Dean Rivett sold his home in a short sale in September.
Like millions of others across the country, the 36-year-old private investigator was a casualty of the subprime mortgage crisis. He couldn't make the $3,300 monthly mortgage payments after he refinanced his Lutz home last year to pay bills.
Some blame greedy lenders preying on those in financial trouble. Others point the finger at homeowners who should have borrowed more wisely.
While Rivett admits he should have scrutinized the deal more closely, he doesn't think he's the only one at fault. He has sued Regions Bank, accusing it of predatory lending.
"We're looking for restitution in the seven figures," said Jesse Ray Wagoner, an attorney in Tampa representing Rivett. "I think they really targeted Dean. They trapped him in a loan that almost guaranteed he'd lose his house."
There are dozens of cases across the state where homeowners are striking back at lenders, said April Charney, a consumer lawyer at Jacksonville Area Legal Aid. Most get settled out of court, making it harder to use the misdeeds — whether by the homeowner or lender — as a lesson to others.
But assigning blame isn't always productive, she said.
"When you're in a M*A*S*H unit doing triage every day, do you really want to look back and say, 'Who put this hole in this person?' " Charney said. "You just want to fix it."
Rivett's lawsuit specifically targets two bank employees, Nicolas Rodriquez and Steve Kriegbaum, who he says befriended him over several months before offering to refinance his home.
Rodriquez and Kriegbaum declined to comment for this story, referring questions to a bank attorney who did not return repeated calls.
Rivett said he met Rodriquez, branch manager and vice president of Regions Bank at 14965 N. Florida Ave., in early 2007 when the banker came into Rivett's private investigations office to market business accounts. Rivett opened one.
Rivett says Rodriquez would take him to lunch, out for drinks and to sporting events. He said he grew comfortable enough with Rodriquez to share personal problems, including a growing addiction to painkillers that he started taking after a car crash in 2004.
Around that time the economy was slowing down, Rivett recalled. That, combined with his addiction, was taking a toll on his business. His credit card debt was building; his cash flow was not.
Rodriquez told Rivett re-financing could help and the bank was offering a great deal. Rivett's home, which he purchased in 2002 for a little more than $200,000, had built equity.
On June 12, 2007, over Chinese food at lunch, Rivett signed a stack of documents for a $430,000 loan at a 9.2 percent fixed interest rate. It wasn't great, but the $30,000 cash he'd receive at the end would allow him to pay off debt and market his business.
A closer look at the documents, provided by Rivett's attorney, revealed problems:
According to the Hillsborough property appraiser, Rivett's home was worth $233,874. Plus, the application prepared by Rodriquez did not list Rivett's daughter as a dependent.
When asked now if the inconsistencies gave him pause, Rivett confides: "Truthfully, I didn't read it. I just signed. I thought, 'I can get my life back on track, he's going to save me.' "
By June 20, 2007, Regions bank had denied Rivett's loan, according to paperwork given to Rivett's attorney. Rivett said he wasn't immediately told about the denial.
Instead, Rodriquez and Kriegbaum, assistant vice president of the Regions bank and mortgage at 13902 N. Dale Mabry, asked to meet with Rivett for lunch.
All was well with the loan, Rivett said they told him.
On June 22, 2007, a new appraisal valued Rivett's house at $460,000, according to paperwork submitted by the bank.
A few weeks later, Rivett was asked to provide information about his business, including the number of clients.
"At the time I told him I had about 500 clients," Rivett said, recalling a phone conversation with Kriegbaum. "He goes, 'Hey, put it up to like 5,000; it'll look better to the underwriters.' "
That was only one of several red flags.
At the July 25, 2007, closing, Rivett and his wife, Debbie, noticed her name had been removed from the loan because of her credit score, yet her income was still listed.
At the time, Kriegbaum told them that Regions denied the loan so they had to go through a new out-of-state bank to get it, Rivett said. The new loan had a 10.7 percent adjustable interest rate. Rivett's payments would go from $3,345 for the first three years to $3,832 for the next 26 years, with a $282,000 balloon payment at the end.
Debbie Rivett was angry: "I said, 'This is ridiculous.' "
Kriegbaum tried to ease their apprehension, she said.
"He said, 'I know all this seems kind of fast and real high," Debbie Rivett recalled. "But … this will put money in your bank right now, and we'll turn around and refinance in a couple months."
A few days later, when Rivett went to pick up his $50,000 check — the cash increased during the deal — he wasn't empty-handed. He had stopped to buy three bottles of Crown Royal for Kriegbaum and a $300 watch for Rodriquez. Earlier, both men had requested the thank-you gifts for helping Rivett out of his jam, Rivett said.
By the time the first payment arrived, Rodriquez and Kriegbaum had stopped calling, Rivett said.
The money lasted less than a year.
In April, Rivett had a heart attack because of his drug use. After a stint in rehab helped clear his mind, he said he decided to sell the home and go after the bank.
By then he was a month behind on his mortgage and CitiBank owned his loan. The bank allowed Rivett to sell his home for about $277,656 — a loss for the bank of about $136,000 — because of his health problems, he said.
"It's not just losing your house," he said. "It's these people you thought were your friends taking advantage of you."
Nicole Hutcheson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727)893-8828.