Did Wells Fargo Kill Disabled Navy Veteran?

How can a 62 year old disabled veteran, described as “a very good guy, a very simple man who loved animals” and one who had always stayed two mortgage payments ahead, suddenly find himself in courtroom brouhaha that came to a sad ending? He died while listening to a judge’s ruling that he was losing his house. It’s a story of tragedy, anger and disbelief. And it’s true.

Model Citizen

Larry Delassus served in the United States Navy from 1969 to 1973 where he handled jet fuel. Upon leaving the military, he worked in the film industry and the airline industry. He was the epitome of a confirmed bachelor and took pride in his spotless credit history. Still, Wells Fargo foreclosed on his California home, even after acknowledging it had made a mistake in filing the papers. Delassus not only stayed two payments ahead in his condominium mortgage, he also was two payments ahead in his property taxes.

The nightmare began with this veteran when his March 2009 payment of $1,237 wasn’t applied to his mortgage as it had been for years. He knew he was two payments ahead, so he asked a friend who was also an attorney to look into it for him since the bank insisted his payment was not enough to cover that months obligation. Overnight, he was overdue in his payments.

Once his neighbor, Anthony Trujillo, began looking into the situation, even his seasoned legal mind was in disbelief. Trujillo learned that Delassus’s minimum payment of $1,237 was nearly all of his $1,500 monthly disability income through Social Security. Trujillo said he knew right away there was an even bigger problem at stake,

How did this guy end up with a loan payment that was nearly all of his income. Here’s an old man picking up bottles and cans for recycling because he has no money.

Series of Refinances

He then discovered a refinance in 2007 and then a second refinance a few months later because of a promise made by the bank representative said he could do so with no closing or service fees. Before it was over with, he ended up having to pay those fees anyway. Citing “strong armed tactics” of the bank, Trujillo then found two more refinances his friend had been strongly encouraged to take. Because of Delassus’ disability, the bank even arranged a courier to bring the paperwork to his home for a signature – in many states that’s not even legal since a notary is usually required to be on site.

Then, when the bank refused his March 2009 payment, Delassus thought that perhaps an adjustable rate was to blame; still, he wasn’t overly concerned because of his two payment advantage. The bank soon sent him a letter stating he was also behind on his property taxes and because of the contract, it would be setting up an escrow account for $13,000 to pay those property taxes. The problem with that is his property taxes were never more than $2,000 a year. Turns out, the company’s subcontractor tax services had figured its numbers using the wrong parcel number. The parcel number used in the calculations were actually his neighbor’s, who had a bigger condo on a bigger lot. The bank still paid those property taxes, even as it knew it wasn’t the right property. Demands were then made to Delassus to pay up the $13,000.

They basically defaulted him on their own entirely from their own paperwork screw-up,

Trujillo said.

Sorry, Our Bad

Trujillo also informed the bank of the mix up and since the bank acknowledged the error and fixed Delsassus’s credit history between June 2009 and Aug. 2010, it also kept him in default. The only way Delassus would be able to remain in his home was to pay up the value of the home, which was more than $337,000.

We could have gotten the money, if they ever told us something. He had money in savings. He had cars. We could have made payments on it,

Trujillo said. Since that didn’t happen, Trujillo filed a lawsuit. In the meantime, Delassus was hospitalized. When the initial injunction was allowed to expire that prevented the bank from selling the property, it did just that: sold the condominium for $270,000. The new homeowners promptly flipped it for twice as much.

Delassus was homeless. Remember, this is a man who was committed to maintaining his financial obligations. His credit cards were paid each month and he was always two payments ahead with his other obligations.

Going, Going Gone

After the bank sold his house at auction, Delassus’ health began failing and he declined mentally.

Of course he thought he was going to get it back, but we knew that wasn’t going to happen. But we didn’t want to burst his bubble. The stress of knowing his home was taken away and he was really homeless – everyday he talked about how they took his condo, and I know that took its toll.

For its part, Wells Fargo shifted blame and even questioned why Delassus was at the last court hearing.

Mr. Delassus’ passing was a tragic event and our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. In a tentative ruling posted on the court’s Web site the night before the scheduled hearing, the judge indicated she was prepared to dismiss all the claims put forward by Mr. Delassus’ attorneys and rule in favor of our motion for summary judgment. Given that there was no testimony or evidence to be presented at the hearing, there was no reason for Mr. Delassus to attend and it is truly unfortunate that he was brought there.

It should be noted that Wells Fargo agreed it had made the mistakes.

Trujillo responded and said Delassus needed to be in court because a hearing was requested by the bank to determine if Delassus needed an independent guardian appointed by the court. “He was there to testify,” Trujillo said.

Who’s Responsible?

On that final day, Delassus listened in the courtroom, waiting his turn to testify, when became motionless. Those present shifted their attention from the bickering between the lawyers and watched sheriff deputies check for a pulse. Incredibly, the lawyers then picked up where they left off before the judge stood and began walking out of the courtroom. She paused long enough to ask one question: “Who’s supposed to be taking care of him?” There’s a certain irony in that question, considering she was basically dismissing a man who’d found for her freedom to wear the robes and oversee legal cases. She – nor the legal system or the bank he’d done business with for decades – were most certainly not taking care of him.

He had suffered heart failure and died in that courtroom.

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