Nine years ago, civil rights fighter Mary Lee Ward contacted Our Time Press about her urgent unfolding story — which was as powerful then, as it, although changed a bit, is now. Following is a reprint of the story by Baye McNeil, published in OTP February 2002.
By Baye McNeil February, 2002
Over the past few years, several community organizations in Bedford-Stuyvesant have been striving to raise awareness of the predatory lenders who prey on the poor and the elderly. Bridge Street Development Corporation, The Brownstoners of Bed-Stuy, just to name a couple, conduct outreach programs. But these grassroots efforts cannot match the onslaught of the well-financed predators. Their billboards are everywhere. Their representatives stalk the community. Their propaganda is in the mailbox daily: “Guaranteed loans for Homeowners!” Borrow money from them and you may find yourself on the street before you can say, “What the…”
Enter Mary Lee Ward. Miss Mary. A 72-year-old homeowner in Bed-Stuy, a widow, a great-grandmother of two. She needed money for an ongoing custody battle. Miss Mary says that the adoptive parents of her great-granddaughter, Pooh-Pooh, deceived her and the adoption agency to be eligible for the adoption. In order to raise the funds for the court costs involved in retrieving her illegally adopted great-grandchild, Mrs. Ward decided to refinance her home.
Enter the Predator. Delta Funding Corporation, of Woodbury, L.I., NY’s largest subprime lender, a $1 billion-a-year operation. A publicly owned, bottom-line driven company, more concerned with the satisfaction of its stockholders than the welfare of their client. A well-known predatory lender among housing advocacy groups. Their target demographic is African-Americans and Latinos living in predominantly disenfranchised and redlined communities. Delta makes loans based on the value of the property, not on the homeowners ability to make monthly payments, then attaches exorbitant fees and interest rates to their loans.
Miss Mary, unwittingly, contacts Delta Funding, responding to an advertisement she’d found in her mailbox. And that’s how this hellish journey of hers began. The irony is enough to make one shudder. Miss Mary needed this loan so that she could afford a lawyer. But without one to explain all the complicated goings-on involved with closing a loan, she was pretty much at the mercy of the lender.
On July 28, 1995, she initially closed on a loan for $82,500 that would yield her $11,077.66- enough to pay the legal expenses of the adoption case. Already, Delta had her where they wanted her. The bilk was in. The monthly payments would inevitably prove catastrophic. But, Delta didn’t stop there. They called her back for a second closing, on August 18th, claiming that the first closing had been rescinded because there were some errors and she was due a few more dollars. This brought the total up to $11,388.51. Miss Mary wound up with a check for $1,467.51, at an interest rate of 14.9%- the yield of yet a third closing that allegedly also took place on August 18th. A closing Miss Mary denies ever signing off on or even being present for.
Realizing that she’d somehow been swindled, Miss Mary immediately took action. She was advised to have the loan rescinded as soon as possible, which she proceeded to do. Delta responded to her efforts with a letter stating that her file was now inactive and the matter was closed. But, before she knew it, Delta had foreclosed on her mortgage because Miss Mary hadn’t made any payments on the loan she understood to be rescinded.
This practice of multiple closings is just one of Delta’s tactics to bilk homeowners. Tactics that led to an investigation by the NY State Attorney General and the State Banking Superintendent and eventually to a lawsuit and a settlement back in 1999. A settlement in which Delta was ordered to pay $12 million to some 400 of the fleeced homeowners (a pittance in comparison to the amount they’ve taken over the years) while admitting no wrongdoing. Many will never see any of that lousy $12 million dollars. Their mortgages were foreclosed before the settlement; duped out of their homes and hopes and forced to eke out the rest of their lives in despair and regret. In spite of the Civil Rights violations of this type of fraud (the blatant targeting of African-American and Latino communities), this settlement only calls for Delta to reduce the monthly payments of active loans. And to add insult to injury: To receive the reduction, the homeowner had to waive their right to sue Delta.
Miss Mary wasn’t having it! She wants the entire loan of $82,500.00 rescinded and she intends to sue Delta for fraud. “This is a fraudulent mortgage…I’m not giving those crooks one dime!” She told OTP. “My granddaddy was a slave. He didn’t have any rights. But I’m free!” David Glover, Miss Mary’s grandfather, lived an incredible one hundred and twenty-three years. And in that time, had instilled in Miss Mary the wherewithal to stay the course. The knowledge that freedom can’t be proclaimed. It has to be reclaimed.
So Miss Mary didn’t sign this waiver. Instead, she appealed the foreclosure, with the help of her attorney (at the time), Sandra Roper. The appellate remanded the case to the trial court because Delta failed to provide any evidence to explain how Miss Mary’s loan application could have been inactivated after the loan proceeds were disbursed. This after Delta denied that additional closings even existed. Nor had they proof that she’d been advised of her rights regarding rescission of the loan. But that hasn’t stopped Delta. They are still trying to foreclose on her mortgage, alleging that Miss Mary cashed the check for $1,467.51 and spent the broker’s fee and therefore the closing was legitimate.
Miss Mary is presently handling her own legal representation since she fired her attorney, Sandra Roper, whom she was referred to by the NAACP. Miss Mary accuses Roper (a reputable lawyer in Brooklyn, who recently made a failed bid for District Attorney of Kings County) of being a “crook”. The improper broker’s fee of $8,250.00 charged by Tarheel Funding, the mortgage broker on this deal, was recovered by the NYS Banking Department and returned to Miss Mary. She then gave Roper the $8,250.00 to place into escrow. She told OTP that though Roper was allegedly working on her case pro bono she spent this money to cover her expenses. Roper contends that Miss Mary was informed there would be a fee involved. “With the volume of paperwork involved with this case, I told Miss Mary there’s no way I could do this pro bono. My usual retainer is $10 thousand and my fee is $200 an hour. But, I gave her some latitude.” Roper also faxed over to OTP a retainer agreement signed by Mary Ward. In response to Roper’s allegations, Miss Mary stated, “I had no such agreement with her! One day she had me sign some papers she told me were to be used if I wasn’t available but we never agreed to no retainer fee!” Miss Mary has since filed complaints against Roper with the Judicial Grievance Committee and the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office. “It’s kind of sad she feels she has to do that,” Roper said. “I consider the work I did for her to be some of the finest of my career. I’m especially proud of the appeal we won.” Sandra Roper informed OTP that as of now she is no longer practicing law. So for the time being Miss Mary is on her own.
OTP followed Miss Mary to court for her last appearance, as Delta continues its efforts to litigate her home from under her. “They wanna take me to trial so they can drag this on another 7 years hoping I’ll keel over and die. But I know my rights and Jehovah has given me the strength to prevail,” said this diminutive woman with an 8th grade education, pitted against a team of lawyers for the plaintiff. Though equipped with enough evidence to win her case, she is challenged by a lack of procedural knowledge. On the way out of the courtroom after the adjournment, one of Delta’s lawyers shouted at her, “You better start packing!” She clearly needs assistance. Miss Mary, alone and unperturbed, has since taken her case to Washington DC.
Armed with a shopping cart full of legal documents to support her case and an indelible determination to keep her home out of Delta’s clutches, she appeared on the steps of congress. This move has proven beneficial thus far. She was directed to her delegate’s office, Congressman Ed Towns, and since has been contacted by Special Legislative Asst. Alexander Beckles in DC and Special Asst. Sabrina D. Evans in Brooklyn. The Town’s team is on the case! She has also been in contact with the ACLU to investigate the Civil Rights aspects of this case and even H. Carl McCall, NYS Comptroller, has expressed interest in seeing this issue resolved. By Miss Mary’s next appearance in court, on February 25, 2011 at 9:30 AM, she’s optimistic that she’ll have the legal assistance and support she so desperately needs. The fate of her home hangs in the balance.