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One day late with mortgage payment, gas station owner could lose business to foreclosure

Saji Mathew, standing Wednesday outside his Mobil station at Duhme Road and 54th Avenue N, is trying to prevent BB&T from foreclosing. A trial is set for December.

SCOTT KEELER | Times

Saji Mathew, standing Wednesday outside his Mobil station at Duhme Road and 54th Avenue N, is trying to prevent BB&T from foreclosing. A trial is set for December.

ST. PETERSBURG — Saji Mathew missed the Oct. 12 mortgage payment on the Mobil gas station he co-owns.

On Oct. 13, he took the money to the bank, thinking that would make things right.

He tried to make his November and December payments as well. But each time, BB&T kicked back his money.

Ten months later, Mathew is still trying to pay. In circuit court on Tuesday, he offered BB&T $50,000, the total amount due since October.

BB&T didn't want the money.

It wants the gas station.

"They won't take my money,'' said Mathew. "I want them to take it. I was one day behind paying the mortgage."

BB&T's stance flabbergasted the judge in the case.

"All the people that understand anything about mortgage foreclosures need to know this stuff," Circuit Judge Amy Williams said in court. "This is the idiocrasy of this stuff. This is why we're in a worldwide financial crisis because there's no business sense any more in the foreclosure industry, none. And it blows my mind. Totally blows my mind.''

• • •

Because the case is pending, the judge could not elaborate on her frustration.

But as thousands of property owners across Florida and the nation battle foreclosure, defense attorneys accuse lenders of bogging down courts with an unwillingness to negotiate with people on their mortgages, often by simply refusing to make decisions.

St. Petersburg lawyer Matt Weidner said attorneys across the country fight these types of cases everyday.

"It's an example of the mess that has been handed to our judges and courts," he said. "It's an impossible mess to clean up."

• • •

Mathew, 41, leased the gas station in 2001. He bought the property in 2003. Court filings detail his side of the story.

In 2009, he signed a $504,000 mortgage with Colonial Bank. The deal allowed the bank to withdraw the $4,964.93 mortgage payment on the 12th day of each month. Months later, Colonial failed. BB&T acquired the mortgage.

Late last summer, Mathew spent $75,000 for new underground storage tanks at the station. That led to a cash flow problem in October.

On Oct. 12, BB&T tried to withdraw the mortgage payment from the gas station's account, which lacked sufficient funds.

Mathew deposited money the next day. Because the bank had sometimes not taken the payment until the 14th of the month, Mathew said he assumed everything would be okay.

Instead, on Oct. 25, he received a late notice. Mathew said he visited the bank, where a representative told him the payment would be reprocessed. Eleven days later, Mathew received a notice demanding $5,243 for the October payment, which included a penalty.

Mathew said he did nothing because the bank employee had already told him the October payment would be reprocessed. On Nov. 20, a BB&T attorney sent Mathew a letter demanding the total amount remaining on the loan, $473,000.

Mathew said he contacted the bank but was told it wouldn't deal with him because he was involved with another company in an unrelated BB&T foreclosure in Charlotte County. He contacted the bank's attorney, who directed him back to BB&T.

Mathew made mortgage payments in November and December. The bank refunded them and filed foreclosure on Dec. 20.

• • •

In court this week, Ronald Bruckmann, a Miami lawyer representing BB&T, insisted that the bank had the right to demand repayment of the entire loan amount once Mathew missed a payment.

Mathew's attorney, Brian Gray of Fort Lauderdale, disagreed. He told the judge that Mathew has had the ability to pay each month.

"They accepted subsequent payments and then subsequently refunded those payments to him," he said. "Gave him the runaround, and that's why we're here today."

Judge Williams ordered BB&T to place the $50,000 in a trust account or into the Clerk of Courts' registry account until the case is settled.

In a telephone interview, Gray said he doesn't understand BB&T's motives for not accepting the money. He stressed that Mathew doesn't want the loan modified. He simply wants to pay what he always paid.

"The bank would rather drive (Mathew) into foreclosure," he said. "There's got to be some financial incentive for them to not work with my client. This is disturbing, especially in this economy. It is really wrong."

Bruckmann declined to comment.

Mathew vows to fight the foreclosure at a trial set for December.

"This is devastating,'' he said. "This is all I have. This is how I make my living."

Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at mpuente@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8459. Follow him at Twitter at twitter.com/markapuente.

One day late with mortgage payment, gas station owner could lose business to foreclosure 08/03/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 3, 2011 10:41pm]
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