The foreclosure crisis has spawned a cottage industry of scam artists trying to dupe desperate homeowners into paying for help to try and get lenders to lower mortgage payments, experts say.
It’s a lesson that Marie Jean-Pierre says became painfully clear after her lender moved to foreclose on her home after she had been sending thousands of dollars to a man she thought was working to lower her mortgage payments.
“I don't even know what I’m going to do. Go crash in someone's couch?” Jean-Pierre told FOX Undercover’s Mike Beaudet.
Jean-Pierre blames Pierre Excellent, who she met through her church, for the mess she’s in. Excellent promised to work with her lender and lower her mortgage payments by half through a government-backed program aimed at reducing foreclosures nationwide.
“You know the worst thing about it? I've said to this guy point blank, ‘I know people try to take people for a ride. I'm not the one,’” Jean-Pierre recalled.
But take her for a ride is just what she says he did. For thirteen months Jean-Pierre sent her mortgage payments to Excellent, nearly $18,000 in all. He said he would send them to her lender, CitiMortgage.
“None of it went to CitiMortgage. None at all. Not a penny went to CitiMortgage. He stole all of it,” Jean-Pierre said.
CitiMortgage was sending notices that she was falling behind, but Excellent made sure he was getting the statements, not her.
Finally, the scheme unraveled when a check she sent to Excellent was returned to her by his bank. She saw it had been deposited into an account for Excellent's company, Lakai Legal Clinic. Lakai means “home” in Haitian Creole.
“Mr. Pierre Excellent signed my name and deposited it to Lakai Legal,” Jean-Pierre said.
A call to her lender confirmed her worst fears.
“CitiMortgage just said to me, “I'm sorry Ma'am we haven't received any payment from you,” Jean-Pierre said. “I literally collapsed.”
FOX Undercover tried to speak with Excellent outside his Roslindale office.
“Hello, Mr. Excellent,” Beaudet said. “You're not exactly living up to your name, are you?”
“She's been paying you for more than a year, where's her money?” Beaudet asked.
“She could lose her home because of you, sir. What do you have to say for herself?” Beaudet said, but Excellent walked away.
Excellent is no stranger to scrutiny.
Three years ago the Massachusetts Attorney General targeted another company he owned, Lehi Mortgage Services, for using "fabricated or inflated" information on mortgage applications. That lawsuit is still pending in Suffolk Superior Court.
Rhode Island banking officials also revoked the company's mortgage license in 2009.
“He has really taken his last name of Excellent and done an extremely excellent job of preying on working people,” said housing activist Bruce Marks, head of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, or NACA.
Marks says people like Excellent are targeting homeowners trying to modify their mortgages because lenders are so difficult to work with.
“This guy Excellent, well, he's a roach and there's many of them out there like that. And you have to stop their creation by getting the banks to modify their mortgages,” Marks said.
NACA runs workshops all over the country, offering free help modifying mortgages. The events draw thousands of people.
Marks said people should never pay someone to help modify their mortgage.
“If you're paying someone to save your home it's wrong and it's not going to happen,” Marks said.
It's advice that came late for Jean-Pierre, but maybe not too late.
Boston police have charged Excellent with larceny, forgery and uttering. He pleaded not guilty at his arraignment last month in West Roxbury District Court. After the hearing, he said the case was just a misunderstanding.
“It wasn't stolen. It was a mistake from the banks,” he said.
Whatever the reason, it's a mistake that Jean-Pierre doesn't want other people to make.
“I would just tell anybody before you do anything just think about it. And as the mortgage company told me, there are probably a lot of things you can do on your own,” she said.
Now, Excellent has promised to pay back all the money Jean-Pierre sent him. And Jean-Pierre may be able to keep her home after all.
After inquiries from FOX Undercover, CitiMortgage told Jean-Pierre that they will forgive the amount that she sent to Excellent and grant her a mortgage modification, lowering her monthly payment.
The administration of Gov. Deval Patrick is also warning people about this problem. State investigators recently found six foreclosure relief companies asking customers for money upfront, a violation of state law.