Our Moreno Valley personal bankruptcy attorneys have written here before about the potential danger of hiding assets in bankruptcy or otherwise lying to the court intentionally. So we were interested to see a similar article in the St. Petersburg Times Feb. 16 about the local bankruptcy court's experience with filers who try to hide assets. The story is tagged to the conviction of Gary Parker of Clearwater, who pleaded guilty to knowingly making false statements to the bankruptcy court when he filed for bankruptcy a few years ago. He could face up to five years in prison when he is sentenced in April. The newspaper said 1,611 similar cases were referred for prosecution and 24 were ultimately prosecuted nationwide - a small percentage of the 1.5 million filed.
The article relies on an interview with a bankruptcy trustee and a judge for stories about dishonest bankruptcy filers. According to one trustee, Florida has very low exemptions for personal property: $1,000 for people keeping their homes and $4,000 for people without. If there's evidence that filers tried to understate the value of their property - for example, if they list a tiny value for furniture in a large house - she says she'll typically send out an appraiser. In another case, the home of a couple filing for bankruptcy happened to appear in the newspaper, with pictures of property worth more than they listed. A bankruptcy judge added that dishonest filers are sometimes exposed by ex-spouses or ex-employees, some of whom may have a stake in the property.
As San Bernardino County consumer bankruptcy lawyers, we cannot over-emphasize that intentional dishonesty to the bankruptcy court is a bad idea. While only a small amount of filers end up criminally prosecuted, courts can and do use other penalties. One person mentioned in the article lost his discharge, which means his debts were not forgiven, even though he still has a bankruptcy on his record and lost many assets. Other penalties include having the entire bankruptcy canceled, with or without the option to re-file. Those who remain in bankruptcy will find that the judge and trustee will likely no longer trust them or show much sympathy. These penalties apply not only to outright lies, but also attempts to knowingly hide your assets, destroy records or otherwise deceive the court.
If you're considering a bankruptcy filing - and you want to ensure that you do it right - call Howard Law PC today for a free consultation. We are experienced Westminster individual bankruptcy lawyers who understand how to file clients' bankruptcies in the most advantageous way possible without defrauding the court. Here in California, bankruptcy filers have many options for bankruptcy exemptions - the rules that allow you to keep major assets like family jewelry or real estate. We help our clients sort through those options, and choose between Chapter 7 and Chapter 13, to maximize their ability to keep important property while protecting their access to the bankruptcy courts. Our goal is to make sure our clients have the tools they need to get through a bankruptcy and start fresh without high debts dragging them down.
Howard Law offers free, confidential case evaluations, so you can speak to us without any further obligation or risk. To set up a meeting, send us a message through our website or call 1-800-872-5925.