Mark Hayward's City Matters: No rescue for victims of house swindle
By the fall of 2008, the panic was on. We lost jobs, dreams and houses. (Of course, banks got bailed out.)
Prieto and his fellow crooks found their victims from newspaper foreclosure notices.
Days away from foreclosure, homeowners signed over the deed to their house to a Prieto company. The promise was that the homeowner could stay in their house (which had plenty of equity), pay a reduced rent, get their finances in order and buy back the house.
The straw man got $5,000, according to paperwork in federal court. Prieto netted thousands from refinancing — $475,000 for a house in Ossipee, $300,000 for a house in Nashua, $256,000 for a house in Chester, $389,500 for a house in Litchfield. The list goes on and on.
"We thought this was our saving grace," said Patricia, a Manchester school teacher who lives in Nashua and asked that I not print her last name. Her son was sick, her husband had lost his warehousing job, and the Prieto deal avoided the discomfort of asking family for help.
"My knees were like jelly; I was in shock," she said in the dining room of her apartment.
The conviction doesn't leave a happy ending.
Zuckerman said the actual victims are the banks, or to be more precise whoever ended up holding the mortgage-backed securities that included the defaulted loans.
"There was certainly a level of deception that went on with some of the homeowners, but they would have lost their homes sooner than they did," Zuckerman said.
To this day, she reads about the Prieto case online. The agent she dealt with, Richard Winefield, received three years probation and six months house arrest. At one point, Winefield tried to have his real estate license restored, which upsets Patricia. His efforts eventually foundered.
She wants to see Prieto go to prison for a long time. His lawyer has requested a new trial.
"We thought we were doing the right thing," Patricia said. "If we still had the house in our hands, it would have never been in foreclosure."
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