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Deaf man duped by 'misleading' broker

Georgia's mortgage fraud cases on the rise - with increasingly vulnerable victims

Lester Wimbley was only trying to refinance his Decatur home, whose $500 mortgage payments he was having more and more trouble making. But within months of contacting a broker, the 46-year-old federal government employee, who is deaf, had unwittingly sold his home and was forced to pay thousands of unnecessary dollars to the broker and the home's buyer, according to a lawsuit filed earlier this month in DeKalb County Superior Court.

In the growing trend of fly-by-night brokerage firms accused of preying on vulnerable homeowners, Wimbley is just another alleged victim, according to Atlanta Legal Aid predatory lending expert Bill Brennan. Brennan, who has investigated dozens of mortgage fraud cases like Wimbley's, says the deaf man's case shows how abusive the practice has become. Tamara Rorie, a Clarkston attorney representing Wimbley, says her client was misled because he's unable to read lips and understands very little without an interpreter.

"It's clear Lester didn't have the skills to understand what was happening," Rorie says. "[The broker] purposely misled him."

According to the lawsuit, which alleges misrepresentation and fraud in violation of the Fair Business Practices Act, Wimbley was driving home from work in March 2003 when he spotted a sign advertising mortgage refinancing. Using a telecommunications system, he spoke via operator to a First Citizen Mortgage representative, who was informed that Wimbley was deaf, the lawsuit states. Rather than refinance his home, however, the broker arranged for the sale of the home, according to the lawsuit. Rorie says the new owner bought the house with the intent to rent it back to Wimbley - at a higher monthly payment than his mortgage.

Wimbley claims to have been unaware he was selling his home - and paying $4,500 to the broker, the suit alleges. What's more, the suit says the broker refused to bring an interpreter to Wimbley's closing, despite his repeated requests for one.

Court documents describe how, before the Sept. 10, 2003, closing, the representative wrote a note to Wimbley stating, "When you get to the closing, just sign your name and do not say anything! I had to work hard on this loan."

The woman who bought the home, Erin McAllister, who also is named as a defendant, declined comment. CL tried to contact First Citizen Mortgage, its attorney, and the representative who handled Wimbley's case, Nicole Nicholson, but both Nicholson's cell phone numbers and the number for First Citizen, in Decatur, have been disconnected. The lawyer, Keith Joseph, did not respond to a request for an interview. Rorie says she too is unable to locate Nicholson or First Citizen.

Wimbley is now living in his house and paying $850 a month in rent to McAllister, according to Rorie. "It's outrageous that this happened," she says. "All Lester wanted was to refinance."

Alyssa.abkowitz@creativeloafing.com





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