Fraud victim loses 5-year battle to save home
Florida homeowner fell victim to scammers, crooks and unscrupulous lawyers. Even after alleged fraud was uncovered, she still lost her home to foreclosure.
What happens when a crook scams a homeowner during a refinancing, a bank gives a loan to a straw buyer who provided fake employment documents and lawyers take money from a client but fail to do their job?
The homeowner loses her house.
Imogene Hall of suburban Miami, who fought for five years to save her home after falling victim to mortgage fraud, moved this month from her home of 15 years, where she raised four children and three grandchildren.
Despite evidence that she may have been a fraud victim — two of her alleged victimizers have been charged with crimes — the judge granted the foreclosure and ordered her evicted.
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"I’ve lived here since 1997. I lose so much sleep," Hall, 50, told to The Miami Herald. "I feel so bad. Everyone keeps telling me I shouldn’t cry, but I don’t know what else to do."
Hall didn't buy more house than she could afford. She says she didn't live beyond her means, and she didn't use her home as a cash cow to finance cars and vacations. She didn't even miss payments.
She paid $80,000 for the three-bedroom, one-bath house in a working-class suburb northwest of Miami in 1997.
In 2006, after she lost her job as a home health-care aide, she sought to pull $50,000 in equity from her house by refinancing.
- The mortgage broker who offered to handle her foreclosure was a crook. Not only did he sell her house out from under her without her knowledge, but he also collected mortgage payments from her and kept the money, according to allegations. Plus, he reportedly pocketed all the additional cash withdrawn by the straw buyer. Johnson Cuffy is now in prison serving time for an unrelated theft and is awaiting trial for mortgage fraud.
- The title to Hall's home was transferred without her knowledge by an unlicensed title agent accused of stealing more than $1.5 million from homeowners during real-estate closings.
- A straw buyer took out a $230,000 mortgage on a house the county valued at $139,993, giving his place of employment as a nonexistent Blockbuster Video store in New York. The lenders who granted the mortgage, Argent Mortgage and its agent Deutsche Bank, disavowed any knowledge of fraud, and the judge granted a foreclosure judgment.
- At least two lawyers Hall hired to fight her case in court charged her more than $20,000 and didn't even show up for all the hearings.
"Everywhere I turn, someone else is scamming me,'' Hall said to The Herald last year. "All I do is work hard, and I get surrounded by thieves.''
Deutsche Bank took back the house, with $312,954.29 owed after late charges and fees. The county now values the house at $98,310.
Florida requires foreclosures to go through the court system, which means that Hall theoretically had the right to defend herself in court and present evidence of fraud. That didn't work in her case.
Banks generally ignore evidence of fraud, and the courts are too overwhelmed to evaluate it, lawyer Jonathan Heller, who was not involved in Hall's case, told The Herald.
"These cases are handled in large volume — and the majority of them are pro forma — but many of the files are tinged with fraud and irregularities,'' Heller said in The Herald. "The court simply does not have the time to hear the grievances of a homeowner raising fraud issues, which are fairly prevalent.''
Here's my story:
Ten years ago, I bought an acreage in rural Iowa. Beautiful place. I bought it for the property. For the first four years, I was married and teaching at the local community college. We were essentially a single income family. Then the college canceled my program, so I had to find work as a computer programmer in Omaha, which is 110 miles from where I live. I decided to keep the house and live as cheaply as I could in Omaha and come back on the weekends. By that time, I was separated from my wife, and I wanted to keep the place because I loved it so much and I wanted a familiar place for my daughter when I was home and she was vsiting. I worked two jobs in Omaha to do this: programming during the day and teaching at night. No life whatsoever except on the weekends.
Roll forward to October of last year:
1. Diagnosed with prostate cancer
2. Got laid off the day before my surgery (yes, they knew)
3. Got a frugal three weeks's severance and used most of that time to recover from surgery.
4. Went through two months of unemployment and exhausted my savings.
5. Got a job that now pays me $12000 less a year than what I was making.
So I decided I had to sell the house. I thought I had about 40K in equity. No ARM, No seconds. The appraiser said the value of the house is basically what I owe on it. Now I have to go through a short sale. My last mortgage payment was this month. I am devastated.
For those of you who think that people who walk away from their homes are taking advantage of the system and that they deserve what they get, you can't be more wrong. If you think they are walking away from their houses simply for convenience, you are way off track. I loved my home. It provided me with more peace than I have ever had in my life. Losing it wil destroy me emotionally.
Sometimes, and I think perhaps most of the time, especially in the fnancial disaster that was caused by the lenders, people have to make very hard decisions, the hardest of their lives, and they certainly don't need pompous, self-righteous people attacking them for a decision that they could not avoid and was no fault of their own.
Elizabeth, you are right on target. Yes, I understand there has been a crisis in this country, but it has been largely of our own making. We live in a society of entitlement, which resulted in many people taking out mortgages for homes far more expensive than they could afford. Many more people who should not have qualified at all were also granted mortgages for amounts far beyond their means. Why? Because everyone is "entitled" to own a house of their own, even if they cannot afford it. Citizens of this country pushed a liberal Congress to pass laws that eliminated any oversight and even encouraged this behavior (remember ACORN anyone?).
As Elizabeth suggested, I see people moaning that they cannot afford their house payments, and are in danger of losing their homes.....while talking or texting on their smartphone, driving their relatively new (and expensive) car, watching that brand new 50" flat screen television with the dish in the front yard after they come home from eating out the third time this week.
Yes, there are some who truly were not deserving of what this economic breakdown has done to them, but I will submit that the cause of their distress is a direct result of the first two paragraphs of this post.
We sowed the seeds, we are now reaping the harvest.
DO NOT USE FIRE!!!!
The penalties for Arson totally outweight what you're trying to accomplish by giving a slumlord a poison pill in the absconding of your home.
If you've the money for some heavy equipment rentals, try to get a Bobcat, or Bobtrack, or a Backhoe. Get some heavy chain, Deckchain preferable.
Go buy a Milwaukee, or Mikita Sawzall, and start sawing through the major load bearing members, joists, and other column structures throughout the whole house and then goto your Bobcat.
Hook the chain to a Bullprick spike you drive into the ground nearby your Bobcat. Loop the chain around the house, and then onto the bobcat's hitch point. Put the Bobcat into Granny-Gear, and drive away!
If you hear the sounds of wood ripping, you're doing it right!
Now, that's major damage to the structure, next: growing a Mold Culture!
While I agree with some things said you must remember, we have basic needs and it is our place to supply those needs. We need food, a place to live and clothing. Prioritize you life. Pay your housepayment FIRST. Pay the utilities second, buy food then buy other things. You should NEVER go into contract to buy a house without planning on times you might not have the job you currently hold.
DenverBob, you said you worked all this time but not the same place. So why wasn't your mortgage paid? Was you fancy car more important? That cell phone? Those vacations? Those "bottom lines" that banks have are their reputation. Think about this: They advanced money to someone to buy that house for you. Each month you don't pay, they lose the "use" of that money as well as what they advanced.
While I agree ALL business is greedy to some extent, they are there to help us. You would have nothing without banks. My adivice? Pay your mortage first.
Hello Clearwater...It is worse than your polite story. 60 minutes just pointed out that there is no prosecutions on Wall street for this Bank mortgage fiasco. 3 yrs gone by and guess what statue of limitations is 5 years.
FDIC has been the "immunizer" by the FEDS for the Banks by "Shuffling" the loans through Freddie MAC and Ginne MAy.. WHY because they are / were creating a legal wall of "immunization" to loan fraud by bank loan originators. They allowed purchases of mortages by other lenders to have P&A agreements that cut off any tranfer of loan fraud liability and the Banks lawyers know it.
SO any claims by home owners against the banks are thrown out or lose because the home owners can't get "legal precedence" to argue. THIS IS WHY THE FEDS HAVE NOT PROSECUTED ANYBODY. (BANKERS). They do not want to give the American public, yes all those indiviuals that are your friends and relative, the legal standards to win a case against the banks.
And in default forclosure law, the lawyers all know this so its just a game of Hey Pay me, and the lawyers feels that his fees are justified because he gets the home owner some time to live in the home "mortgage free".
BUT they all know the Banks are 99% winners because, One, the Feds used your money to support the Banks and their activities (against all comers) and they allowed the banks to off load their toxic debt, (again to tax payers) and they increased and allowed accelerated depreciation accounting write offs to the banks so their "books" could meet federal banking requirements for receiving more funds from the Fed Reserve for "New Loan" business, by the way which rather than loan out, the banks are using to bolster their liquidity, for "other investments, not to Home owners.
SO the "bailout" which was supposed to go to remedy the Home mortgage crisis, is being diverted simply to make the banks more solvent, again at the expense of the US taxpayer.
How's your personal bailout?? This is corruption that makes the Mafia Angels.
"The court simply does not have the time to hear the grievances of the homeowner raising fraud issues, which are fairly prevalent." What happened to fair and equitable hearings. It is now becoming common knowledge that many of the retirement investment plans for the judges are invested into the mortgage banks through the stock marketing. Conflict of interest? Got to wonder. I am also fighting for my home. I've been through the appellate court already. They just rubber stamp the foreclosure requests and move on to the next one. Mine was thrown out because I did not "file my documents in the required time." They were filed in person on the same day as the appeal at the court of appeals.
So it just tells me they never even read anything. I was representing myself, and my paralegal was livid. She has graduated from law school but has decided no to join the bar because it is a "good old boy" type network that for the most part looks out for themselves, not the clients. The lawyers that do want to help people usually end be ostracized or worse threatened. No wonder people are moving out of the country. This is no longer a government for the people, by the people. It's for the greed, by the greed. I could go on for hours with examples, but there is not enough room on this page.
About Teresa Mears
Teresa Mears is a veteran journalist who has been interested in houses since her father took her to tax auctions to carry the cash at age 10. A former editor of The Miami Herald's Home & Design section, she lives in South Florida where, in addition to writing about real estate, she publishes Miami on the Cheap to help her neighbors adjust to the loss of 60% of their property value.