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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- One of the people named on the hundreds of disability lawsuits that targeted businesses across the Southwest -- including in Colorado -- says the group that orchestrated the suits is leaving her to pay many of the bills of its own operation.
Alyssa Carton is the only disability lawsuit plaintiff to speak publicly in the last year. She filed 99 lawsuits against Albuquerque businesses and restaurants, all of which the U.S. District Court in New Mexico deemed malicious and frivolous.
Carton's lawsuits alleged that the sued businesses were inaccessible, thus discriminatory against people who have disabilities and in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The cases were carbon copies of more than 100 cases filed by separate plaintiffs and attorneys in Colorado that have connections to an organization in Phoenix called Litigation Management and Financial Services (LMFS), which involves the same people who operate the controversial Advocates for Individuals with Disabilities Foundation (AID).
Though Carton's cases were thrown out, the court ordered her to pay nearly $40,000 in court filing fees due last week. Carton has not paid, and argues that LMFS is obligated to pay in some way under provisions of the contract it had her sign before it filed the lawsuits on her behalf.
"I cannot pay those fees," she said. "I definitely do not think they are advocates for people with disabilities at all. I think they are scam artists."
As the Denver7 Investigates team revealed in collaboration with sister station ABC15 in Phoenix, Carton and her Santa Fe-based attorney, Sharon Pomeranz, entered into secret contracts with LMFS. Carton would get paid $50 for each case filed. Pomeranz would get $100.
The contract between Carton and her attorney stated, in part, that her court filing fees would be covered for her. The contract between her attorney and LMFS stated, in part, that LMFS would "pay the filing fee unless waived."
Carton says LMFS and her attorney had her fill out a court form in an attempt to avoid prepaying the filing fees, which a judge later rejected because Carton did not meet the income requirements.
"They were the ones in control of the whole operation," Carton said of LMFS. "They were the ones that gave me bad information regarding, you know, testimony and things like that -- and understanding what the law was."
Carton said she has repeatedly called, emailed, or written letters to LMFS organizers in the wake of the latest court actions, but has yet to receive a response.
Pomeranz opted to give up her law license in recent weeks upon facing disciplinary actions from the New Mexico Disciplinary Board for her role in the ADA litigation.
Denver7 Investigates previously revealed how LMFS and AID sought people like Carton and Pomeranz all over the Southwest. It posted in jobs in Denver, Albuquerque, and Las Vegas, Nevada roughly a year ago for civil rights advocates and ADA attorneys.
Carton said there was little opportunity or desire by LMFS to have conversations with targeted businesses before filing litigation.
"Yeah, we blindsided them with lawsuits," she said.
She previously said, and records confirm, that the desire to file the lawsuits was to collect attorney's fees of roughly $3,000 for each case in attorney fees.
Carton, who suffers from spina bifida and uses a wheelchair, has said she legitimately wanted to improve accessibility for people who have disabilities, but believes the people she thought would help her have only hurt.
"They made it seem like that would be the case, that I would be making a difference and all of that," she said. "It really wasn't the case. They lied to me."
Denver7's previous attempts to speak with LMFS organizers have been unsuccessful. On Tuesday, the group did not immediately respond to requests for comment from ABC15 in Phoenix. But after this story aired and was published, it sent an unsigned email to ABC15 investigative reporter Dave Biscobing saying:
LMFS will not participate with, compensate, or pay any party that deceives or lies to the court.
Funding by Litigation Management and Financial Services is subject to a confidentiality agreement. Therefore, there will be no comment on any statements Ms. Carton has made to you. LMFS also cannot comment on the existence of any dispute resolution proceedings.
You have notice, from court records, that Ms. Carton has made false representations to the court, her attorney, companies, and individuals in the past regarding the matters about which you have inquired. If you have received any statements and/or choose to publish any of her false statements or which put any person or company in a false light, Litigation Management and Financial Services will suffer significant financial damages.
Your past actions show your personal malice against LMFS, those associated with LMFS, and individuals with disabilities.
Should you rely on this source and name LMFS or any other individual with whom LMFS associates with and recklessly publish a false statement causing defamation, you and your organization will injure both trade and profession of the company and/or individual(s) you name.
LMFS and/or AID have been the subject of scrutiny by Attorneys General in Arizona, New Mexico, and most recently Nevada.
Many of the cases filed by other plaintiffs in Colorado have settled for undisclosed terms and amounts, but a handful of them are still pending in court.