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Baptist Health Exec Faces Foreclosure on Conway Ranch, Restaurant

Baptist Health Exec Faces Foreclosure on Conway Ranch, Restaurant

by Arkansas Business Staff 
on Monday, Jan. 30, 2017 12:00 am  

The Back Achers Ranch at 3725 College Ave. in Conway. (Faulkner County Assessor)

Trouble is brewing for Joanie White-Wagoner, administrator and vice president at the new $150 million Baptist Health Medical Center-Conway.

She and her husband, Darren Wagoner, are facing foreclosure on a 45-acre Conway horse ranch and restaurant complex that they bought less than a year ago.

In a complaint filed last month in Faulkner County Circuit Court, Centennial Bank claims that the Wagoners and their Inception Management Group LLC are in default on about $2.7 million in debt connected to the Back Achers Ranch and Legends Bar Grill at 3725 College Ave. The complaint says that Wagoner and White-Wagoner failed to make payments on a $2.5 million mortgage they assumed in buying the property from Letitia McMaster in May, as well as a $200,000 business loan from the same time.

The property, including the restaurant and a 47,000-SF arena, appears to be out of business. The restaurant’s listed phone number has been disconnected, and repeated calls to the ranch number drew a busy signal.

White-Wagoner was named to lead the Conway hospital a year ago, long before its opening in September. Previously, she served as the administrator and chief operating officer of Texas General Hospital in Midlothian, Texas. She is an Air Force veteran and longtime rider, according to various interviews.

The Centennial complaint, filed by Sherwood attorney Vaughan Hankins, says that the Wagoners personally guaranteed the loans, and that as of Dec. 22 they owed $2.5 million and accrued interest of $46,780 on the mortgage alone. “The Bank’s right of foreclosure has become absolute” on both loans, the complaint says.


White-Wagoner did not return a call to her office at the hospital on Thursday, and no response had been filed in court.

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Foreclosure On the Rise In Wyoming

Due to recent market dynamics, Wyoming is facing an economic downturn. With unemployment rates climbing, many homeowners struggle to make their mortgage payments. Many people facing foreclosure don’t know what steps to take when they miss one or more mortgage payments, but Wyoming Housing Network intends to assist these people.

On January 1, 2017, Wyoming Housing Network initiated into a two-year collaboration with the State of Wyoming Attorney General’s Office to provide Wyoming homeowners with an HUD certified resource for Housing Counseling and Foreclosure Prevention Services.

The Wyoming Housing Network (WHN) has four HUD-approved housing counselors with more than 15 years of combined experience. The Foreclosure Housing Counselor will work with residents whether they have missed mortgage payments or their loan is in foreclosure. WHN’s foreclosure counselor will help Wyomingites in assessing their circumstances and identifying options while assisting them through the process.

WHN is working to educate Wyoming citizens in rural and nonrural communities of the State’s effort to help with the foreclosure crisis. Working with WHN’s foreclosure counselor is free of charge.

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LePage pushes bill to prevent foreclosure on elderly after outrage …

As the recent home foreclosure and eviction of an elderly Albion couple draws more attention statewide, Gov. Paul LePage says a bill to prohibit municipalities from foreclosing in such cases will likely go before the state Legislature within the next several weeks.

LePage worked on the bill after the town of Albion foreclosed on the home of Richard and Leonette Sukeforth, both 80, and sold the property in a sealed bid auction. The new owner bid just $500 more than a Sukeforth family friend and then evicted the couple last month.

“I just think it was really bad public policy,” LePage said in a phone interview last week. “I suggest the town fathers in Albion should take care of their constituents. Their job is public service, and public servants don’t throw people on the street.”

What started as a local foreclosure dispute has quickly transformed into an issue with implications across Maine with the governor seizing on the matter as a symbol of the need for government to look out for the state’s elderly and impoverished residents. The case is also exposing tension between a town or city’s need to collect taxes and the ability of officials to work with residents before seeking home foreclosure.

At a town hall-style forum Wednesday night attended by 150-plus people at Biddeford Middle School, LePage responded to an audience question about the Albion home foreclosure case involving the Sukeforths. He summarized what his proposed bill would do and advised anyone who lives on a fixed income and owns his home to take out a small home equity loan from a bank in case of foreclosure.

The governor also said he received a letter recently from someone who claimed LePage didn’t know the whole story and that Richard Sukeforth had “been a pain in the butt in town for 20 years.”

“That’s retaliation in my book,” said LePage, who was mayor of Waterville before becoming governor. “I’m sorry, but that’s not who we are as people.”

By all accounts, the foreclosure was done legally, but LePage maintains it was unethical. The rundown house, located at 180 Marden Shore Road on Lovejoy Pond off China Road, is essentially a small camp. A Sukeforth neighbor and the family tried to buy the property back for the couple after the foreclosure, but town officials denied the request.

The Kennebec County town had never foreclosed on properties before three years ago, and the Sukeforth foreclosure was the first in which people were actually living in the house at the time of foreclosure, according to Albion Town Clerk Amanda Dow. That’s a fact LePage even pointed to during the town hall forum.

Dow said the town had to follow foreclosure laws, and Albion has a provision that allows a person to pay their taxes in full six months after automatic foreclosure, but Richard Sukeforth, a National Guard and Marine veteran, did not do that. Dow said the town sent a letter, a selectman went to visit him and explained the process, but he still did not take action.

Family members say they think it is because he is in the early stages of dementia, and had they known he had not paid his taxes, they would have done so. Leonette Sukeforth is frail and suffers from diabetes.

LePage’s bill, which has been drafted and is being fine-tuned before heading to the Legislature, is intended to ensure such foreclosures do not occur.

Since a story about the Sukeforth case was published in the Morning Sentinel, Kennebec Journal and Maine Sunday Telegram on Jan. 8, LePage said he has learned of a dozen similar situations around the state in which elderly people have been forced from their homes.

“It’s primarily people who own their homes outright,” he said.

His bill would require steps be taken by the municipality before foreclosure such as discussing reverse mortgage, tax abatement or an agreement where, if the homeowner has no mortgage, the municipality applies a lien on the property for taxes owed, lets the people live in the house until they die and then sells it.


Also at the Biddeford town hall Wednesday night, LePage said that since the Sukeforth case came to his attention, he’s learned of a dozen more couples going through similar circumstances in Maine.

“It’s more than just Albion,” LePage told the audience.

After the national economy tanked in 2008, foreclosures in many Maine towns increased as people found it harder to pay their taxes.

“Our members noticed it right after the national economy nose-dived in 2008-10,” said Eric Conrad, spokesman for Maine Municipal Association.

The municipal association does not keep data about the number of foreclosures that occur, but Conrad said towns struggle with the issue. The economy has improved the last couple of years in some parts of the state, but in rural Maine where the economy still lags, that struggle continues.

“It is something that many of our members, especially in rural parts of the state, grapple with,” he said.

Conrad and others say those who face foreclosure are generally those on lower and fixed incomes.

He said that the economy, paired with the fact that towns and cities are getting only 40 percent of the state revenue sharing funds they previously received, compounds the struggles municipalities face. About two-thirds of property taxes are used for public schools and about a third for city or town government.

Municipal officials try to work with homeowners and sometimes even forgo their taxes. But after three, four or five years pass and the taxes have not been paid, the town or city must foreclose in fairness to the 97 percent of residents who do pay, Conrad said.

“Towns and cities really feel like they have no choice,” Conrad said.

Conrad said he was not speaking specifically about the Albion case, but said in some cases, families step in earlier to help pay property taxes for those who have not paid.

“And sometimes, people have assets that they could use to pay property taxes and they choose not to give them up,” he said, citing a car as an example.

Like Conrad, Waterville City Manager Michael Roy and tax collector Linda Cote say municipalities do not want to take properties for nonpayment of taxes — they do not want to be in the real estate business. Taking a property requires a town or city to maintain it to local ordinance standards or pay to have it torn down if necessary.

Roy said that probably half of the properties the city has taken by foreclosure in recent years have had to be demolished.

“The city does its best to contact the owners or relatives if we can identify them to try to find any possible solutions to getting the outstanding taxes paid,” Roy said.

Waterville is bound to follow foreclosure laws and treat taxpayers fairly and consistently when it comes to ensuring taxes are paid, and municipalities must work within strict timetables, according to Roy. He said communities have some flexibility regarding reselling or returning a property to its owner.

Waterville, for instance, allows a homeowner 30 more days after foreclosure to get the property back.

“We’ve sold properties back to the owners,” he said. “In 2016, the city foreclosed and resold to the former owner. I think it’s a good idea for towns to have that buy-back provision. Not everyone can take advantage of that.”

He said working with an owner takes a lot of work, and not every town or city has someone who can dedicate himself to doing it for a few weeks at a time. Cote, Waterville’s tax collector, has been praised by the City Council more than once for her work with homeowners.

“Last year we foreclosed on an apartment building, and we had some new information come to us that made sense to sell it right back to the previous owner,” Cote said. “But they had to pay all the taxes up in full.”

The homeowner ends up having to pay not only taxes owed, but also a fee because of time the city has put into the case, as well as legal fees, according to Cote.

Last year, Waterville foreclosed on six properties — two of which were vacant land, two apartment buildings and two houses, she said. One of the land lots was on Airport Road and the other was the site of a building the city had condemned and torn down.

One of the apartment buildings went back to the owner, and one was owned by a person who just left the property and moved to Florida and was letting someone live there for free — a squatter.

“Because there were children in school, we elected to let them stay there until school was over,” Cote said.

In 2015, the city foreclosed on four properties and tore down three. The city worked hard with one elderly woman who could not pay her taxes, and she was able to stay in the home, according to Cote.

The town of Winslow in 2015 foreclosed on two parcels of land that had no buildings, according to Town Manager Michael Heavener. He said that in 2016, Winslow did not have any foreclosures. The town has an ordinance allowing the former owner of a foreclosed property to reacquire it within 90 days of the foreclosure date, and he or she must pay all unpaid taxes as well as the coming year taxes, according to Heavener. If someone does not reacquire the property, the town either puts it out to bid or works with a real estate agent to sell it, he said.


Albion selectwoman Beverly Bradstreet and Dow, the town clerk, said the town paid the Sukeforths’ taxes, which were about $800 annually, for two years in 2011 and 2012. They owed about $4,000 to the town when the foreclosure occurred in December 2015.

Both said they did not understand why Richard Sukeforth did not pay his taxes when he knew he was going to lose his home.

“He was in here — he clearly knew,” Dow said Thursday. “He said, ‘Do what you have to do.’”

Bradstreet said the town does not have a policy or ordinance that says a person may not buy back a foreclosed property once the property has been advertised in the newspaper as going to auction.

“We did, however, call Maine Municipal Association, and it was on their advice that we could not take payment for the property once we had advertised the sale,” she said. “At that point they said the only thing they could do was to bid on the property.”

Bradstreet also noted that the town has an article on the annual Town Meeting warrant that reads: “To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Selectmen to allow former owners of foreclosed properties to redeem those properties no later than six months after the lien expiration, upon payment of all outstanding taxes, interest and fees.”

The Sukeforths’ daughter-in-law, Rachel Sukeforth, who lives across the road from where her in-laws lived before being evicted, said the family did not learn about the foreclosure until last summer when they saw an advertisement in the newspaper that the property was to be sold by the town at a sealed bid auction. She said she had asked her father-in-law several times previously if he was paying his taxes and he said he was.

When a Sukeforth neighbor, MaryAnn Sawlan-Neiman, learned of the foreclosure and impending auction, she went to the town and said she would pay whatever was owed, but was told it was too late because the auction had been advertised in the newspaper.

Neiman submitted a sealed bid of $6,000 to buy the property back, but Jason Marks, who lives on Marden Shore Road and whose father owns the property next to the Sukeforths’ former property, submitted a bid for $6,500 and the property became his.

Sawlan-Neiman contacted LePage to ask for help. She and Richard Sukeforth met with LePage Sept. 7 and the governor quickly got involved.

Marks said he told the Sukeforths that they could stay in the house if they paid rent, but they did not pay rent, so he evicted them Dec. 29, 2016.

Marks said Thursday that LePage agreed the foreclosure was done legally and by the book, yet he spoke of fighting “corruption” in comments to the Morning Sentinel. That doesn’t sit well with Marks, who said a deputy legal counsel in LePage’s office called him last year to request a meeting to discuss the foreclosure, but he refused unless he could have a lawyer there too.

Marks said he was uncomfortable doing so unless it could be in his own lawyer’s office because the deputy legal counsel mentioned he was going to look into future legislation and the well-being of Richard Sukeforth.

LePage told the Morning Sentinel that he wanted to meet with Marks alone and not with lawyers to ask if Marks would let the Sukeforths stay in their former house for the rest of their lives.

Marks said Thursday that he felt pressured by LePage when the deputy legal counsel called him.

“You don’t have your lawyer call me to set up a meeting; you have your secretary call,” Marks said, adding that he doesn’t think LePage intended to meet with him alone from the start and indicated he does not trust the governor.

“Just looking at the things he’s done in the past — bullying people — why would I want to meet with him?” Marks said.

Marks added that LePage thought Marks should let the Sukeforths live in their house for the rest of their lives, but LePage himself “didn’t pitch in a nickel of his own money.”

“If he cared, he would have helped,” Marks said. “That’s definitely one way to look at that.”

Leonette Sukeforth was in a doctor-prescribed hospital bed when they were evicted. Rachel Sukeforth and her husband, Rick, drove his parents to the mobile home of his parents’ daughter, Yvette Ingalls, in Holden, where they have been living ever since.

The trailer park prohibits dogs, and Richard Sukeforth misses his dog terribly, he said.

The dog, Pee-wee, an old brown-and-gray Jack Russell Terrier, and black cat, Kitty, are staying with Rick and Rachel Sukeforth, but the family is hoping Richard’s doctor will help him get permission to have the dog at the trailer park in Holden.

“Daddy really talks about his dog — he really wants his dog,” Ingalls said. “Daddy goes to Togus for all his medical needs, and he goes Jan. 30 and he’s going to talk to his doctor. The doctor can make a doctor’s note to say he needs his dog for a comfort dog.”


LePage had been working on trying to find assisted living care for the Sukeforths, but their daughter, Ingalls, said that at this point she believes it would be best for them to continue to live with her. They will have been married 58 years in May, she said.

The state pays for a home health aide to come in from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday to care for her mother, Leonette, who is weak and becomes dizzy often, Ingalls said. She said she thinks her mother’s spirits are better than they were after she was evicted from her home of 33 years because she is around family in a warm home where she is fed three meals a day.

Ingalls, who works as a cook at a rehabilitation center, said she plans to go to Togus with her father Monday to see the doctor about his health and about getting his dog back. She said her father does not hear well, and it is important for a family member to be there.

“He loves his dog,” she said. “He loves his cat, but the dog is his world. He’s had that dog since it was born.”

Ingalls said her family has received supportive comments from people since the story about her parents’ foreclosure and eviction appeared in the newspapers, but they also have received negative ones, with people saying, “What kind of family lets their parents live that way?”

“It really hurt us as adult children, that people would think that of us,” Ingalls said. “It was nothing we did. Had we known they were not paying their taxes, we would have done something. We paid the bills, bought their groceries.”

Ingalls, the middle child of the Sukeforths’ five children, says she hopes LePage’s bill to protect elderly people from foreclosure is successful. While it is too late for her parents, hopefully others in a similar situation will not endure the same trauma, she said.

“What we’ve come to conclude is that we’re just a stepping stone to open it up so other people don’t go through this,” she said.

Sawlan-Neiman, the neighbor who tried to buy the property back for the Sukeforths, said she prayed for a different outcome — that they would get their home back. She said she has had many sleepless nights since last summer when she learned of the foreclosure. Richard Sukeforth had built and maintained Marden Shore Road for 33 years, she said.

“It should be against the law to take someone’s property, particularly after you’ve bought and paid for it and put so much work into making it yours, not to mention building the road that your home sits on,” she said.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

Were you interviewed for this story? If so, please fill out our accuracy form

Send questions/comments to the editors.

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Property Quacks

Bethania Palma Markus is a journalist from the Los Angeles area who started her career as a daily newspaper reporter and has covered everything from crime to government to national politics. She has written for a variety of publications as a staffer and freelancer, including the Los Angeles News Group, the LAist, LA School Report, the OC Weekly and Raw Story. She is a huge fan of the X Files, because while she’s not saying it was aliens, it was aliens.

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Missed $150 HOA payment has family fighting for home

A Riverview family could soon be kicked out of their home, all because they missed a $150 homeowners association payment.

“This is my life that I worked so hard for, and for them to just come in and take it,” says homeowner Luis Lopez.

10News told you how that $150 payment spiraled into thousands of dollars in fees and fines. Then, the Lopez’s HOA sold the family’s house out from under them at auction. They’ve been able to remain in it while fighting the sale.

Tuesday, the family had their final day in court begging a judge to let them stay there.

“We all make mistakes, but the unfortunate thing is if it does go in their favor, we’re going to lose our home.  We’re going to lose our home, and I don’t want to lose my home,” says Tina Lopez.

Tina and Luis Lopez and their two kids have called the Riverview house a home for 12 years, but this could be the last. Their future is now in the hands of Hillsborough County Judge Joelle Ober, after they pleaded with her to stop the auction sale of their home.

“This all started with just a $150 payment that they said they never received,” says Luis Lopez.

The family says the Rivercrest HOA didn’t notify them of the missed payment for four years, and attorney and late fees skyrocketed the total to more than $4,000.

The family agreed to a payment plan, but say they stopped amid confusion after the HOA’s law firm, Bush Ross, got sued in a class action lawsuit.

When the family got a $300 settlement check, they thought they were off the hook.

“It’s very rare you deal with a class action in the middle of a settlement negotiation. I do think there is some hope.  But I think it’s an uphill battle,” says attorney Betty Thomas.

Bush Ross argues that the family stopped payments before the class action even settled. The firm says as part of the Lopez’s repayment agreement, they knew if they didn’t pay up they faced foreclosure.

The HOA sold the $270,000 home for just $18,000 in May 2015. The family got just $14,000.

“Frankly, we communicated to them that they defaulted, and asked for them to cure it. They did not, so the association went forward with this rightful remedy,” says Bush Ross attorney Charles Glausier.

“We made mistakes.  They made mistakes, but just because of that we shouldn’t have to lose our home,” says Tina Lopez.

Adding to their heartbreak, the Lopez’s legal firm, Lawyer ASAP (formerly KEL), pawned off their case on another attorney two hours before Tuesday’s hearing. 10News’ calls to that attorney, Matt Englett weren’t returned.

The judge could make a decision as early as next week. Thomas says if the judge sides with the HOA and gives the home to the auction buyer, she should specify how soon the family has to be out. It could be immediately.

10News will stay on top of the story.

(© 2017 WTSP)

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Homeowner still has hope for mortgage modification

Q: I have fallen behind on my mortgage payments due to illness. Things are better now, and I am back at work, but my home is heading to foreclosure. I heard that loan modifications are no longer available. Is there any hope for me? — Louise

A: Yes, there is. The government’s Home Affordable Modification Program stopped taking new applications at the end of 2016, but this doesn’t mean there aren’t options available.

The HAMP program helped many distressed homeowners save their homes, and it will be harder to get modifications now that the program ended. Fortunately, lenders still are offering other modification programs to assist you. Plus, a new “Flex Modification” government program by loan giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is set to be released this year. That will give you another option to save your home.

As soon as you start falling behind on your payments, you will receive many offers from loan modification companies. Most people can successfully get a modification without any outside help. Beware of scammers. Avoid any company that promises a result or claims to have some special process or insider contact. There are no simple solutions. If your lender sues you for foreclosure during the process, you should take it seriously and hire an attorney experienced in foreclosure matters. A loan modification company can’t stop the foreclosure lawsuit. You need to be properly represented in court or the lawyers that your lender hired will quickly have their way.

While the tools may have changed, the process for getting a mortgage modification remains substantially the same. If you start to fall behind on payments, reach out to your lender. The process will be exasperating, and there will be many hoops for you to jump through to get it done. But it’s a must if you want to save your home. Send the same form three times, if necessary. Send in pay stubs, bank statements and tax returns, and completely fill out the many forms the lender puts in front of you. It’s important that you keep a detailed log of all activity, so write down everything you do and everything that is said.

Who is Elon Musk?

Caption Who is Elon Musk?

Elon Musk launched Zip2 Corp., a supplier of software to create local Internet media and electronic-commerce sites. (Jan. 26, 2017)

Elon Musk launched Zip2 Corp., a supplier of software to create local Internet media and electronic-commerce sites. (Jan. 26, 2017)

Dow hits 20,000 for the first time

Caption Dow hits 20,000 for the first time

A months-long rally has recently been propelled by President Trump’s promises of business-friendly policies. (Jan. 25, 2017)

A months-long rally has recently been propelled by President Trump’s promises of business-friendly policies. (Jan. 25, 2017)

Cash headed to homeowners who got the runaround while trying to prevent foreclosure

Caption Cash headed to homeowners who got the runaround while trying to prevent foreclosure

Americans who were misled by two mortgage servicers while trying to save their homes from foreclosure will be compensated. (Jan. 25, 2017)

Americans who were misled by two mortgage servicers while trying to save their homes from foreclosure will be compensated. (Jan. 25, 2017)

Sprint partners with Tidal

Caption Sprint partners with Tidal

A source familiar with the deal told Billboard that Sprint paid $200 million for its 33% stake in Tidal. (Jan. 23, 2017)

A source familiar with the deal told Billboard that Sprint paid $200 million for its 33% stake in Tidal. (Jan. 23, 2017)

Extreme Weather Trashes Several Businesses In Northwest Miami-Dade

Caption Extreme Weather Trashes Several Businesses In Northwest Miami-Dade

CBS Miami’s Marybel Rodriguez reports from Miami.

CBS Miami’s Marybel Rodriguez reports from Miami.

When your lender asks for another document to be sent, get it in before the deadline or you will end up starting over. It may take several tries, so remember that this is your home you are fighting for and don’t give up.

Board-certified real estate lawyer Gary M. Singer writes about the housing market at each Friday. To ask him a question, email him at, or go to

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Crowne Plaza headed to foreclosure auction – Berkshire Record

PITTSFIELD – Documents obtained by The Berkshire Courier confirm that the Crowne Plaza Hotel building will head to a foreclosure auction next month.

Santander Bank, the holder of the mortgage, filed paperwork with the Berkshire County Registry of deeds on Jan. 5 beginning the process.

The property, located at 1 West Street, will head to the auction block on Feb. 22 at 11 a.m. According to the auctioneer contracted by Santander “the subject property is currently a full-service, 179-room hotel that is franchised as a Crowne Plaza, which is a brand of InterContinental Hotels Group.  The property offers multiple food and beverage outlets; approximately 12,000 square feet of meeting and function space; indoor pool; guest laundry; Wi-Fi; business center; room service; fitness room; and a typical complement of back-of-the-house facilities.”

Calls to hotel management for comment were not returned by press time.

The purchaser must place a $100,000 deposit at the auction with another $300,000 of the purchase price due within five days.

Check next week’s Courier for a complete story.

Crowne Plaza headed to foreclosure auction added by on January 27, 2017
View all posts by Kameron Spaulding →

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Trump treasury pick Mnuchin misled Senate on foreclosures, Ohio …

President Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. treasury secretary was untruthful with the Senate during the confirmation process, documents uncovered by The Dispatch show.

Steve Mnuchin, former chairman and chief executive officer of OneWest Bank, known for its aggressive foreclosure practices, flatly denied in testimony before the Senate Finance Committee that OneWest used “robo-signing” on mortgage documents.

But records show the bank utilized the questionable practice in Ohio.

“The guy is just lying. There’s no other way to say it,” said Bill Faith, executive director of the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio.

The revelation comes with the committee’s vote on whether to confirm Mnuchin’s nomination, currently scheduled for Monday night.

Barney Keller of Jamestown Associates, who represents Mnuchin, was asked to comment for this story but did not respond before deadline. Jamestown Associates is a Washington political consulting and advertising firm that represented Trump in his campaign.

“Robo-signing” is the informal term for when a mortgage company employee signs hundreds of foreclosures, swearing they have scrutinized the documents as required by law when in fact they have not.

“OneWest Bank did not ‘robo-sign’ documents,” Mnuchin wrote in response to questions from individual senators, “and as the only bank to successfully complete the Independent Foreclosure Review required by federal banking regulators to investigate allegations of ‘robo-signing,’ I am proud of our institution’s extremely low error rate.”

But a Dispatch analysis of nearly four dozen foreclosure cases filed by OneWest in Franklin County in 2010 alone shows that the company frequently used robo-signers. The vast majority of the Columbus-area cases were signed by 11 different people in Travis County, Texas. Those employees called themselves vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, managers and assistant secretaries. In three local cases, a judge dismissed OneWest foreclosure proceedings specifically based on inaccurate robo-signings.

The Dispatch found more than 1,900 OneWest foreclosures in the state’s six largest counties from 2009 to 2015.

Carla Duncan, a social worker from Cleveland Heights, was snared by OneWest’s robo-signing machinery.

On her way out of town for a short trip in 2010, Duncan stopped by her home to get her mail and found a note from a field inspector for her mortgage company saying that her house was vacant and was going to be boarded up.

“It wasn’t vacant. I was living there,” Duncan said. “There were curtains on the windows. The radio was playing and the dog was there.”

What Duncan didn’t know at the time was that OneWest had begun foreclosure proceedings on her three-bedroom home even though she was up-to-date on her payments. OneWest refused to accept a loan modification approved by a previous lender that had been purchased by OneWest, and it wanted to substantially increase Duncan’s interest rate and monthly payment and add late fees. The company also put a lock box on a separate rental property she owned in Cleveland.

After hiring former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann, waging a five-year court battle and filing personal bankruptcy, Duncan was finally able to get the foreclosures dismissed and keep her home and rental property. She said the experience was devastating.

“It’s almost like being raped, like being emotionally violated,” Duncan said. “It got to the point that I was afraid to open my own door.”

Court records show that Duncan’s mortgage was robo-signed by Erica Johnson-Seck, vice president of OneWest’s department of bankruptcy and foreclosures. From her office in Austin, Texas, Johnson-Seck robo-signed an average of 750 foreclosure documents a week, according to a sworn deposition she gave in a Florida case in July 2009.

Under oath, Johnson-Seck acknowledged that she did not read the documents she was signing, taking only about 30 seconds to sign her name. To speed up the process, Johnson-Seck said she shortened her first name on her signature to just an “E.” She said in the deposition that OneWest’s practice was to review just 10 percent of the foreclosure documents for accuracy.

Dann, who now specializes in representing clients who have problems with banks and other lenders after he was forced to resign as attorney general nearly 10 years ago, said Mnuchin’s businesses were a “major offender” in problem mortgages. Dann said Mnuchin’s firms were known for dual tracking (pursuing foreclosures simultaneously as they allegedly worked with homeowners), fabricating documents and other tactics “that caused unbelievable devastation in people’s lives.”

In 2010, federal laws were changed, enabling borrowers victimized by lenders to sue them. Dann said he worries that Mnuchin, as treasury secretary, would quietly work to repeal reforms, collectively known as the Dodd–Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

That appears to be the case.

“It has been over six years since the passage of Dodd-Frank and it seems like an appropriate time to review all of the regulations from Dodd-Frank to understand their impact on the market, investors, small businesses and economic growth,” Mnuchin said in a written answer to the Senate.

U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, grilled Mnuchin at his recent hearing and in follow-up written questions.

“Mnuchin profited off of kicking people out of their homes and then gave false testimony about his bank’s abusive practices,” Brown told The Dispatch. “He cannot be trusted to make decisions about policies as personal to working Ohioans as their taxes and retirement.”

Faith, the homelessness coalition director, said foreclosure practices by Mnuchin’s companies and others like them “created havoc.”

“People were bamboozled into signing these mortgages,” Faith said. “We watched this train wreck happen. It’s been devastating, not only to the people who got caught in this kind of scheme, but also to people who happened to live in the neighborhood. … It’s scary that he’s going to be treasury secretary.”

The Dispatch analysis showed thousands of Ohio homeowners — including 245 in Franklin County — found themselves in OneWest’s crosshairs when they defaulted on their loans, the majority of them with high interest rates. Many mortgages had terms that housing and financial experts view as predatory: prepayment penalties, interest-only loans and no-money-down loans.

In addition to OneWest, which was born in 2009 from the collapse of subprime mortgage giant IndyMac, Mnuchin’s banking group also acquired Financial Freedom, a subsidiary of Lehman Brothers that went bankrupt because of its toxic mortgage portfolio. The firm specialized in loans to senior citizens cashing in on their homes’ equity.

Mnuchin was labeled by critics at the time as the “Foreclosure King.”

Of the nearly four dozen foreclosure cases filed by OneWest in Franklin County in 2010 that were analyzed by The Dispatch, a quarter were filed within three years of the homeowner taking out the loan, typically a red flag that there was a problem with the mortgage terms and/or vetting the borrowers.

Thirteen of the borrowers had double-digit interest rates, ranging from 10 percent to 17.31 percent, largely because of adjustable-rate mortgage terms.

In the cases in which the houses were sold at an auction, two-thirds ended up in the hands of the federal government, which had backed those loans. Collectively, more than $4 million was due on those loans.

Only seven borrowers were able to get a loan modification, even though former President Barack Obama’s administration had been pushing since 2009 for lenders to help Americans keep their homes by lowering interest rates and, in some cases, the principal balance.

Mnuchin does have supporters, including the American Bankers Association, which sent a letter to the Senate committee saying Mnuchin’s “public statements as well as his career in finance bring us optimism with regard to the outlook for public policies focused on growth and prosperity.”

Grover Norquist, head of Americans for Tax Reform, released a statement supporting Mnuchin’s nomination, in part because of his stated intention to roll back some of the Dodd-Frank legislation: “Mr. Mnuchin has made it clear that reforming the Dodd-Frank Act will be his ‘number one priority on the regulatory side’ once he becomes secretary of the treasury.”



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Steven Mnuchin Pulled a Foreclosure Routine at His Senate Hearing

From Esquire

WASHINGTON, D.C.-I thought that Betsy DeVos: Concerned Mom was going to be the least plausible of the Trump Cabinet Action Figures. However, on Thursday, I saw demonstrated before the Senate Banking Committee an even less believable addition-Steve Mnuchin: Friend of the Homeowner.

The nominee to be Secretary of the Treasury, a second-generation Goldman Sachs legacy who got unimaginably rich after buying a failing California bank and turning it into a foreclosure mill, adopted a wounded mien when the members of the committee suggested that he turned a nice buck on human misery, and that the ruination of lives also was a successful business plan. All those unfortunate stories from around the western part of the country were the fault of the bank’s previous owners, or the FDIC, or HUD, or the wind they call Maria.

MNUCHIN: Ultimately, OneWest extended over 100,000 loan modifications to delinquent borrowers to try to help them out of a bad situation. I am proud of the fact that loan modifications started at IndyMac under the leadership of the FDIC. However, the FDIC loan modification program did not work for everyone. When the FDIC took over IndyMac, they estimated that over half the foreclosures would not meet their test for the loan modification, and they demanded many policy conditions-extend assistance to some pathetic borrowers by establishing affordable and sustainable payments by borrowers, increase the net present value of cash flows to the owner of the loan, and to stabilize housing markets. My group had to adhere to servicing agreements that limited our ability to make loan modifications that could have helped more borrowers. In the press it has been said that I ran a foreclosure machine… On the contrary, I was committed to loan modifications intended to stop foreclosures. I ran a loan modification machine. Many times the FDIC, Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and bank trustees imposed strict rules governing the process of these loans. I am proud to be able to say our bank was able to do 100,000 loan modifications that allowed people the opportunity to stay in their homes. Unfortunately, not all the homes were able to be saved through these programs.

To put it mildly, this is not the experience of many people who sought relief under OneWest while Mnuchin was running things. Senator Professor Warren hosted a few of these dissenters on Wednesday.

Heather McCreary of Sparks, Nevada, one of the four individuals in Washington to testify on Wednesday, was laid off from her job as a home health care provider in 2009. She and her family sought a modification from OneWest as they recovered from the lost wages. OneWest did modify the loan, one of the “over 100,000″ such modifications Mnuchin touted in his hearing. But after six months of making modified payments, the bank denied McCreary’s personal check, claiming that the payment had to be made by cashier’s check. “I looked at the paperwork, and couldn’t find that on there,” McCreary said. “The Legal Aid person working with us couldn’t find it.” OneWest told McCreary to re-apply for the modification twice, then cut off all communications and refused to accept payments. “A few months later we had a foreclosure notice taped to the window, with two weeks to get out,” she said. The bank was pursuing foreclosure while negotiating a modification-a practice known as dual tracking that is now illegal.

Having heard these stories from OneWest’s victims, it was hard to hold down the bile when Mnuchin tried to get the committee to believe that he’d forgotten to list an offshore holding company and $100 million in real estate because the required paperwork was too complex and complicated. If Steve Mnuchin had held a mortgage serviced by Steve Mnuchin’s bank, Steve Mnuchin’s ass would have been on the sidewalk months ago.

Before going on, there is one simple fact that clarifies the whole business before the committee on Thursday. OneWest, the entity that was created by Mnuchin when he bought the failing IndyMac bank, was a mortgage servicer. This is something that Mnuchin tore up the language trying to avoid admitting. It’s important because it belies Mnuchin’s insistence that the foreclosures were forced upon him by the previous owners of the bank and/or by various anagrams within the federal government. So, when Mnuchin said that his bank was incentivized to do loan modifications, rather than foreclosures, he was being mendacious in the extreme. As a servicer, OneWest was highly incentivized to foreclose, and did so with lubricious alacrity.

(Note: Dave Dayen’s magnificent Chain of Title is essential to understanding how people became victims of the kind of rigged casino that made the Steve Mnuchins rich. He also points us to this report from 2009 that explains, in detail, why Mnuchin’s bank did what it did.)

This basic deception was at the heart of the morning’s questioning from the committee which, alas, did not emphasize the human cost of Mnuchin’s success as much as it should have. (Too much time was spent grilling him about the entity he created in the Cayman Islands, about which Mnuchin admittedly barbered his testimony, but which slipped hopelessly into the weeds and which also gave Mnuchin’s defenders on the committee a chance to point out that both of the current administration’s Secretaries of the Treasury had similar operations.) It wasn’t until Sherrod Brown, Democrat from Ohio, had his turn that the nut-cutting truly began.

Brown peppered Mnuchin with various findings by various agencies that OneWest was dealing double with its unfortunate clients. This got Mnuchin very testy.

BROWN: I really want yes or no answers because i have a lot of questions and what I say is factual in my view and I would like you to confirm with yes or no. Is it true that community groups say OneWest, specifically the California Reinvestment Coalition, is it true community groups say OneWest foreclosed on 60,000 families nationwide and denied three fourths of mortgage modification applications?

MNUCHIN: I am not aware of that.

BROWN: They did.

MNUCHIN: If you know they did, why are you asking?

BROWN: I am sorry, the OCC said you had these deficient mortgage practices that you could not remember when I asked you about OCC and now you are citing OCC. Is it true that one of the employees that was in charge of the modification-one of the OneWest employees accused OneWest of not having any process in place to help the 3000 FHA and VA mortgage borrowers avoid foreclosure and this same employee accused OneWest of not having a process in place to help those VA mortgage borrowers avoid foreclosures and submitting false claims?

MNUCHIN: In all due respect, it seems you want to shoot questions at me and not let me explain-

The peasants are revolting!

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But not even Brown could match the impatience with Mnuchin’s slipperiness on this subject demonstrated by Dean Heller, Republican of Nevada, a state that pretty much was Ground Zero for the collapse of the engineered real estate bubble that immiserated millions and helped make the nominee a wealthy guy. Mnuchin’s encounter with Heller did not begin well.

HELLER: No state was hit harder than the state of Nevada. We led the country in foreclosures and unemployment. We are sensitive as to who becomes the next Treasury Secretary, having gone through that over the last eight or nine years. You came in my office on January 4 and I appreciate the visit. I asked you questions and I would like to ask the same questions today. The question was how many Nevada homes were in OneWest Bank’s portfolio?.

(Ed Note: we now know that Mnuchin had two weeks to come up with an answer to this fairly simple question. We continue.)

MNUCHIN: Unfortunately, I will go back and request that information from the bank. I no longer have that information. I will work with the bank to try to get that for you.

HELLER: How many Nevadans did OneWest foreclose on while you owned the bank?

MNUCHIN: I have the information on public reports, but I am committed to go back and get that information for you from the bank. I apologize I do not have that with me today and I appreciate how hard your state was hit in the foreclosure crisis.

HELLER: Do you know how many Nevadans OneWest provided assistance to with modifications? The reason I ask these questions over again is that this is the seventh time i have asked you. I asked when you are in my office and I had my office follow-up, three times by text and three times by phone and we still cannot get the answers and I am not quite sure with two weeks-your own comments were they you had responded to 5000 pages of questions asked? Why were these three questions not asked if you had 5000 pages of questions that you answered?

Thus did Dean Heller and his constituent, Heather McCready of Sparks, Nevada, find themselves on the business end of the process by which Stephen Mnuchin made himself rich enough to be considered as Donald Trump’s Treasury Secretary. Death by stalling. Death by paperwork, slow strangulation by denial and by red tape. At least Heller still has a home to which he can go at the end of the day.

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Mortgage assistance program keeps hope alive – News – recordnet …

STOCKTON — A federally funded free program to help homeowners stay in their homes still is going strong in California and has helped more than 2,000 families in San Joaquin County with more than $48.7 million in mortgage assistance to date.

Statewide, a new report analyzing the economic impact of the Keep Your Home California mortgage-assistance program has helped nearly 70,000 homeowners during its first six years covering 2010 through 2015. With that comes the added benefit of preserving $2.5 billion in economic activity that otherwise could have been lost from declining property values to tax revenue to jobs.

In San Joaquin County, the total economic impact of the Keep Your Home California program is approximately $63.3 million. Assistance to homeowners in Stockton has generated an estimated $40.3 million to date in economic impact.

The report, prepared by research economist Joseph Von Nessen from the Moore School of Business at the University of South Carolina, ranks San Joaquin 10th among all 58 counties in terms of the economic benefit received from the mortgage program, even though it is the 15th most-populous county in California.

Meanwhile, Stockton — the state’s 13th largest city with 305,000 residents — is ranked eighth in terms of the value of the economic impact generated by helping out distressed homeowners. Through the end of 2016, Keep Your Home has helped 1,175 Stockton households to the tune of $28.8 million in direct assistance.

One of those distressed homeowners is 50-year-old Tracy George, who turned to the program twice, once when she lost a grocery store job and most recently after she was diagnosed with bladder cancer in August and had to take a leave from her new job while she undergoes radiation treatments.

“It has meant a whole bunch for me. When I first tried to apply, they denied me for lack of paperwork, but once I got my paperwork together, they helped me out,” George said, explaining that she has lived in her east Stockton home for the past 15 years. It is the same home she grew up in and it was left to her when her mother died, so it has added meaning to her.

“Keep Your Home California is a good program if you would like help,” she said. “It is up to you to have your paperwork in order, but it ain’t much that they ask from you.”

George said she saw a television commercial for the program and called the number (888-954-KEEP). “A live person comes on the line and they just take it from there,” she said. Since she doesn’t have a computer or a fax machine, she was able to connect to Keep Your Home through the Stockton WorkNet Center at 56 S. Lincoln St., one of several free partners in the Stockton area.

“I’m thanking the Lord for letting me see my 50th birthday in my home,” George said.

In addition to the assistance it provides distressed homeowners, the federally funded state managed program preserves an average of $2 of economic activity statewide for every $1 generated, according to Von Nessen.

The $2.5 billion in preserved economic activity corresponds to roughly 8,100 jobs and more than $441 million in labor income for Californians, Von Nessen’s report concluded. Also, it represents approximately $81.3 million worth of losses in state tax revenue that were averted.

“Approximately 46 percent of this impact is the direct result of the preservation of property value — both the market value that would have been lost if assisted families’ homes had gone into foreclosure and the market value that would have been lost among adjacent properties due to the economic spillover effects of distressed properties,” according to the report.

Keep Your Home California spokesman Steve Gallagher explained there are five programs available to homeowners with financial hardships such as job loss or income reduction, medical debt or death in the family to help them remain in their homes, maintain an affordable mortgage payment and avoid foreclosure.

To be eligible, the income limit for homeowners in San Joaquin County is $79,550. By comparison, for Calaveras County homeowners the eligible income limit is $84,250.

To learn more about Keep Your Home California, phone (888) 954-5337 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday or visit Help is provided in Spanish and free translation services in many other languages are available.

“There are still quite a bit of people out there still struggling. The recovery hasn’t been easy across the state, and unemployment is still disproportionately high in many areas. We have this assistance through the end of 2020 or until we use up all the funds. We are still trying to get the word out about the program,” Gallagher said.

He also warned about fraud.

“Keep Your Home California is completely free of charge. There are still people trying to take advantage of people who are trying to stay in their homes. ‘Just pay me $3,000.’ I would really caution people against working with anybody who wants to collect a fee from them,” Gallagher said. “You will never be charged a fee, and the agencies on our website will never charge you a fee. There are a lot of great resources out there for free, and we are here to help if somebody needs us.”

— Contact reporter Joe Goldeen at (209) 546-8278 or Follow him at and on Twitter @JoeGoldeen.

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