MONTEREY PARK, Calif. -- A loan-modification law firm forced a former Marine to lose his home of 24 years. But he fought back, and the alleged scammer is being disbarred. That homeowner wants to share the lessons he learned.
Former Marine Ruben Navarro owned his Monterey Park home for 24 years. But just before Christmas, he was evicted due to a foreclosure he hired Orange County attorney Frank Francis Barilla. He now lives in a small motor home thanks to poor legal representation.
"I was totally devastated," said Navarro. "I tried to explain to the sheriff's [department] what had been going on, and all they had to say was we have a court order here, you need to leave at once. Broke my heart."
LINK: Vet Hunters
LINK: US Dept. of Housing and Urban Development
LINK: Montebello Housing Development Corp.
Navarro blames Denny Lake who works for Frank F Barilla, who through his National Advocacy Law Center, allegedly promised to get Navarro a loan modification.Barilla allegedly wanted a lot of money up front to help.
"He asked me for $4,000 up front, which I did pay him, and subsequent payments of $1500 a month," said Navarro. "And this money was supposed to go towards paying my mortgage.
"From what I understand now, he was pocketing the money," said Navarro.
Charging up-front fees for loan help is illegal in the state of California. So Navarro got local law enforcement involved, and through a sting operation, the police and the California Department of Justice . The Law Firm has been under investigation for over fifty five counts of felony first-degree theft.
Because Navarro is a military veteran, he has had a lot of support. But that's because alleged scams like this one happen all too often to vets returning home.
"A lot of our soldiers are coming back, they're falling victim to these same issues," said Joe Leal, the Vet Hunters Project. "They promise that they can re-modify the mortgage. And in the end they wind up losing their homes, their credit goes bad. It's happening a lot."
To avoid loan modification scams:
- Never pay up front for assistance.
- Don't make payments to anyone but a lender.
- Don't stop making payments.
- Avoid anyone guaranteeing loan modification.
If you need help, you should know that there are organizations out there that can help you at no cost to you.
"There are about 30 organizations in the L.A. basin. If you go to HUD.gov, you'll find organizations that are HUD-approved, HUD-certified, HUD-authorized, that will do these services for free," said Felipe Agredano, Montebello Housing Development.
"If anything good can come out of this is that Frank F Barilla will not be able to do this to somebody else," said Navarro.