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Couple in postal case may save house

Rick and Rosemarie O'Callaghan expected to lose their home Tuesday.

Instead, they won a three-week reprieve.

And that might be enough.

The O'Callaghans fell 16 months behind on mortgage payments for their north St. Petersburg home in part because the U.S. Postal Service has not paid a judgment Rosemarie won last summer. With the new breathing room, she might get the check in time to make back payments before the house is sold at foreclosure.

The sale date was supposed to have been set Tuesday morning, and the O'Callaghans said they could have been ordered to leave the house. But the lender, G.E. Capital Mortgage Services, agreed to an extension because one of the parties to the foreclosure was scheduled for surgery the same day.

The hearing now is set for Nov. 26.

Additional time increases the chances she could get her check, for $50,000 less taxes, by the middle of the month. The overdue mortgage payments total about $15,000.

The O'Callaghans, both of whom worked at the main post office in St. Petersburg, were fired from their jobs working "patch-up" mail in January 1996. Patch-up is mail that has been damaged or comes into the post office inadequately addressed. Their task was to attempt to identify the recipient or the sender.

In order to test employee honesty, postal inspectors sometimes plant inadequately addressed bogus mail. On the night they got into trouble, both O'Callaghans opened dummy mail looking for clues to where it came from or where it was meant to go.

Rick found two $10 bills in one envelope and a $5 bill in another. The cash disappeared. Although none of the money was found in O'Callaghan's possession and the $5 bill later turned up on an office floor, he is under a federal indictment on embezzlement charges.

Rosemarie opened one letter that contained a negotiable $6 check, but the check was still in the envelope when postal inspectors examined it later.

Both were fired. An arbitrator ruled July 5 that the Postal Service had no grounds to fire Rosemarie and ordered her reinstated with full back pay and benefits. She reclaimed her $33,000-a-year job two weeks later.

To help support their five children, Rick mows lawns. He has a degree in biology from the University of Tampa but can't get steady work with the indictment hanging over his head.

The future of the house is a complex matter.

It was purchased several years ago by Rick's parents, Frederick and Dianne O'Callaghan, who deeded it to Rick and Rosemarie.

"They were obligated to make the mortgage payments to G.E. Capital, but because the loan was guaranteed by the (Veterans Administration), somewhere down in the fine print there was a way the VA could come back at us if the mortgage fell behind," Dianne O'Callaghan said Tuesday.

The elder O'Callaghans thus became parties to the foreclosure action.

"G.E. Capital has been great," Dianne said. "They were very sympathetic to Rick and Rose. They said they would give them time, that they didn't want to put them on the street. But eventually, you know, they just couldn't wait any longer."

When Frederick O'Callaghan was scheduled for minor surgery Tuesday, G.E. Capital offered three more weeks and another way out of the mess. If Rosemarie doesn't get her settlement soon, the family hopes to sell the house and settle the outstanding debt before foreclosure, which would help the credit rating of everyone involved. The company has approved this plan.

The "For Sale" sign went up Monday.