Monday, October 22, 2018
Business

Bank of America ordered to pay Tampa family $1 million for harassing calls

TAMPA — For four years, Joyce and Nelson Coniglio were haunted by these words:

This is Bank of America calling.

The calls started in 2009 when B of A took over the mortgage the Coniglios used to buy a second home in their Tampa Heights neighborhood. They quickly fell behind.

The bank called, the family said, while they tried to get the loan modified. B of A called even after the cease-and-desist letters. There were hundreds of robocalls, sometimes five a day.

In July, the Coniglios sued in federal court to stop the harassment. Three months later, they won — by default judgment. B of A missed the deadline to oppose the lawsuit.

Now the bank owes the Coniglios more than $1 million.

One of the family's attorneys, John Anthony, said he's trying to collect right now.

"Unlike Bank of America," he said, "we're only going to call them once."

• • •

The Coniglios are both 69 and have been married for 45 years.

Joyce Coniglio spent 44 years teaching at Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School. Nelson Coniglio was a trucker. In 1999 he pleaded guilty to federal charges for piloting drugs and money for a Tampa ring operating in Colombia.

The couple live in Tampa Heights, on a block surrounded by relatives. In 2006, the Conigilios bought a second home in the neighborhood for $180,000, according to records.

They didn't have a plan for the house. Maybe another relative could use it. Maybe they would downsize. All the Coniglios knew was, they could afford it.

Then the recession hit, and so did B of A .

The Coniglios' story reads like a history of the mortgage meltdown. The original loan was made by failed lender Countrywide Financial. It was bought by B of A , which in August agreed to pay the government more than $16 billion for shoddy mortgage practices.

When the bank took over the mortgage, the family said it imposed a more expensive homeowner's insurance policy on them, doubling their payments to $2,800 a month.

"Everything changed," Nelson Coniglio said. "Our incomes go down, our bills go up. It's the American way."

Their son, Jason Coniglio, 41, was a mortgage broker then. He tried to help his parents get a loan modification. But he struggled to get anyone at B of A on the phone. He said more than 30 people at the bank handled his parents' file.

"It was like they wanted us to lose the house," Joyce Coniglio said.

And the calls kept coming. When a person called, they asked them to stop. When the robocalls started, the Coniglios called back — and had to leave a message.

Their son sent cease-and-desist letters to B of A instructing the bank that all calls should be directed to him. But the calls to his parents never stopped.

"We would be out at dinner and they would ring my mother's cellphone," Jason Coniglio said, "then they would call my dad's cellphone and then when we got back to the house, there would be another message on the answering machine."

The calls. The debt. The blame. It took its toll.

"There have been several arguments through the years," the son said, "and a lot of tears shed."

• • •

The family hired the law firm of Morgan & Morgan to stop the calls. In July, the Coniglios sued B of A under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act, the Fair Debt Collections Practices Act and the Florida Consumer Collection Practices Act.

"Once a debt collector is told to stop calling, whether it be in writing or verbally, it doesn't make a difference," said another of their attorneys, David Mitchell. "Every call after that is considered a willful violation of the (law.)"

But B of A never responded. The judge ruled against the bank in October, and last week dismissed the bank's attempt to set aside the default judgment. B of A declined to comment.

The Coniglios won a judgement of $1,051,000 — about $1,500 for each of the 700 calls made to their cellphones.

David had defeated Goliath — thanks to the son's extensive record-keeping.

"I have to thank him," Nelson Coniglio said. "If we didn't have all the documents, this would never have happened."

The recession drove Jason Coniglio out of the mortgage business. Now he's a dockmaster. He lives in the house that started this whole mess. A new lender owns the mortgage, and the family still hopes the loan modification will come through.

But the Coniglios don't know what will happen next: Will they be able to keep the house? Will B of A appeal the ruling? Will the family get their money, and when?

The only thing Joyce Coniglio knows is that B of A could have avoided all of this.

"If they could just work with the homeowner," she said, "instead of just wasting time and money."

Times researcher Carolyn Edds contributed to this report. Contact Jamal Thalji at [email protected] or (813) 226-3404. Follow @jthalji.

Comments
Pinellas reports a concerning rise in Hepatitis A. Officials urge vaccination.

Pinellas reports a concerning rise in Hepatitis A. Officials urge vaccination.

Health department officials across Tampa Bay are encouraging residents to get vaccinated against hepatitis A, which is on the rise. As of this week, 58 cases of the virus have been reported in Pinellas this year, including a jump of 10 cases from Sep...
Updated: 12 hours ago
Tampa ranks No. 7 for complaints of tech support scams

Tampa ranks No. 7 for complaints of tech support scams

Ever receive a phony "tech support" email or call? In the city of Tampa, you’re not alone. Tampa has the dubious honor of ranking No. 7 on Microsoft’s list of nine cities with the highest number of complaints about such scams. Tampa’s total: 1,970 su...
Published: 10/22/18
Ron DeSantis says Florida public schools are wasting money. Are they?

Ron DeSantis says Florida public schools are wasting money. Are they?

Florida’s school leaders have made plain for years their desire for more money to run their districts. They’ve asked lawmakers for higher per-student funding, and the freedom to spend the money where it’s needed. They’ve requested more construction m...
Published: 10/22/18
Pasco Business Digest for Oct. 26

Pasco Business Digest for Oct. 26

News and notes about Pasco businesses
Published: 10/22/18
Dear Penny: I have a $30k inheritance and no debt. Why do I feel stuck?

Dear Penny: I have a $30k inheritance and no debt. Why do I feel stuck?

Dear Penny, I recently received a $30,000 check from my grandparents as an early inheritance. Don’t panic: They’re both still alive. They gifted it to me for tax purposes. Ever since I received the check, I’ve just been staring at it. I don’t know wh...
Published: 10/22/18
Hernando Pet of the Week for Oct. 26

Hernando Pet of the Week for Oct. 26

PET OF THE WEEK Fudge is a chocolate colored, 2-year-old domestic short hair. He loves being the center of attention, and his cool color makes him a favorite of the staff. He does well with other cats and dogs. Inquiries about adopting Fudge or othe...
Published: 10/22/18
Hurricane Michael’s effect on timber industry ‘catastrophic,

Hurricane Michael’s effect on timber industry ‘catastrophic," Adam Putnam says.

Hurricane Michael’s enduring legacy could include long-term damage to Florida’s timber industry. While experts try to get a handle on the carnage, state Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam said Friday that preliminary estimates peg it ...
Published: 10/19/18
Updated: 10/22/18
Time is ticking to nominate your employer as a top workplace in Tampa Bay

Time is ticking to nominate your employer as a top workplace in Tampa Bay

It’s not too late.We’re extending the deadline until Nov. 16 to nominate your employer as one of Tampa Bay’s Top 100 Workplaces. This marks the tenth consecutive year that the Tampa Bay Times has highlighted the best of the best companies and organiz...
Published: 10/19/18
Updated: 10/22/18
Unbound Miami: Entrepreneur Daniel Seal talks about his innovation festival

Unbound Miami: Entrepreneur Daniel Seal talks about his innovation festival

For years, Daniel Seal could see the disconnect between entrepreneurs, corporations and governments.A serial entrepreneur and former politician in London, England, Seal knew if he could bring the three entities together they would all benefit. Improv...
Published: 10/19/18
Updated: 10/22/18
After Hurricane Michael, a hunt for surviving oysters in Apalachicola

After Hurricane Michael, a hunt for surviving oysters in Apalachicola

APALACHICOLAT.J. Ward’s phone rang. Service had improved in the days since Hurricane Michael."Get another scrub brush and a squeegee," he told his sister. "The littlest one you can find."The Ward family’s 13 Mile Seafood Market smelled of bleach, so ...
Published: 10/19/18
Updated: 10/22/18