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Wells Fargo typo victim dies in court while fighting foreclosure

Published time: March 12, 2013 20:05
The Wells Fargo Bank headquarters in the Financial District in San Francisco, California (Reuters / Robert Galbraith)

The Wells Fargo Bank headquarters in the Financial District in San Francisco, California (Reuters / Robert Galbraith)

The next court date in the matter of Larry Delassus versus Wachovia Mortgage-Wells Fargo is scheduled for March 18, but don’t expect the plaintiff to be there. Mr. Delassus literally died in court while fighting back against the banking behemoth.

Delassus, 62, died in a California court room in December after suffering from a major heart attack while his attorney Anthony Trujillo argued on the stand. His client, a US Navy veteran, was suing the bank for negligence and discrimination against a disabled person.

Problems began for Delassus back in 2009 when he received a letter from Wells Fargo informing him that he had been delinquent on his taxes for a condo he owned in Hermosa Beach, California. Delassus says he was actually six months ahead on his taxes, but his mortgage holder insisted that he owed the bank over $13,000 for two years of missed payments. Delassus found out over a year later that the problem occurred because Wells Fargo had mistaken Delassus’ condo with a neighboring one due to a typo in the address they had on file, but even then the bank didn’t relent with its attempt to take away his home.

"In September, 2010 Wells Fargo acknowledged its error in paying the taxes on Plaintiff's neighbor's property and corrected it,” the bank’s attorney, Robert Bailey, said in court. At that point, though, they didn’t do much more to correct their error.

In an article this month in LA Weekly, reporter Jessica Ogilvie explains how things only got worse from there for Mr. Delassus, who suffered from the relatively-rare Budd-Chiari syndrome. During the year that Delassus argued with the bank over what he did or didn’t owe, they doubled his mortgage payments to an amount he simply couldn’t stay on top of paying.

“The bank refused to let him resume his $1,237.69 installments,” the paper says, and on top of that Delassus faced a sizable "reinstatement" cost, described as being typically the amount past due plus other fees. But even then, Delassus’ attorney couldn’t get Wells Fargo to explain what he owed.

"So Plaintiff was never provided with the reinstatement amount after the bank discovered its error, correct?" Trujillo asked the bank in Sept 2010.

"That is correct,” responded Wells Fargo litigation-support manager Michael Dolan in a conversation that was videotaped for the court.

When Delassus finally got in touch with the bank in early 2011 to see what he owed, they told him they wanted all that was left on his condo, $337,250.40, to be paid in full one day later. He sued the bank on Jan. 26 of that year, but by May of that year it was already back in the hands of Wells Fargo, on the market and sold for a pretty profit that went straight to the bank.

"I came back from the hospital, and that very day, they sold the son of a bitch," Delassus says in a videotaped court deposition obtained by LA Weekly. "I'm homeless. I did not have a home. My condo — 16 years, gone. Gone."

Without his home and out hundreds of thousands of dollars, Delassus waited to hear how his lawsuit would end up. But during a motion hearing in Dec. 2012, he died in the courtroom while his attorney argued against the judge. One day earlier, the judge in the case announced a tentative ruling in which it appeared that all legal claims against Wells Fargo would be dismissed.

"He really thought he was gonna get his place back," Debbie Popovich, a friend of Delassus’, tells LA Weekly. "He thought if he told the truth, they could do something for him.”

Trujillo was trying to convince the judge in the case exactly that, but Delassus slumped over and died during testimony in December.

"It was the most shocking thing I've been through in a long time," a friend who witnessed it told the paper.

Now the lawsuit against Wells Fargo will continue, but first Trujillo needs to have his client’s estate finalized in probate court. The Hermosa Beach Patch reports that the next hearing has been tentatively set for March 18.

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