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Do real estate guru's past misdeeds matter?

I am all for second chances.

But I also believe that consumers should have all the information they need to make informed decisions before spending their hard-earned money.

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So here's an interesting question: Does it matter that seminars on buying and flipping foreclosed properties are being held by a former Los Angeles lawyer who was convicted in state and federal courts of real estate-related fraud?

"For consumers, this is relevant, important information," said Adam Radinsky, chief deputy of consumer protection for the Santa Monica city attorney's office. "But the law doesn't necessarily require disclosure of a person's past."

Lloyd Segal, 66, runs Santa Monica's California Foreclosure Institute, which offers "house-flipping workshops" throughout the region.

The free seminars are basically sales pitches for more detailed training available for nearly $300 and for individual "mentoring" that can cost $500.

Segal describes himself on his website as "America's leading house-flipping expert" and says he can provide "the specific strategies and techniques that have been used again and again by investors to find, fix and flip houses."

What he doesn't say on the site is that he pleaded guilty in 2003 to multiple counts of fraud and identity theft.

Using two strangers' Social Security numbers, Segal leased a home in Bel-Air and a condo in Marina del Rey but never paid rent on the properties, prosecutors said. When his landlords tried to evict him, Segal filed for bankruptcy in 1998 using the same stolen identities, they said.

An L.A. County Superior Court judge sentenced Segal to more than two years behind bars — a sentence he served concurrently with an 18-month sentence handed down by a federal court for filing false bankruptcy petitions.

And Segal apparently had a checkered career as a lawyer. According to the State Bar of California, he was disciplined in the past for "misleading a judge, writing checks against insufficient funds, failing to perform legal services competently or pay court-ordered sanctions and for committing acts of moral turpitude."

Now Segal is back as a real estate investment guru.

"There are still plenty of deals if you know where to look," he says online. "As such, there has NEVER been a better opportunity to fix and flip properties. Your time is now!"

He'll be holding a workshop Tuesday night at the Anaheim Convention Center. Next week, he'll be in Hacienda Heights.

I reached Segal at his Santa Monica office. I asked whether any of his past misdeeds are relevant to his current business activities.

He said they weren't.

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"I'm not that person any more," Segal told me. "I made stupid mistakes. I made amends. Now I'm trying to help people."

That's an important point: He paid his debt to society, so to speak. He did his time.

A spokeswoman for the L.A. County district attorney's office said there's nothing in local or state law that requires someone to disclose a past fraud conviction. Segal apparently is within his rights to exclude such information from his California Foreclosure Institute website.

Is his prison record something I personally would want to know before handing him my money? Absolutely.

"I think most people would want to know if someone offering to help you get rich quick on real estate was convicted of real estate fraud," said Radinsky in the Santa Monica city attorney's office.

Luckily, Googling Segal's name will produce this newspaper's past stories about his convictions. You'll also find complaints from people who say they were ripped off by Segal's seminars.

I advise everyone to take a look online before attending any "free seminar" promising to improve your life in any way. (See my recent columns on chiropractic "cures" for diabetes.)

A little Googling also will reveal that there's no shortage of self-styled experts claiming to possess the secrets to real estate riches.

If they're so good, you might reasonably wonder, why aren't they chilling it on a tropical beach instead of hustling around town holding free seminars?

I attended one of these free seminars a few years ago held by Donald Trump's Trump University. One of the key things I was taught is that it's important to buy low and sell high. I was offered the chance to receive even more lucrative advice by paying nearly $1,500 for a follow-up workshop.

John Sprankling, a law professor at University of the Pacific who specializes in real estate cases, said only a fool would think he or she can make a killing in foreclosed properties without extensive experience buying and selling distressed properties.

"The foreclosure market is a great way to lose a lot of money very quickly," he said.

Buyers of foreclosed properties can get in over their heads with unexpected mortgages and liens connected to a property, Sprankling said.

They might also be unable to enter a property to see its true condition, he said. Repairs can end up costing much more than anticipated.

And there's no guarantee that you'll find someone who will want to acquire the property for more than you invested in it, Sprankling cautioned.

"This is a sophisticated market for sophisticated investors," he said. "It's a huge risk."

Segal had a ready answer to that.

"If it was easy, everyone would do it," he told me. "But you can train people to do it."

Segal says on his website that he "possesses a knowledge base that is virtually unequaled anywhere in the seminar and education fields of real estate investing."

He also says online that his "real-life experiences" place him in a unique position "to teach and educate others as no one else could."

On that score, he'll get no argument from me.

David Lazarus' column runs Tuesdays and Fridays. He also can be seen daily on KTLA-TV Channel 5 and followed on Twitter @Davidlaz. Send your tips or feedback to david.lazarus@latimes.com.

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