A controversial “advocacy” group filing huge batches of disability lawsuits has received substantial funding from a Valley entrepreneur with a complicated past, involving personal tragedy and multiple investigations for consumer fraud.
His name is Gregory Crane, and he did not want to be named by ABC15.
The 52-year-old Scottsdale man has provided more than $600,000 and office space to Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities (AID). Crane said he also provides advice to the group.
FULL COVERAGE: “Cash for Compliance?”
AID has filed more than 1,700 lawsuits alleging violations in business parking lots under the American’s with Disabilities Act.
An ABC15 investigation exposed many AID lawsuits are over signage issues. A sign inches too low? AID demands thousands to settle – initial demands often begin at $7,500, court records show.
Crane declined to be interviewed, but he did answer questions through email.
He wrote that he does not “expect” to be paid by AID now or in the future but will take deductions on his tax returns. (Business records show Crane has current and previous business relationships with several AID officials.)
ABC15 also interviewed an attorney with an outside law firm hired by AID about Crane.
“Many years ago, he had some businesses that had some legal troubles,” said attorney John Wilenchik, who’s arguing several legal battles for AID. “Our response to that is he who is without sin shall cast the first stone. His wife died in a plane crash, his child died in a plane crash. He was left disabled.”
In August 2010, Crane was flying his personal aircraft when he crashed into a San Diego-area golf course.
The crash killed his wife and son. It also severely injured Crane and his two daughters, according to multiple news reports of the crash.
In an email, Crane said the crash prompted his passion for disability access.
“I wanted to help this group bring about widespread ADA compliance in an effort to make a positive impact in the world,” Crane wrote.
AID’s outside attorney also defended Crane’s involvement with AID.
“His heart is in the right place here,” John Wilenchik said.
However, business owners who have been sued by AID are not convinced that his involvement is completely altruistic.
AID has also been accused of using “trolling litigation tactics” to get quick settlements by the Attorney General’s Office. Other officials have also called AID’s methods a “shake-down.”
On his Linked-In page, Greg Crane lists several businesses he's been involved with. He describes himself as an entrepreneur who "enjoys being involved in a good business turn around."
However, ABC15 also discovered some of his companies have been investigated for consumer fraud and deceptive business practices by Attorney Generals in multiple states and federal officials.
In 2000, the Federal Trade Commission filed a lawsuit against an online yellow page company, where Crane was a top officer.
YP.Net, Inc. was accused of deceiving businesses by using contracts disguised as rebate checks, records show.
Crane, the company’s Director of Operations and a boardmember, was listed as a defendant on the case.
The company mailed out $3.50 checks to many businesses. When business cashed the check, they were automatically enrolled in a yearly subscription costing around $150, records show.
The yellow-page company settled the case without admitting wrongdoing, but officials agreed to change its business practices and give refunds.
In the 1990s, Crane also faced state investigations in at least three states for his document preparation companies.
In Arizona, Crane’s company, “Arizona Residential Real Estate County Recording Service,” was accused of consumer fraud for sending out advertisements that contained “numerous deceptions, misrepresentations, false pretenses, false promises, and they conceal or omit material facts,” court records show.
Crane mailed out official-looking forms that solicited homeowners to send $25 in order to file for something called “homestead protection.” State prosecutors accused Crane of using documents that looked like official state documents.
The Attorney General’s Office brought a civil case against Crane in 1993. Two years later, Crane consented to violating consumer fraud laws and agreed to pay restitution and the state’s legal fees, court records show.
The homestead documents were repeatedly in the news. The Arizona Republic wrote several stories about Crane’s business with the word “scam” included in the headline.
After Arizona’s civil case, Crane continued to mail out homestead solicitations in other states, including Florida and Texas. Both states also opened investigations.
ABC15 also aired an investigation in 1997 that looked into Crane’s document business. (Watch below)
In ABC15’s 1997 investigation, a reporter interviewed a real estate attorney about homestead document solicitations. The attorney was Dennis Wilenchik, who is working with his son John in representing AID.
In ABC15’s report, Dennis Wilenchik called homestead document solicitations “the classic definition of fraud.”
ABC15 showed John Wilenchik the video and asked him to respond to his father’s comments about business practices once used by Greg Crane now that their firm is representing AID, which is substantially funded by Crane’s money.
He said that Crane’s funding does not taint AID’s cause.
“Again he who is without sin cast the first stone,” Wilenchik said. “His heart is in the right place here.”