The people behind a controversial group that sued more than 1,700 businesses in Arizona are connected to new lawsuit-filing operations in at least three other states, an ABC15 investigation discovered.
Top employees for Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID) did not return requests for comment.
When approached outside a court hearing, AID’s lead attorney also refused to answer questions.
“You are a liar,” said attorney Peter Strojnik to an ABC15 reporter. “I don’t give interviews with fake news, which what your outlet is.”
ABC15 worked with its sister station Denver7 to review court documents, business records, and website registrations across the western United States. Reporters found the people behind AID are connected to multiple new entities, which have filed federal ADA lawsuits in Colorado, Nevada, and New Mexico.
As of February 17, the total number of lawsuits was more than 250.
An inside source also told ABC15 that AID employees are behind cases in other states.
ABC15 has been investigating AID for the past 10 months and uncovered that nearly all of AID’s “drive-by” lawsuits allege violations with parking signs. In many cases, the group demanded $7,500 to settle.
After a series of investigative reports, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office successfully petitioned the court to consolidate AID’s open cases and intervene as a defendant. In September, a Maricopa County Superior Court judge barred AID from filing new lawsuits because of the ongoing legal battle with the state.
On Feb. 17, the judge dismissed all of AID’s open cases with prejudice.
NEW STATES, NEW NAMES
ABC15 has linked AID employees to four different entities that are operating in three states – each entity has its own plaintiff and attorney.
In Colorado, two groups are currently suing businesses.
The first group, ADA Justice Advocates, started filing lawsuits in the Denver area late last year. So far, the group has sued 125 businesses. Its attorney is James Carr, who’s filing cases on behalf of a woman named Melissa Umpenhour.
Denver7 Investigates profiled ADA Justice Advocates’ lawsuits in a report earlier this week.
The second Colorado group, ADA Civil Rights, started filing lawsuits on February 15 in the area around Colorado Springs. The attorney is Jeff Emberton, and the plaintiff is Terrell Frederik.
In New Mexico, attorney Sharon Pomeranz has sued more than 75 businesses on behalf of a woman named Alyssa Carton. The group is called New Mexico ADA.
In Nevada, Kevin Zimmerman has sued several dozen businesses with attorney Whitney Wilcher. The group is called Nevada ADA.
None of the attorneys returned reporters’ calls and emails seeking comment, except Sharon Pomeranz.
On the phone, she declined to discuss New Mexico ADA and denied ever hearing of AID.
When a reporter told Pomeranz that ABC15 had information linking New Mexico ADA to the people associated with AID, specifically website registration information, Pomeranz said she didn’t know what relationships her client may have with anyone else.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
In the fall, ABC15 learned that AID began posting job opportunities for attorneys and employees in multiple other states: Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Oklahoma, Idaho and Kansas.
The jobs were posted on the employment website Indeed.com under the Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities name. After ABC15 briefly mentioned the job opportunities in a report, AID changed the name of the company that the jobs were posted under.
The company name – under the same account – has switched several times. It’s now listed as “ADA Litigation Management Services.” There is one job posted – a contract “ADA Civil Rights Attorney” in Oklahoma City.
The “About” section on Indeed.com also offers the following description for the company:
“Litigation Management Services provides a full range of legal support. This includes: Paralegals, negotiations, drafting, and all aspects of managing a heavy case load through customized software. Although expert in ADA and Civil Rights law, Litigation Management Services can provide the needed legal support for all areas of law.”
After spotting the job postings, reporters discovered that large batches of federal lawsuits were being filed in Colorado, then New Mexico, and finally Nevada.
The written text of the lawsuits – filed by four different attorneys in three different states -- are nearly identical to each other. The suits are word-for-word copies that appear to be drafted using a template that substitutes the names and addresses of plaintiffs, attorneys, and businesses.
AID’s lawsuits, which were filed in Maricopa County Superior Court, also contain a section that is a verbatim copy of a portion of the federal suits.
Attorneys for at least two of the new litigation entities also have identical voicemail messages. The individual attorneys appeared to have read from the same script.
ABC15 reviewed website registration information for several recently-created websites that are linked to the litigation entities. Those registrations contain addresses that are used by a person connected to AID and its employees.
For example, Newmexicoada.com and Nevadaada.com were initially registered to a specific mailbox at a UPS Story in Mesa, AZ.
Business records show, the mailbox is used by a man named Levi Leyba, who also owns and operates a website domain registration company called SquareDick.com. Squaredick.com was used to register several of the new websites.
Reached by phone, Leyba said that he helped set up the websites using his domain registration company. But Leyba said he has nothing to do with the lawsuits being filed in Arizona or other states.
However, Leyba did work as a “director” for AID last year.
He was quoted in AID press releases and his position was featured in a “new hire” section on the Phoenix Business Journal website.
Leyba also had business and financial relationships with a key AID employee, records show. ABC15 found county documents that show a $250,000 promissory note was recorded in October by Alex Callan, a top AID official, with Levi Leyba listed as the lender.
Leyba said he had no knowledge of the deal and it was a mistake. But there’s a signature from someone signing as Levi Leyba on a lien release related to the $250,000 note last month, records show.
After compiling all of this information, an inside source connected to AID also confirmed that some of the group’s employees are involved with the entities in other states.
A PERSONAL CONNECTION
There’s also another telling piece of evidence that ties these current entities and potential new ones to AID and its backers.
ABC15 discovered two website domain names – Washingtonada.com and Kansasada.com – were recently registered using investigative reporter Dave Biscobing’s home address. Those websites are not live, and it doesn't appear there are any lawsuits related to those entities yet.
After filing an official complaint, Biscobing’s address was removed and replaced with the same Mesa address linked to Leyba.
AID employees refused to address questions about the address, so it’s not clear why Biscobing’s information was used to register at least two websites.
But attorneys who have dealt with AID say this behavior is not surprising. Multiple judges have sanctioned AID for “bait-and-switch maneuvers” and “bad faith” behavior.
In court filings, the Arizona Attorney General’s Office has also called AID’s methods “trolling litigation tactics.”
Contact ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing at firstname.lastname@example.org .