By BILL HETHERMAN
City News Service
The widow of a longtime Santa Monica judge, who maintained she was defrauded in real estate investments she made on behalf of herself and her late husband, was awarded nearly $1.2 million in a lawsuit against two businessmen and several companies.
Attorneys for Ruth Light said their 81-year-old client relied on Charles Hasbun to make safe investments for her and her spouse, Superior Court Judge Leslie Light, beginning in about 2000. The judge retired in 2002 after 33 years on the bench and died in March 2010.
A Los Angeles Superior Court jury on Monday found Hasbun jointly liable for $1.18 million along with his former broker, Gregory Abeson, and the various entities, including Baypoint Mortgage Inc. and Valley Trust Deed Services. Abeson previously surrendered his license, Light's attorneys said.
The defense maintained that Hasbun disclosed the risks of the investments to Light; that only a handful of loans did not turn out as she anticipated; and that her income was affected by the real estate market crash and the recession.
It was the second time Light's case had gone before a jury, following a mistrial last summer.
According to her lawyers, Hasbun used Baypoint Mortgage to sell and solicit loans and Valley Trust Deed Services to service the loans.
Light made about 30 to 40 loan transactions with Hasbun and his brother, Saleh Hasbun, over the course of about a decade involving first trust deeds and construction lending, her attorneys said. Judge Yvette Palazuelos dismissed all allegations against Saleh Hasbun before the case went to the jury.
In one transaction made by Light, she was told a $55,000 investment would help a borrower perform improvements at a Bellflower home, but the funds were distributed to the man without ensuring that any of the construction took place, her lawyers maintained.
Although Hasbun assured Light that construction was nearly complete, the improvements were actually never made, according to her lawyers.
Hasbun also granted subordinate deeds of trust to borrowers on loans in which Light and other clients had invested. When borrowers defaulted, the brothers foreclosed on the subordinate deeds rather than the first trust deeds, negatively affecting affecting the investments of clients such as Light, her lawyers said.
The state Department of Real Estate conducted an audit and eventually stripped Baypoint and Valley Trust Deeds of their licenses, Light's attorneys said.
A month after Light sued in December 2011, Hasbun began using the services of another broker, her lawyers said. In addition, they said, some assets of the companies were transferred via checks to Hasbun's two daughters.
Light testified she typically invested about $20,000 in each loan transaction and that she expected interest returns on the investments of 9 to 12 percent.