Thursday, October 13, 2011

Elderly, Infirm St. Paul Couple Faces The Boot From Home Of 35 Years; Accuse Once-Trusted Grandson Of Duping Them In $300K+ Quit-Claim Deed Ripoff

In St. Paul, Minnesota, the Pioneer Press reports:

  • Joseph Hernandez, all of 93, is a decorated World War II combat veteran with two Purple Hearts and a nasty scar on his head from a bullet. His bride of 66 years, Stella Hernandez, 83, was a Rosie the Riveter during the war, over at St. Paul's Holman Field, and owns more colorful hats than Imelda Marcos owned shoes.

  • They are lifelong St. Paul residents who once lived on the West Side river flats and helped put a son and grandson through college. But neither their service and sacrifice nor their love for each other will save them from eviction this month from their St. Paul home of nearly 35 years.

  • Come Oct. 31, they will be evicted from their 91-year-old Tudor-style home, a holy water's sprinkle from the Cathedral of St. Paul. The foreclosed home's new owners, actually U.S. taxpayers through Freddie Mac, will then put it up for sale.


  • How this happened also serves as a cautionary tale. The couple maintain that their predicament stems from trusting a grandson who had them unknowingly sign a quitclaim deed and allegedly forged their signatures on power-of-attorney documents.

  • The paperwork was then used to obtain - without the couple's knowledge - more than $300,000 in loans that were never repaid.(1)

For more, see Aging St. Paul couple losing home to alleged family deceit.

(1) More from the story:

  • The couple approached the University of St. Thomas School of Law's Elder Law Practice Group for legal help on the alleged forgeries. Using certified law students, the program provides legal aid to elderly clients in long-term care and financial-abuse situations. They requested that the Minnesota Department of Commerce investigate the notaries public who stamped the power-of-attorney forms. The results were surprising.

  • The DOC investigators found there had never been a valid commission issued to one of the notaries. They located and interviewed the other, a court reporter.

  • "She has stated she has never notarized a signature for someone she does not personally know and did not notarize these documents," the agency stated in a 2009 letter sent to Jennifer Wright, then the supervising attorney at the elder law program and an associate professor at the law school.

  • The couple filed a civil complaint that same year against the grandson, as well as Freddie Mac, now the owner of the mortgages from the General Mills Federal Credit Union.

  • Citing the alleged forgeries and the contested quitclaim deed, the lawsuit sought to invalidate the mortgage security interests on the property and also reclaim title. An additional $100,000 loan Hernandez obtained from a private individual - who attached a lien to the property - was not part of the suit.

  • At the time of the suit, the defaulted loans had an outstanding balance of $310,928.14. Through attorneys, Michael Hernandez denied the allegations, as did Freddie Mac. But this is where Stella and Joseph Hernandez erred. They failed to appear for numerous pretrial conferences and refused to take part in court-ordered mediation.

  • As a result, the elder law group pulled out. Because of the lack of cooperation, Ramsey County District Judge Gregg Johnson dismissed the suit with prejudice, meaning that lawyers could go after the couple for attorneys' fees. Still, Johnson confirmed this week that the ruling did not go to the merits of the allegations raised by the couple.

  • Ditto the St. Paul police complaint. Officers interviewed the couple but closed the case months later because they did not receive documentation they requested. Stella cited medical reasons for not following through. [the couple's concerned niece Vicki] Giller believes the couple's age and lack of knowledge about court procedures and the anguish of it all also played roles.


  • Freddie Mac bought the home for $257,297.63 at a sheriff's sale Jan. 28. Eviction proceedings were launched last month after the grandson made no apparent attempt to pay off the loans during the six-month redemption period that follows a sale.

  • Wright, citing attorney-client privilege, would not discuss specifics of the suit the elder law program filed on behalf of the couple. But generally speaking, the allegation that a family member has committed fraud "has become a big part of our caseload," she said.

  • "Senior clients have lost titles to homes or life savings to someone they know or trusted, and often sign stuff they should not sign because they trusted and grew up in a more trusting age."

  • Stella said the couple is estranged from both the grandson and the man's father, who is their only child - a doctor who lives in Ohio. "We have not spoken to him (the grandson) in years, and we don't even know where he lives," Stella Hernandez said.

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