By Robert Cyr
In spite of more than two months of legal wrangling, a New Britain Latino family will still lose their home because of fraudulent mortgage assistance from a California law firm and a national bank that seems to show no empathy for its plight.
Only a last-minute bankruptcy filing by Ramon Lopez’s attorney, William Rivera of New Britain, will keep him in his home but all that does is stay the inevitable: being evicted. The State Law Group, which took his money and allegedly did no work, is nowhere to be found and his mortgage holder, Wells Fargo, wants him out of his house.
Lopez, a 58-year-old laborer from Puerto Rico, and his wife saved money for 16 years after arriving in Connecticut to afford the modest one family house in a quiet neighborhood in New Britain. He has been fighting to keep his home since falling behind on payments more than a year ago with Wells Fargo Bank.
After his request to re-negotiate his mortgage was turned down three times by Wells Fargo, the family turned to the California based State Law Group, which promised him a free foreclosure aid program, telling him it was an Obama program – but ultimately robbed Lopez of more than $5,000 for “processing paperwork ” fees – and the fraudulent company never negotiated a deal with Wells Fargo.
According to Rivera, Wells Fargo can still re-open the case and negotiate a re-packaging of the mortgage at any time. Lopez is back at work full time now and wants to repay his debt, but Wells Fargo has refused and is moving forward with the foreclosure. Veronica Clemons, who handles home mortgage communications for Wells Fargo out of Charlotte, N.C., was not available for comment. In July, when this story first unfolded, she told CTLatinoNews.com that she could not discuss an individual case like Lopez’s.
Rivera said he is further confounded by Wells Fargo’s actions when it would be profitable for the bank to keep Lopez in his home and paying his mortgage. Lopez has a $175,000 loan on a house worth $100,000 at best, Rivera said.
Lopez fell behind in his payments after his son died, he suffered a stroke, and his boss cut back his hours at work, said Rivera of The Rivera Law Group in New Britain. Lopez hired Rivera in June after the bank foreclosed on Lopez’s single-family house in March.
Rivera said he was surprised Wells Fargo would not agree to reopen the mortgage, regardless of the circumstances. Lopez and his family were the victims of a scam, and never had a fair chance to modify their mortgage, he said.
Rivera claims the State Law Group never contacted Wells Fargo to actually negotiate the mortgage. He has a copy of a letter from Wells Fargo to State Law Group stating they had tried to contact the California firm several times but to no avail.
The matter is now in New Britain housing court under the pretense of eviction proceedings, Rivera said. Lopez’s case was being heard by foreclosure court but Wells Fargo switched courts last week, he said.
“They probably did that because they thought they would get a less favorable decision in foreclosure court,” Rivera said.
Lopez’s best chance right now is to continue to appeal to Wells Fargo and, in the meantime, file for bankruptcy and push for a trial, which can stall eviction proceedings by several months, Rivera said.
“The odds right now are not in our favor,” he said. “No one wants to be thrown out on the street. He (Lopez) is distraught, very upset. He doesn’t feel the system worked for him. He’s at wits’ end as to what he can do because all his legal avenues are shut off.”
Lopez can still lose his house after filing for bankruptcy, but would not be responsible for the debt, Rivera said. After 24 to 36 months, he could apply for a new mortgage on another property through the Federal Housing Administration.
Rivera contacted the state Attorney General’s office earlier this year. Susan Kinsman, director of communications for Attorney General George Jepsen, said in an email that the office had already received two complaints about the State Law Group. State law requires a firm to be licensed in Connecticut and not to charge more than $500 for mortgage assistance.
The state Department of Banking has issued a cease-and-desist order against the State Law Group, which has previously settled numerous customer complaints with the department. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal has also asked the Federal Trade Commission to investigate the State Law Group. His office did not know the status of that investigation when asked.
By Robert Cyr