Bank pays its attorneys with Hardest Hit money and still takes Florida woman’s home
More than $17,000 in taxpayer money went to save a Pinellas County woman’s home from foreclosure through Florida’s key prevention program but her lender repossessed the property anyway after using some of the money to pay off its own attorneys.
Sandra Morales, 68, received $17,102 from Florida’s $1 billion Hardest Hit program. Of that, her lender, Florida Central Credit Union, used $4,600 to pay its own attorneys’ fees and “other expenses,” according to court documents. A final foreclosure judgment of $184,292 awarded in April in favor of the credit union included another $4,462 in attorney’s fees.
On Wednesday, the credit union bought the house back at a final foreclosure auction for $72,900.
Although Morales was eligible to receive more money from the Hardest Hit fund, the credit union stopped participating in the program, cutting her off from additional funding.
“They will flip it,” said Morales, a 20-year former FEMA employee who traveled the country helping victims of major disasters. “They have already made money on it and took Hardest Hit money and got the house.”
The Palm Beach Post wrote about Morales’ struggle to keep her home in a May story about how the Hardest Hit funds can be used to pay lender attorneys’ fees but not those of homeowners.
The Treasury Department determined in 2010 that legal aid for borrowers was not allowed under the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008. One of Florida’s original proposals to use Hardest Hit money was rejected because it included $25 million for legal counseling and representation for homeowners.
“Even though it’s a good-intentioned program, it is a funnel to the banks,” Morales’ attorney Rory Rohan said in the May article. “The end result seems to be the banks get the money and the homeowner doesn’t get the house.”
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