Man Loses Home to Bank Typo, Dies During Ensuing Court Battle

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 11 2013 12:42 PM

California Man Loses Home to Wells Fargo Typo, Dies During Ensuing Court Battle

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A Wells Fargo bank branch in California

Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

A little more than two years ago, a bank typo started a series of events that led to Larry Delassus losing his home. This past December, Delassus died in court from heart disease during his negligence and discrimination case against Wells Fargo.

The story, as told by LA Weekly, is tragic. Delassus, 62, suffered from Budd-Chiari syndrome, a liver disease. One of his neighbors with a condo number only slightly different from his own owed $13,361.90 in back taxes. When Wells Fargo mixed up their addresses, Delassus saw his mortgage double. He couldn't pay and was eventually foreclosed upon even after the bank admitted its error.

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The alt-weekly reconstructed the series of events that led to Delassus losing his home from court documents, and the whole thing would read like a farce if it weren't so sad. Here's a snippet:

Wells Fargo attorney Robert Bailey of Anglin Flewelling Rasmussen Campbell & Trytten LLP admitted the bank's mistake: "Wells Fargo paid the amount it determined was owed to the County Assessor: approximately $10,500. This was a mistake. The $10,500 was the tax amount owed on a neighboring property, not Plaintiff's." (Bailey did not address the discrepancy between $13,361 and $10,500.)
Bailey added: "In September, 2010 Wells Fargo acknowledged its error in paying the taxes on Plaintiff's neighbor's property and corrected it." By then, however, Delassus was so far behind on his mortgage payments wrongly doubled by Wells Fargo that the bank refused to let him resume his $1,237.69 installments, Trujillo says. He faced a sizable "reinstatement" cost — which is often the past due amount plus fees.
In an unsettling new twist, Delassus couldn't get Wells Fargo to tell him how much his reinstatement cost was. Later, in a videotaped deposition, Trujillo asks Michael Dolan, a litigation-support manager for Wells Fargo: "So Plaintiff was never provided with the reinstatement amount after the bank discovered its error, correct?"
Dolan responds, "That is correct."

Prior to Delassus' death late last year, L.A. County Superior Court Judge Laura Ellison had tentatively indicated her intent to side with the bank on Delassus' suit, according to reports. Read the entire sad story over at LA Weekly.

Update 1:47 p.m.: Wells Fargo's PR team emails to take issue with LA Weekly's version of the story. Because we don't have access to the court documents the paper used as the basis for its reporting, we'll run the bank's statement in full, via VP Tom Goyda:

Mr. Delassus’ passing was a tragic event and our deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends. Stories exploiting his death and ignoring the facts add to the pain of this sad situation. It’s not clear why Mr. Delassus was brought to the hearing by those who have since expressed grave concerns about his health at the time.  The night before the scheduled hearing the judge posted a tentative ruling in which she indicated she planned to dismiss all of the legal claims against Wells Fargo. As a result, his attorneys knew that there was no testimony or evidence to be presented at the hearing, so there was no reason he had to attend. 
A number of allegations were made, withdrawn and changed by Mr. Delassus’ attorneys during the course of the legal proceedings. The court record clearly spells out the facts of this case. Wells Fargo received inaccurate information that led to a tax overcharge. When that mistake was discovered, we reversed all of the charges and as the court ruling stated “put him in the same or better position prior to the error.”  In a sworn deposition, he clearly and honestly admitted that his default was not related to the issue regarding the property taxes.
Mr. Delassus was reviewed for a modification but we were unable to find an option that would allow him to keep the home. We work hard to help borrowers stay in their homes when they are having trouble making their payments and as of the end of last year more than 840,000 of our customers were benefitting from mortgage modifications.
We’ll never know if things would have turned out differently if Mr. Delassus had not unnecessarily been subjected to the stress of traveling to court that day last year.  Misrepresenting the facts of his circumstances won’t change what happened, however, or make his passing any less of a tragedy.

Abby Ohlheiser is a Slate contributor.