Calling All Debtors

Beware Pompano Lawyer Randall Leshin — and His Alter Ego, "Jan Taylor"

You don't know attorney Randall Leshin, but there's a good chance he knows you. He may have left you phone messages. Heck, if you're unfortunate enough to be in debt, he might have taken some of your dough.

If the name doesn't sound familiar, maybe "Jan Taylor" rings a bell. In his message, Jan claims to work for a "nonprofit" called Express Consolidation that wants to help pull you out of the red. Better yet, he says he can do it without collecting any fees and that all the money his debtor clients pay his company goes straight to their creditors.

Runnin' on stogie power
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE SAMFORD STOGIES
Runnin' on stogie power

Express Consolidation, which is based in Pompano Beach and belongs to Leshin, has allegedly called millions of Americans, in states as far away as Hawaii. But that's OK: Express Consolidation is a registered nonprofit, so it's not obligated to comply with the National Do Not Call Registry.

But now the Federal Trade Commission is calling Leshin and his company. The agency filed a complaint in March alleging that Leshin's clients' money only makes a pit stop at Express Consolidation before it's transferred to the coffers of a Leshin-controlled for-profit corporation.

It gets worse. Leshin claims he doesn't collect fees, but the FTC's complaint alleges that Leshin's company doesn't make any payments to creditors until after it has collected the client's first and second months' payments, which it accepts as fees.

A lawyer who engages in telemarketing to rip off the poor and debt-ridden? That's enough sin to light up a scoreboard.

Leshin's legal background may be paying off right now. His case is only nine months old, but there are already 141 docket entries and his attorney has to depose witnesses in Hawaii, South Carolina, and Pennsylvania, among other areas that Leshin's company dialed.

And it's not just the FTC that's going after him. A website that delights in avenging the crimes of telemarketers, stopjunkcalls.com, tracked a caller ID number through Quebec and connected it to Leshin. A poster on the site invites readers to call Leshin at his office in Pompano Beach.

'Pipe called that number in hopes of reaching Leshin. Something tells us we're not the first. Leshin's voicemail declared, "If you are calling concerning a Canadian telemarketing number, please be advised that any information you have seen on the Internet is inaccurate and untrue. This law office has nothing to do with that number."

Hmmm. We could try Leshin at home — say, around dinnertime — but at this point it might be easier to just see him in court.

Unfair at Any Speed

Think you know where that splashy sports car has been — you know, the one you purchased at that high-end used car lot? Think again.

Jennifer Gjonbalaj thought her used 2004 Porsche Cayenne, an SUV that retails for $34,000, was in mint condition. Gjonbalaj recalls the folks at Presidential Auto Leasing and Sales in Delray Beach affirming that they knew the snazzy, gold-colored gas-guzzler was in "pristine" condition because the gentleman who previously owned it was a "personal friend" of Presidential Auto's manager.

She bought the car in August 2006. But as Gjonbalaj drove that baby around, something just didn't feel right. Now she's alleging in a lawsuit that the driver's side had been smashed up in a collision involving the previous owner, Thomas Houliares of Coconut Creek.

Houliares traded in the beat-up Porsche for a Mercedes. The suit alleges that Presidential Auto then altered the title to show that Houliares sold the Porsche directly to Mercedes Benz of Tampa, where his replacement vehicle resided, making for a direct trade-in and sales tax savings.

Jim Reed, manager of Presidential Auto, says he doesn't know anyone named Thomas Houliares. But he confirms that Gjonbalaj bought a Porsche Cayenne at the dealership. "I remember the sale — there was no funny business," he assures. Reed declined to go into more detail on the transaction, saying he has yet to see the lawsuit.

Whoever is right in this instance, the case reminds 'Pipe that Florida has long been a fertile area for title fraud. And Robert Murphy, Gjonbalaj's lawyer, says it's only getting worse. There are so many faked auto transactions in Florida now, Murphy says, that "I almost always assume that there's something fraudulent in the title history of a car."

Sometimes, Murphy says, the dealerships are just too lazy to go through the proper channels for title changes. Sometimes they want to avoid the small fees. Sometimes they want to obscure the vehicle's history.

Rental car agencies, for instance, like to dispose of the cars in their fleets after about six months, Murphy says. Many of those vehicles end up being touted as almost-new gems in used car lots.

"A daily rental car has a diminished value right off the bat because it has been driven by people who don't really care about it," Murphy says. "Major dealerships around Broward, Dade, and Palm Beach counties are selling these daily rental cars to consumers each and every day of the week, and they're not disclosing it to consumers," as state law requires.

If Gjonbalaj's allegations are true, it'd be nice to see her get a little justice. Still, this battered cylinder has to wonder whether it's ever wise to buy an automobile named after a chili pepper.

Stogies Find SoFla Sponsor

Speaking of dubious automobiles, years of exhaust and neglect have left this car part rusty and out of shape. So, eager to reclaim the endurance of its youth, 'Pipe did a quick Internet search for local marathons, which revealed that the ING Miami Marathon and Half Marathon are coming up at the end of January. Perfect timing to start a standard, four-month marathon-training program.

Looking for some company to run with, this cylinder then stumbled on the Samford Stogies, a social running club with a peculiar strategy. For three years, Stogies members have been running relay marathons, mostly in Alabama, with lit cigars in their mouths.

'Pipe loves to smoke, so more investigation was in order.

It seems the club, now comprising about 40 members, formed in 2005 at Samford University in Birmingham, Alabama, after a joke went serious. Keith Ward, Patrick Crandall, Colin Camacho, Josh Gates, and Drew Roberts were sitting around discussing an upcoming marathon they planned to run as a relay team. They needed a team name. Samford would be part of it. They were also sort of old, out-of-shape, cigar-smoking types. Samford Stogies it was. And while they were at it, why not run while smoking cigars? "My friends like to do things over the top," explained Roberts, an insurance agent now living in Orlando.

Roberts created a website for the Stogies (www.samfordstogies.com), and a month later he got a call from the director of the Mercedes Marathon, who had seen the site and thought it could herald a kind of phenomenon. Roberts expanded the site. A month after that, he met Dylan Austin, marketing assistant for Camacho Cigars in Miami.

"Do you have a sponsor?" Austin asked.

"Of course we don't have a sponsor," Roberts replied.

Since then, Camacho has provided jerseys and cigars for the Stogies, who have done pretty well, considering. Apparently, running with a cigar can dry your mouth out quickly, but the enthusiastic response from fellow runners and marathon supporters has been a real boost. In the 2007 Mercedes Marathon, in which six Stogie relay teams competed, the women's team finished first in their division. The Stogies have received attention from Alabama newspapers and TV, and interested runners have called from all over the country. Now the Stogies are hoping to expand their operation, and they're looking to eventually run a marathon down here, near their Miami sponsor. Until then, 'Pipe might just cruise the Internet some more. He's already found www.millioncount.com, where a Samford Stogie named Harper broadcasts himself counting out loud to a million, an effort expected to take three months. (At last count, he was "approximately" on 696,018, according to the site.) Shockingly, Harper does not have a sponsor — yet.

­— As told to Bob Norman

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