Local Couple Takes On Wells Fargo Bank

The San Leandro couple says the mortgage loan the bank extended to them in 2005 was based on a fraudulent appraisal.

“I fight big banks” might be a winning phrase for politicians these days, but one San Leandro couple lives that fight every day — and has for the last six years.

Donna and Nuno Vieira, who live on Yaffe Drive with their 6-year-old son, Leo, purchased a home in Reno, Nevada in 2005. The purchase touched off a series of events that would see them take their legal battle to the Nevada Supreme Court, rally with other homeowners at a national conference and create a website that lets them network with others troubled by bank and mortgage lending practices.

According to the Vieiras, the mortgage loan they took out in 2005 with Wells Fargo was based on a fraudulent appraisal that inflated the property’s value by more than $200,000. The appraisal was ordered by the bank and determined the couple's mortgage, which they were eventually unable to pay, like tens of thousands of other homeowners across the country.

Two years later, and after a review appraisal determined that the original appraisal was inflated, the bank hadn’t taken any steps to help her family recover its losses, Donna said. So she took the issue to court.

“We were responsible homeowners,” she said. “We had no debts and were responsible spenders.” After what seemed like constant back and forth with Wells Fargo, and no progress to show for it, “We had to find a way to get back what we lost,” Donna said.

An investigation by the Nevada Attorney General’s Office followed the 2007 lawsuit and led to a complaint against the appraiser, Thomas J. Magee, by the Nevada Real Estate Division. The division alleged that Magee made "significant errors in the appraisal" and ordered Magee's license temporarily suspended as part of a settlement.

Nevertheless, a county court ruled against the Vieiras and dismissed the lawsuit in March 2009, citing lack of grounds.

The Vieiras said they were first late for their mortgage payment in September, 2009; Wells Fargo foreclosed on the home in June, 2010. Nuno, who is an appraiser himself, said the original home appraisal set him and his wife up for an unwieldy mortgage, and even though it was ruled fraudulent, the couple had no legal recourse.

Donna said she researched constantly to find ways to recover financial losses but was bounced from state regulators to federal regulators. They all said there were no rules they could enforce in the matter.

But Nuno and Donna were determined to carry on their fight and publicize it on their own (Nuno said they hired a lawyer at one point, but that the lawyer "dumped" them). Nuno set up a website, wellsfargomortgagefraud.com, chronicling the couple’s journey through foreclosure and court processes.

In March, Donna attended a homeowners’ rally in Washington, D.C., in hopes of expressing her family's concerns to attorneys general attending a national conference. A YouTube video captured Donna telling her story at the rally, surrounded by cheering supporters and cameramen. 

Donna also made her presence known at the annual Wells Fargo Shareholders' Meeting on May 3 in San Francisco. She said she refused to leave the meeting and demanded that CEO John Stumpf admit to fraud and wrongful foreclosure in her case. Police eventually removed Donna from the meeting; she called it a “sad reality.”

“Instead of arresting homeowners who were trying to get the bank to do the right thing, [police] should be arresting the bank leadership for illegally foreclosing on so many families,” she said.

The couple also appealed the county court’s decision before taking their issue to the Nevada Supreme Court, where they are currently awaiting a ruling. Donna and Nuno said they are willing to take the issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.

“Wells Fargo failed to detect that the mortgage loan was fraudulent, failed to notify us properly, and we feel, failed to work with us as we moved through the very confusing, very harsh legal process,” said Nuno. “Everything we’ve done we’ve had to do on our own, so when we see those commercials about big banks helping the common homeowner, we feel it’s pretty disingenuous.”

The Vieiras are hardly the only ones struggling to sort through problematic mortgage loans and foreclosures. Workshops hosted throughout the county, including one in Dublin last November, have been packed with attendees looking for free counseling. 

Many homeowners can’t afford attorneys and, like the Vieiras, are wading through the morass alone. The website Nuno set up has been a useful way to connect with others in need of advice on navigating foreclosures, he said.

“We’ve had people from Florida, from Nevada, from California, from all over the U.S. visiting the site and emailing us to say the same thing about big banks wronging them or being outright unresponsive,” said Nuno. “It’s surprising to see all these people in need of support and no regulators able to help them.”

Besides losing their Nevada home, the appraisal the Vieiras say was fraudulent is still impacting the family. The couple says they cannot take advantage of lower interest rates or different mortgage structures on their San Leandro property because of a now tarnished credit history.

“Wells Fargo stripped away our financial safety,” said Nuno. “We are working longer hours and [will have] to work beyond our retirement ages to support our family and to rebuild our financial safety.”

Their legal fight put pressure not only on their finances but on the family itself, Donna said.

“Our son was less than 1 year old when Wells Fargo originated us a fraudulent mortgage loan; now, our son is 6 and a half years old,” said Donna. “We could have spent more time reading stories to our son, taking him to kids' soccer practices. Instead we have been spending a lot of our time researching cases and statutes to defend our rights.”

What little of the legal wrangling they have been able to share with their son, Donna said, has produced at least one small, beneficial side effect: “With all these documents and papers lying around for [our son], his reading comprehension has definitely gone up.”

Here are two housing rights agencies both for Alameda County and statewide:

Eden Council for Hope & Opportunity: www.echofairhousing.org
Housing and Economic Rights Advocates:

Larry Smith May 10, 2011 at 02:55 PM
It is truly sad that so many homeowners were complicit in their own real estate purchase deals. Many fudged figures about their income, appraisals, all sorts of double-dealing to secure the American dream...and most knew what they were doing when they did it. It is a shame that they now want legal redress after being caught with dirty hands. Sure...the banks are guilty, and I hate banks as much as the next person, but I am getting tired of all these guilty-as-charged, whining homeowners who made their deals and now are stuck with the fruits of their own doing. It is sad that our national mentality is such that our leaders blatantly permitted unscrupulous lenders/bankers to lead us into deep financial waters without a life preserver. Our Congress members are the ones who should be punished. The bankers are just like snakes...they are going to do what a snake will do...which is bite. However, it is the snake handler's responsibility to make sure the snake doesn't bite...and that didn't happen. So blame your now-sounding indignant Senators and Congressmembers for the problems but not the snake for acting like a snake. For the few people who were genuinely screwed by the banks...and there are a few.....my heart goes out to you.
Robert Jones May 10, 2011 at 04:23 PM
What did the owners do with the money? And am I correct that Nuno is an appraiser? Robert Jones
Fran May 10, 2011 at 05:00 PM
For the appraisal to be over 200 k, that must have been an expensive house. Was it a second home? An investment? Did they live in it and then move to San Leandro? Were they speculating? If a bank is giving you 200k over the value and you default, the bank stands to lose the $ not the homeowner. Since house values are so subjective I can only guess that is why they lost the lawsuit. You cannot gain or lose anything until you actually sell it on the open market. I hate banks, beleive me, but if the house had appreciated they wouldn't be complaining.
David May 10, 2011 at 05:23 PM
No one forced them to take on a mortgage they couldn't afford. Doesn't matter if the appraisal was "fraudulent" or even just wrong. As Fran states, the bank has more to lose if an appraisal is fraudulent (or wrong), again no one forced a mortgage on the borrowers.
Leah Hall May 10, 2011 at 06:01 PM
After reading the previous posts, I thought some would be interested in checking out this op-ed by Paul Krugman. "The Unwisdom of Elites" gives some consideration and perspective on the other side of the political spectrum. -- "The past three years have been a disaster for most Western economies. The United States has mass long-term unemployment for the first time since the 1930s. Meanwhile, Europe’s single currency is coming apart at the seams. How did it all go so wrong?" -Paul Krugman (5/8) -- http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/09/opinion/09krugman.html
David May 10, 2011 at 06:06 PM
People listened to morons like Krugman, who continues to state the only thing wrong with bailing out bankers, bureaucrats and buffoons is that we didn't spend ENOUGH money. I'm sorry, Leah, reading Krugman will rot your brain.
Fran May 10, 2011 at 06:16 PM
So Leah, it has no bearing whatsoever on your opinion whether this was a second home or speculative purchase? I'd like to know. There's too much info missing from this article to form an opinion either way. My comment above is just generally speaking.
Leah Hall May 10, 2011 at 06:19 PM
Tonight! This event is part of Affordable Housing Week 2011. Organizing for Bank Accountability 7 PM – 9 PM Antioch Church Family, 55 East 18th Street, Antioch Sponsored by Contra Costa Interfaith Supporting Community Organizations (CCISCO) Contact: Adam Kruggel at 925-313-0206 or adam@ccisco.org. CCISCO has been a leader in the local, state, and regional struggle to prevent and end foreclosures. Come engage in the campaigns and hear leaders speak about an innovative new foreclosure prevention model, and statewide advocacy. See www.ebho.org for all Affordable Housing Week 2011 events.
Leah Hall May 10, 2011 at 06:21 PM
Ooh, that sounds awful. Probably to late for me already, though. My brain is rotten to the core. :)
David May 10, 2011 at 06:32 PM
Want affordable housing? End set-asides for "affordable housing" and end rent control where it exists.
Leah Hall May 10, 2011 at 07:22 PM
I'll be stopping by your house tonight and dropping off that extra kitty litter and litter box for you, David. If you're not home I'll just leave them both on your porch. You're welcome! :)
David May 11, 2011 at 01:07 AM
Econ 101. Landlords keep 31,000 units off the market just in San Francisco due to rent control. "Affordable housing" creates housing for the poor and the rich and no one in between.
Leah Hall May 11, 2011 at 01:32 AM
So I guess this means I won't be seeing you on any of these 19 Bay Area tours, David? Ah well, I'll take some pics for you, kitty-kitty. :)
Barry Kane May 11, 2011 at 03:22 AM
Tanya Dennis May 27, 2011 at 06:43 AM
It's unbelievable when people blame the victim, and the reality is these people have been victimized. The banks committed fraud from the beginning and fraud nullifies any contract. People think that every person that is in foreclosure knew what they were signing up for. How many of us read through the hundreds of pages we get during the loan process? Because the broker has superior knowledge it is his duty to explain to the homeowner what he is signing, but none do. Brokers rush through the process so they can go on to the next loan. If the banks weren't grossly guilty of fraud, misrepresentation, and quiet title, then they are at least guilty of unjust enrichment in that they have already been paid when they securitized our notes on Wall Street If they weren't criminals then the attorney general, the feds and every body else wouldn't be coming out the wood work.
elizabeth forakis June 03, 2011 at 12:26 PM
ive been defrauded too its not just your side of the atlantic, a mortage was applied to our factory premises without our knowledge or request to facililtate the bank taking first charge, we had a charge from our previous partner but he wasnt asking for his money back together with solicitor costs were paid from the first loan, a second mortgage was then given which bore no relation to the amount requested out of this second loan the first was paid with no drawdown signed we didnt even know a mortgage was approved , and then when the bank were advised of the 'irregularities ' we were sent to meet an employees father, who at the time i thought was the president of Emporiki bank , he started chasing us with his 'private agreements' in my book -blackmail, even his solicitor phoned my solicitor to get us to agree to a private settlement. Along the was not only have we been stolen from defrauded,the bank threatened reposession when they knew perfectly well that a fraud had been committed and that was 'the gross negligence' of its staff the finanical services are investigating ( I havent heard from the fsa that the investigation has been concluded, spoke to them last week). we have only asked for our losses to be covered their last responses were could we lower our request, their offer less than 10% my reply was ' come back with a serious offer to date silence. CREDIT' D'AGRICOLE own of the Emporiki bank. so Im fighting unprofessional and negligent bank too
al June 19, 2011 at 09:25 PM
Al Experiencing a similar problem in the State of Florida where property values were inflated by at least 200%, the promissory note was not recorded or allegedly lost. Additionally, Wells Fargo committed multiple mortgage foreclosure fraud including perjury, etc. Appraisal fraud is prohibited under title 18usc. If you look under limitations at section 3293 you will find various sections with a ten year statute of limitations, which include a section for fraudulent appraisals.
Prince Ella Green July 17, 2011 at 10:58 PM
MidFirst BANK bought a discharged fha/hud, mortgage debt in 2005. Midland Mortgage services the debt to date. We sued in 2008, they attempted to collect to this day. The courts looked the other way while their attorney filed 2 unsigned never before seen settlement agreements. We are forced to accept $40,000, sign the agreement to repay the debt or face jail/fines. MidFirst still has the debt in our names in 2011. So I handcuffed my self to the Houston HUD office in 2011. Google "MidFirst Bank/Handcuffed" and google the News story "ZOMBIE DEBT REFUSE TO DIE" PRINCE ELLA GREEN pgreen019@comcast.net
Richard July 12, 2012 at 01:10 AM
Are you Insane.?????????????? Sure there is a percentage of Home owners that are guilty, of not being honest on their Earned Income and their true ability to afford the American Dream. But lets get the facts here and get real. Wells Fargo, is being Sued daily for some but not all of their Illegal Activities, and because of their size they are able to perpetuate Fraud at the highest levels and get away with it.. I say enough is enough. Wells Fargo, needs to be Sued out of business Totally, and follow the same path as Enron and World Com. End of Discussion....


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