NEW PORT RICHEY — Seventy-year-old Sharon Bullington may lose her home because she paid her mortgage a week early.
That may not make much sense to the thousands of homeowners who are behind on their mortgages in Florida. But it seems it does to Bank of America, which has filed to foreclose on Bullington and her husband, James, 78, who is terminally ill.
"It's like death to me," Sharon Bullington said, her voice quivering on the phone Friday. "My husband is bedridden. It's almost more than I can bear."
The couple moved to Florida 15 years ago after James Bullington retired from General Motors in Flint, Mich., and moved into the 1,591-square-foot New Port Richey home, which is now valued at $133,464, though they owe about $177,000.
When James became ill, the couple encountered financial difficulties because of high medical bills. The couple asked Bank of America to modify the loan.
There was a catch. The couple would have to first officially default on their $1,400-a-month payment. The couple did that and entered into the modification plan, which reduced their payment to $916.
Sharon Bullington made the January payment on Dec. 23, and the bank accepted the money, according to court records.
The next month, she made the February payment over the phone. Weeks later, the money had not been withdrawn from her bank account. After Bullington asked the bank about it, a representative told her she had punched in the wrong routing number. In March, the bank kicked the couple out of the modification plan.
Bullington pleaded for help in a June letter to Bank of America president Brian Moynihan and U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis, R-Palm Harbor.
One of Moynihan's aides, Ana Olivera, told Bullington the foreclosure could not be stopped. She wrote in a two-page letter that the payment due on Jan. 1, 2011, had been made in December.
"In accordance with the Trial Payment Letter dated December 15, 2010, it indicates that if you are not able to make each payment in the month in which it is due, you will not be eligible for a modification under the Home Affordable Modification Program," the letter said.
Olivera told Bullington she could avoid a foreclosure by selling the home in a short sale or by signing it over to the bank. The letter said the bank values Bullington's business and strives to provide exceptional customer service.
"I understand that you may be disappointed with our final resolution and appreciate the opportunity to clarify this matter," Olivera wrote. "While this may not be the response you were hoping for, I trust I have addressed your concerns."
Olivera, a California-based employee, declined to comment about the case when reached by the Times on Friday. Bank of America replied in an e-mail: "We are going to re-review the Bullington's case."
The Bullingtons' lawyer, Shawn Yesner, said the case makes no sense because his clients did what the bank told them to do. In 10 years as a lawyer, he said, he has never seen such an outrageous letter.
"I couldn't believe they would put that in writing," he said. "I had to read the letter three or four times. … Bank of America is putting her in a depressed state. She has never been behind on anything."
As thousands of property owners across Florida and the nation battle foreclosure, defense attorneys have accused lenders of bogging down the courts with an unwillingness to negotiate with people on their mortgages, often by simply refusing to make decisions.
Earlier this month, a 41-year-old man faced foreclosure after missing a mortgage payment on a St. Petersburg gas station by just one day. He made several attempts to continue paying and made a $50,000 payment in court earlier this month to settle the case, but the bank refused the payment. The day the Times published an article detailing the saga, BB&T suspended the foreclosure action and worked to settle the case.
Sharon Bullington, who has no children or siblings, said she is the sole caregiver for her ill husband, who cannot move from the home in his condition. She said she has repeatedly contacted the bank, but nobody will talk to her.
She wants Moynihan and Bank of America to know this:
"I want them to feel how we feel," she said. "I just don't understand why they're doing this. It looks like they're out to get us."
Times researcher Shirl Kennedy and staff writer Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Mark Puente can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/markpuente.