onetime homeowner looks back on a two-year nightmare that
ruined her life—and illustrates the madness of the financial
The abandoned two-story house sat close to the road on an
outside curve of Delaware Turnpike, packed in tight by untouched
snowbanks and ice. The windows were broken and the nests and
waste of wildlife lay scattered among children’s toys and
shoes, clothing, cheap furniture and appliances, the things
that you leave behind in a frantic move. A built-in bookshelf
was stuffed with hardcovers, and a broken computer monitor
lay face down next to a golf bag on the ruined carpet. An
ashtray was still filled with cigarette butts, and a grimy
liquor bottle sat on the kitchen sink.
This house was a war zone. It was ransacked. The copper piping
had been ripped out of its guts, its doors broken off their
hinges and never fully repaired, leaving the house open to
the elements and the raccoons that nested inside. This house
was a waste, but at one time, it was the house that JoAnne
Ferrell raised three children in, and had imagined would one
day be her home in retirement.
She had dreamed of teaching herself how to farm the three
acres between the house and the hills behind it, and building
a small, roadside business to sell her produce and crafts.
It was a dream that she had struggled toward for 11 years,
working two jobs and raising three kids alone, trying to save
money. But nowadays, as she smokes cigarettes in the second
floor apartment of her ex- husband’s Rensselaer house, those
old plans and hopes are just painful, she said, to think about,
because she knows that they are something she will never have.
Not now. Not after the foreclosure that forced her out of
her home, and the bankruptcy that ruined her credit.
Not after she got herself into a debt she couldn’t handle
to a company, Wilshire Credit Corp., that she said specialized
in profiting off people in distress.
A quick Google search of Wilshire will bring up pages of complaints
about the Oregon-based mortgage-servicing company, and most
follow a similar narrative: The company is rude, incompetent,
bullying, unprofessional, greedy, vindictive. Based on these
complaints, Wilshire seems to epitomize the era of subprime
mortgages and predatory lending. There is at least one lawsuit
pending against Wilshire, and Ferrell said that she is working
with Legal Aid in Albany to mount her own. Had Wilshire just
been willing to work with her, she said, none of this waste
would have had to happen.
Ferrell’s is the kind of story that encapsulates the madness
of the mortgage sector in the past eight years.
Ferrell’s story is a confusing blur of numbers and dates.
She admitted that without a stack of documents in front of
her, she has trouble keeping track of them all. But the dates
and numbers are important to the story.
In Dec. 2005, Ferrell refinanced her home. She needed cash,
bad. It was a different time, and the easy myth of equity-based
loans was still pervasive, despite the warnings of legions
of killjoy economists. Refinancing seemed like a quick, reliable
way to secure cash, and Ferrell had the equity. So she refinanced
her $72,000 mortgage to $87,000, increasing her monthly payments
to $1,000 a month, which she could barely afford. She agreed
to a crippling 11-percent interest rate, but wasn’t worried,
she said, because she believed that in a year she would be
able to refinance again, at a more agreeable rate.
That was the plan.
In September 2006, Ferrell was in the final stages of that
second refinance. There was just one detail left to attend
to: She needed to provide proof that she was current in her
mortgage payments. This, she claimed, shouldn’t have been
a problem, as she had been making payments on time for a decade.
But what she didn’t know was that her original mortgage servicer
no longer held her contract. In fact, it had been sold in
August. So when she made her August mortgage payment, she
paid to the wrong company. On Aug. 5, she claimed, she was
informed by the new company, Wilshire Credit, that she was
Her refinance was thrown into chaos.
had enough credit. My credit was good. My bills were paid.
All I needed was a letter from Wilshire that said I was current,”
Ferrell said. But according to Ferrell, dealing with this
new company was proving to be a nightmare of waiting on hold,
lost information, lost documents, rude customer service. After
two months, the confusion over the August mortgage payment
was finally settled, but by that time, her deal had fallen
through. Even though, she said, she had paid Wilshire the
September payment directly.
Ferrell was stuck with the devastating interest rate, and
the monthly mortgage payment she was having trouble meeting.
She decided to strike out again, to find another company refinance
with, anything to get rid of Wilshire.
In December 2006, four months after being sold to Wilshire,
Ferrell claimed that she was informed by the company that
it was going to raise her monthly payments by $100. Wilshire
claimed that Ferrell didn’t have enough money in her escrow
account and that she hadn’t paid her insurance. It was simply
not true, she told them. The insurance was paid, and her escrow
account was fine, she said. Her insurance agent even called
Wilshire to tell them so. But she wasn’t worried; by that
time she had found another company to refinance her loan.
She had even been pre-approved at a reasonable new fixed rate.
thought that I was going to get these people out of my life,”
she said of Wilshire, “and that the nightmare was going to
But by that time, the world had changed. The housing bubble
was in full burst. Foreclosure numbers were gaining steam,
and the media were beginning its shriek about subprime mortgages.
It seemed that the financial and regulatory worlds were beginning
to brace themselves for the fallout, and mortgage companies
were beginning to enforce strict guidelines for refinance
deals. Ferrell’s house, after a detailed appraisal, was denied.
With her second attempt at a refinance gone, she had no option
but to go back to her negotiations with Wilshire. She told
them that she couldn’t afford the $100 increase, and that
there was no reason for the increase in the first place, that
they were wrong about her taxes and her insurance. She offered
to pay them the original payment amount, she said, but they
wouldn’t accept the money.
wouldn’t take anything but that amount” Ferrell said. “And
one hundred dollars might not be a lot to some people, but
for me it was too much.”
Frantic, with no options left, Ferrell put her house and her
land up sale in January 2007 and, frustrated in her inability
to deal with Wilshire, she stopped making her mortgage payments.
In March 2007, after two months of fighting with Wilshire
representatives, the company began foreclosure on her property.
have no idea the white trash that this company is,” Ferrell
said. “They are bill collectors, basically. They treat you
like dirt. They call me up, when I missed that first month,
and I answered my cell phone at a Lowe’s, and I got this guy
on the other end of the line, screaming at the top of his
lungs, ‘Why the eff didn’t you pay your eff’ing mortgage.’
Calling me bitch. How do you work out an agreement with someone
Ferrell stayed in her house throughout the summer, during
the foreclosure process. Every month, her debt to Wilshire
increased by $1,100, plus fines and fees.
By August 2007, she had found a cash buyer for the house.
According to her real-estate agent, who asked not to be mentioned
by name in this article, everything was set. The buyer was
offering $105,000, well above the original $87,000, but barely
above the $103,000 Wilshire claimed that she now owed them.
The company refused to sign off on the deal. Wilshire claimed,
she said, that Ferrell was trying to short sell.
It again became a confusion of paperwork and phone calls and
few times that they actually spoke to me,” Ferrell said, “it
was like, ‘Can’t you get more money? Can’t you get more?’”
Her lawyer, Michael Mansion, has years of experience handling
real-estate and bankruptcy cases, and he can’t hide his disgust
when talking about Wilshire. “That company should be taken
out back and shot.”
jerked her around, repeatedly asking her for the same kinds
of documents. Pay stubs, balances in checking accounts, with
the promise that they were going to work out this sell. We
sent them this same material over and over again,” Mansion
said. “I don’t think that they were acting in good faith at
Wilshire would claim, said Mansion, that they had never received
documents, even though Mansion had proof in the form of receipts
of fax-transmissions received. “And all the while the interest
was accumulating, making it harder and harder for her to sell
In September, Ferrell signed a contract to sell her house.
“That whole week my realtor was calling them,” she said, “telling
them that they had a signed contract with a cash buyer that
was well above what they were asking.” In that same week,
Wilshire finalized the foreclosure.
She continued to fight to sell her house, but by Dec. 18,
she and her 10-year-old boy, Jesse, were told they would have
to be out. There was going to be a sheriff’s sale. At that,
Mansion suggested that Ferrell declare bankruptcy, just to
get a stay, and to stay in the house through the winter. And
she did, eventually moving out in March 2008.
Since her bankruptcy, Wilshire has sold Ferrell’s mortgage,
and she has no idea what she owes anymore. She has heard so
many numbers: In September 2007, it was $103,000. In October,
it $109,000. In bankruptcy court she heard numbers that ranged
from $113,000 to $170,000.
When contacted, Wil shire directed Metroland to speak
to New York City-based public-relations agent Bill Halldin,
who expressed disbelief at Ferrell’s story. He laughed at
the idea that Wilshire wouldn’t agree to a profitable sale:
a policy, we don’t comment on specific individual cases due
to privacy laws,” Halldin said, but added that Wilshire makes
every effort to work with anyone who is completely willing
to meet all their obligations, including fees and costs. Then,
he pointed out that Ferrell is in bankruptcy court. “Once
people are in bankruptcy, things get complicated.”
1967, Gov. Nelson Rockefeller tapped upstate Republican Charles
Goodell to fill the U.S. Senate seat left empty after the
assassination of Robert F. Kennedy. Forty years later, Gov.
David Paterson tapped New York’s third appointed senator,
ex-Rep. Kirsten Gillibrand, to occupy the post left empty
by now-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Upstate celebrated:
finally, a homegrown U.S. senator. But downstante and across
the country, the media and pundits howled at Paterson’s choice,
calling Gillibrand untested, a neophyte, a lightweight, New
York’s own Sarah Palin. In the Capital Region, her supporters
argued otherwise, pointing out that Gillibrand unseated the
supposedly unbeatable John Sweeney in the 2006 race for the
heavily Republican 20th Congressional District, and slaughtered
her opponent in her November reelection bid by raising more
money than any other Democrat in a 2008 congressional race.
his friends suspected the reason why the former state Senator
and longtime Majority Leader Joseph Bruno abruptly resigned
his post at the end of last spring’s legislative session.
An indictment, everyone guessed, was sure to follow—it was
just a matter of time. On Friday, the wait ended when an indictment
was handed down by the Northern District’s U.S. Attorney’s
office, alleging that Bruno, over 14 years, used his powerful
position to defraud the citizens of New York and enrich his
friends and himself. The indictment contained eight counts
of wire fraud, built on the broad allegation that Bruno schemed
“to defraud citizens of his honest services” by misrepresenting
his outside business dealings—his “consulting” work—to the
state, and even to his business partners. The indictment alleged
that Bruno earned $3.2 million dollars during his tenure as
majority leader with his pay-to-play dealings.
loose ends this week-