Make us your home page
Instagram

Homeowners find big problem in 'Solutions'

PLANT CITY — Millicent Antun was in trouble.

She was behind on mortgage payments, and her house was in foreclosure. She feared she would wind up on the street with her goats, turkeys and chickens.

Then she heard the radio ad: A company called 4 Solutions was offering a way out.

"Stop foreclosure!" the person said. "4 Solutions is your answer!"

When Antun called the company's Tampa office, an employee said 4 Solutions could pay the mortgage insurance and taxes for a year if she sent them $500 a month, half her monthly salary as a nurse's assistant.

Antun, 60, signed the papers last year.

With that, Antun joined dozens of Floridians — most of whom are Hispanic — who unwittingly sold their houses and lost tens of thousands of dollars in deals set up by 4 Solutions. Hundreds of other homeowners entered into deals with the company and millions in profits are involved, attorneys and Hispanic advocates say.

The U.S. Secret Service is investigating what appears to be yet more fallout from the housing and subprime lending boom.

Some desperate homeowners have filed lawsuits to get back their properties and recoup lost equity. Lawyers say they probably won't have much luck. The directors of 4 Solutions vanished, possibly to Peru.

"I don't know where I'm going to go," Antun said in January, after she discovered she doesn't own the house. "I still have my animals, and I'll have to find homes for them."

This is how the transactions worked, according to home­owners, attorneys and court documents:

Meetings were arranged at 4 Solutions' Tampa office or in clients' homes. Sometimes, employees promised refinancing. Other times, 4 Solutions promised to take over the mortgage for a year or two. Homeowners were told they would get their houses back.

Instead, the houses were sold to investors – "straw buyers" who were told that 4 Solutions would pay the mortgage. The company didn't, and houses went into foreclosure. When people tried to buy back their houses, they found that the properties were saddled with large mortgages.

Some homeowners say 4 Solutions slipped sale documents into their paperwork. Other times, employees forged signatures or falsely notarized documents, homeowners and attorneys say.

They accuse 4 Solutions and its mortgage brokerage partner, Frontier Capital, of squeezing equity out of hundreds of Florida homes and sometimes taking thousands of dollars from homeowners during the sales.

"A lot of people did not understand the significance of what they were signing," said Thomas Gallo, a Valrico lawyer who represents a 4 Solutions client. "It appears that they targeted Spanish-speaking individuals and that they created a level of trust in the relationship. People basically believed what they were being told."

• • •

Antun's mother died in 2001, leaving her enough for a deposit on the gray-blue house with a screened front porch. Fruit trees she planted seven years ago now shade the yard where turkeys, chickens, quail and goats roam.

When Antun heard 4 Solutions' offer to take over the mortgage for a year, she was relieved. As she signed the paperwork, everything was fine. Then she saw a document with the words "buyer" and "seller." She wasn't selling her house, was she?

That wording would allow them to pay the mortgage, employees assured her. They promised she would get her house back in a year. She signed, and the title went to Luis Vargas — someone Antun isn't sure she ever met.

She became suspicious when her checks started coming back uncashed last summer. By then, 4 Solutions' Falkenburg Road office was empty. The company had skipped town, a property manager told her.

In November, Antun was served foreclosure papers. Her home was temporarily saved when Vargas took the title, but it was being foreclosed again because no one had paid her mortgage.

Antun's house, valued at about $80,000, sold for $144,000 when she signed the papers in March 2007, according to public records and her closing papers. That's about $40,000 more than the mortgage company said she owed. Normally, most of that would go to the seller. She didn't see any of it.

Instead, almost $30,000 went to 4 Solutions' Coral Gables law firm, Scaglione & Quesada, closing documents show. Todd Mackey, an attorney for several homeowners who entered into deals with 4 Solutions, said he has seen other closing documents with that same instruction that gives tens of thousands of dollars to the law firm.

He's not sure who got that money. It could be a legitimate transaction that went through the law firm's trust fund, he said, but the closing documents are vague. Lydia Quesada, the attorney who represented 4 Solutions and its directors, did not return calls or e-mails seeking comment.

• • •

Things started unraveling when Tampa police got a tip about 4 Solutions last summer. In August, they arrested Carmen Oliveri, the wife of 4 Solutions director Jose Oliveri, after she accepted a check from a 4 Solutions client at his Tampa home.

Carmen and Jose Oliveri entered into a scheme to defraud the homeowner by presenting loan terms without disclosing that he was signing over his Tampa home, an arrest report states. Carmen Oliveri is facing grand theft and fraud charges. Her attorney, Frances Perrone, declined to comment.

Jose Oliveri and Mario Quiroz, the director of Frontier Capital, have been harder to track down. They stopped replying to lawsuits early last year and summonses served to their Seffner homes came back.

They're probably in Peru, attorneys and homeowners say. Ruth DeSoto, who unwittingly sold her Orlando home, said she sat in on a conference call between Jose Oliveri and an advocate for the Hispanic community. He was on house arrest in Lima, Peru, during that conversation last fall, DeSoto said.

Jose Oliveri, a tabloid newspaper owner, was sentenced to five years in prison in 2005 for taking between $3,000 and $5,000 a week from Peru's intelligence agency in exchange for articles defaming President Alberto Fujimori's opponents, according to La Republica and LatinNews Daily.

DeSoto said Oliveri told the group that the company wasn't created to commit fraud. He said there were some things he wasn't told about, and he said his wife wasn't involved.

DeSoto didn't believe him.

"How's he not going to know?" she said. "There was a lot of money."

• • •

Federal agents are investigating potential bank and wire fraud because the lenders aren't receiving loan payments. Meanwhile, the homeowners' plight is playing out in civil cases.

The lawsuits often name Mario Quiroz and Jose Oliveri as defendants, but the homeowners are also seeking damages from others who may have played a part in the transaction.

One complaint, filed in March in Miami-Dade County, alleges that Wachovia Bank assistant vice president Ruben Luna got kickbacks from 4 Solutions for monitoring the money that was put into accounts set up for straw buyers and verifying its legitimacy if lenders asked.

Luna didn't return calls seeking comment, and Wachovia officials declined to comment.

In some cases, the title companies Frontier Capital used — Synergy Title Services, Angel Title, and Residential Title Services —are named as defendants. Residential Title Services' employees declined to comment and Synergy Title Services' managers did not return calls.

Carl Roberts, owner of Angel Title, said he followed every instruction he received from the parties involved in the sale. It's unusual, but not unheard of, to have thousands of dollars from a seller's settlement money transferred to another source, he said.

Secret Service agents came to his office last summer and took copies of documents related to 4 Solutions, but he insists he's not worried.

"There were no kickbacks," he said. "There was no financial involvement with us. We just followed the instructions."

• • •

Blas and Lourdes Monje of Valrico thought they were refinancing their home. They had owned it for six years, and had equity they wanted to tap.

Mario Quiroz, a licensed mortgage broker and director of Frontier Capital, came to their house at dinner time on a Friday in October 2004. He spread papers across the table and assured them they were refinancing their house, court records state.

Months later, Lourdes Monje came home to find appraisers at her house. They told her a man named Antonio Cruz was selling the home to Magda Revolledo, Quiroz's wife.

The Monjes later discovered with each sale — the first to Cruz and the second to Revolledo —the buyers were able to get new appraisals and larger loans. The mortgage payments sky­rocketed, and the home's equity disappeared.

After about two years in court, the Monjes got their house back and won a $100,000 judgment against Quiroz, Revolledo, Cruz, 4 Solutions and Frontier Capital. But it's now in foreclosure because the mortgage wasn't paid. Their attorney, Thomas Gallo, says he doesn't expect they'll get any money.

Homeowners weren't the only people hurt in the transactions. The straw buyers were, too.

Frontier Capital solicited people with good credit — but not necessarily a lot of money — who wanted to profit from the housing market. They promised the buyers thousands of dollars for each closing and said they wouldn't have to do anything.

Frontier Capital used the straw buyers' credit to apply for multiple loans with different subprime lenders. Sometimes they would have the straw buyer seek loans on up to a dozen homes — something they never should have qualified for, attorney Todd Mackey said.

One of the investors, Jose Miguel Pro-Landazuri, has four properties in his name, from Lutz to Orlando. He doesn't want them. They've ruined his credit.

Pro-Landazuri didn't know the owners didn't want to sell, according to court records. Mackey, his attorney, plans to ask a judge to decide if the properties should go to Pro-Landazuri or be returned to their original owners.

"It's a mess," Mackey said.

Meanwhile, Millicent Antun remains in her Plant City home, uncertain if she'll be forced out. She brings home boxes from work and slowly packs her belongings. She'll be able to move her ceramic figurines, glass birds and antique jars — but not her menagerie. She'll have to find new homes for them.

That's a last resort, she says while stroking Charlie, the green Quaker parrot.

"They're my sanity," she said.

Times researcher John Martin and staff writer Saundra Amrhein contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at jvandervelde@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443.

The pitch

Transcript of a radio advertisement that ran on Spanish radio station 1300 AM in 2005, translated into English (out-of-service phone numbers and Web addresses have been deleted):

"Are you three or four months behind in your mortgage payment? Have you tried to refinance or get a loan only to be denied because of your poor credit? Are you and your family in danger of losing your home to foreclosure? Are you facing foreclosure and at risk of losing the American dream that you and your family worked so hard for? Do not worry! Stop foreclosure! 4 Solutions is your answer! Call us now. ... Not only will we stop foreclosure proceedings and save your home and equity, but we will also save your credit and your financial future. Do not delay. Time is your enemy in this situation. Call us now ... or visit our Web site. ... Maintain ownership of your home. Save your home. Don't lose it!

Homeowners find big problem in 'Solutions' 06/01/08 [Last modified: Sunday, June 8, 2008 5:09pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Related Group breaks ground on complex at old Tampa Tribune site

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — When Miami developer Jorge Perez first eyed a 4.2-acre tract on the west bank of the Hillsborough River two years ago, people asked him if he wouldn't prefer to build on the opposite side closer to the downtown core.

    No way.

    From left, Related Group executive associate Arturo Penaa, Jorge Perez, center, founder and CEO of the Related Group, Mayor Bob Buckhorn and Steve Patterson, the President of Related Development dig their shovels  during the groundbreaking ceremony of the 400 unit Riverwalk Manor apartment complex on site of the old Tampa Tribune building on Wednesday. [OCTAVIO JONES | Times]
  2. Eat 3-course meals for $35 at these 100 restaurants for Orlando's Magical Dining Month

    Food & Dining

    In the early 1900s, hotels offered "table d'hote" or "prix fixe" menus as a form of loss leader. Hotels didn't necessarily make money on these lower-priced, multi-course meals, often served at communal tables, but they made up for it on the booze. Prohibition may have contributed to a gradual shift toward a la carte …

    Bulla Gastrobar serves a variety of Spanish and Portuguese dishes.
  3. Lightning GM Steve Yzerman sells house for $3 million to new player

    Real Estate

    TAMPA — Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman's multi-million Davis Islands home is staying in the Lightning family. Yzerman sold his 6,265-square-foot house Monday to new defenseman Dan Girardi for $3 million.

    The Davis Islands home of Tampa Bay Lightning General Manager Steve Yzerman sold for $3 million Monday to Lightning defenseman Dan Girardi. | [Courtesy of Hi Res Media]
  4. Trigaux: As Florida seeks top 10 status as best business state, red flag rises on workforce

    Business

    In the eternal quest to appeal more to business than other states, Florida's managed to haul itself out of some pretty mediocre years. After scoring an impressive 8 among 50 states way back in 2007, Florida suffered horribly during and immediately after the recession. Its rank sank as low as No. 30 only four years ago, …

    Florida's trying to make strides in preparing its high school and college graduates for the rapidly changing skill sets of today's workforce. But the latest CNBC ranking of the best and worst states for business gave Florida poor marks for education, ranking No. 40 (tied with South Carolina for education) among the 50 states. Still, Florida ranked No. 12 overall in the best business states annual ranking. [Alan Berner/Seattle Times]
  5. For the first time in Florida, a white person is set to be executed for killing a black person.

    State Roundup

    GAINESVILLE — For the first time in state history, Florida is expecting to execute a white man Thursday for killing a black person — and it plans to do so with the help of a drug that has never been used before in any U.S. execution.

    This undated photo provided by the Florida Department of Corrections shows Mark Asay. If his final appeals are denied, Asay is to die by lethal injection after 6 p.m. Thursday. Asay was convicted by a jury of two racially motivated, premeditated murders in Jacksonville in 1987.  [Florida Department of Corrections via AP]