The Troubleshooters has begun a series of special reports we've been investigating for three months.
In early August, we were contacted by a Corpus Christi couple who shared their experience of pursuing the "American dream" of owning a home. The couple never thought it would happen for them until it did in 2009.
But you'll see in our report, what they've uncovered about the purchase of their first home, has very nearly shattered their dream. It all started for Jesse and Thelma Lopez with a house on Panama Street.
Their chance to finally own their own home. "Oh my God!" Mrs. Lopez told the Troubleshooters. "I fell in love with it."
So they met with a representative from New Wave Properties and filled out an application. "About three days later they called us and said... Hey you guys qualified. You want the house?" Mr. Lopez recalled.
They put $3900 down and bought the home for $149,900 nearly nine years ago. The lien note shows New Wave Properties is associated with Safeguard Investments, both run by Fred Rich.
"It's a 50-year mortgage. At 9.9% interest," Lopez said. Lopez says he did the math. Under those terms, he would be 109 years old and have paid an estimated $800,000 for a $140,000 home.
After reviewing his payment schedule, Lopez says he noticed something else. "I've already paid $101,000 since '09 and of that $101,000, $1,200 is my principal. So if you don't call that theft, I don't know what you call theft."
When Lopez asked questions, he claims Rich told him, "If I was to want to leave the house, all I would have to do is give him 30 days notice and I can just walk away." Turns out, according to Lopez, his $3,900 down payment was never applied to the mortgage balance, and Safeguard still owned the note on the property, not Lopez.
In April 2013 Lopez and Rich wound up in small claims court. Lopez recounted what Judge Karen Diaz told him after reviewing his mortgage contract. "She said that's the most illegal mortgage contract I've ever seen. She said you need to find yourself an attorney and sue Fred Rich."
We asked our legal expert, former judge Mike Westergren to take a look at it. "It's a sales contract... Right?." This has been an education for the Lopez's.
They always thought their credit history would prevent them from ever owning their own home.
"Because I didn't know anything about buying a house, we had never bought one before. Never applied for one or anything," he said. Now they know you need a license to sell real estate, and that a mortgage contract needs escrow terms, tax appraisal, inspection reports, and verification of income.
In July 2016, the Lopez's sued Fred Rich, claiming fraud and that he violated the Texas Deceptive Trade Practices Act. The case is pending. Besides the civil suit, the Lopez's have filed complaints with the Texas Department of Savings and Mortgage Lending and the State Attorney General's Office.
We've attempted contacting Fred Rich at his Portland office twice, but so far have been told he's unavailable. We'll keep trying. In our next report, a woman who says she was Fred Rich's accountant, tells the Troubleshooters "He doesn't care. He just doesn't care. He thinks he's above everybody. I've never seen anybody like it. He has no heart."
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