from Arizona, to do the legal work. Their salesman assured them he was a licensed expert in the state.

Hager says it didn't sit well with him, so he did a little investigating.

"We became very nervous about it, so that night I got on the internet and put in Dennis Lawrence's name. It immediately pulled up all these government actions," Hager said.

He called and canceled his policy the next morning.

Swanson's office discovered Lawrence is not a licensed attorney in Minnesota, Arizona or any state. His company, Legal-Ease, was hired to prepare the trusts and wills.

In 2005, the Internal Revenue Service filed a suit against him for running a fraudulent trust scheme.

Lawrence is a certified "legal document preparer" in Minnesota. The Attorney General's office says that does not allow him to provide legal advice.

Lawrence could not be reached for comment.

According to court documents, Swanson also alleges Heritage Partners violated Minnesota's "Three-Day Right to Cancel" law for in-home sales, since the purchases were done in client's houses.

"Now the tragedy here is that these customers bought these trusts to give them peace of mind and security," Swanson said. "But as we sit here, given the situation, people have less security and peace of mind today."

In response to the complaint filed today, Heritage Partners filed the following statement:

"Heritage Partners has always and will continue to always work hard to protect its clients and keep its clients' best interests in mind.

We have been diligent in working in full cooperation with the Attorney General's Office during its investigation to address any concerns it might have, and we were completely surprised when the complaint was filed today without any notice.

We are still reviewing the complaint and will respond accordingly."

The Minnesota Attorney General is asking for customers who believe they were a victim in this case to contact their office at (651) 296-6196.

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