Reverse mortgage scam targets elderly women

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Tears slowly roll down the face of 88-year-old Lillie Williams as she worries about losing her home of more than 40 years.

“I know I ain’t ready to give up my house

And 64-year-old Dorothy Pruitt holds her head in disbelief as she thinks about how much money she’s lost remodeling her home.

“He scammed, he lied.”

Both women say they were the victims of this man Mark Diamond… a cunning contractor seen in this picture taken during a deposition in 20-11.  His appearance has changed since then but his tactics haven’t.

Rev. Robin Hood said “he’s a predator.”

Community activist Rev. Robin Hood is Ms. Williams’ nephew.  He first learned of his aunt’s predicament when she got a foreclosure notice this past October.

“My first thought was there was a scam played on my aunt.”

His suspicions may have merit.  In October, Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan filed for a preliminary injunction against diamond and his company… United Residential Services & Real Estate, Inc.  In the complaint she identifies him as the central figure in an ongoing scheme to defraud consumers and calls his work shoddy, incomplete, hazardous and even life threatening.

“He needs to be stopped.”

It started with Diamond promising to fix up their homes through what he says is a free government program.   But what he’s really doing is signing them up for a reverse mortgage… where the homeowner borrows money against the value of the home and doesn’t have to pay it back until he or she dies or the home is sold.

“Mark Diamond is a very clever man,” Michelle Weinberg is a consumer attorney with the Legal Assistance Foundation.  She has filed at least 10 lawsuits against Mark Diamond.

“He’ll do some work but you know the work is never completed 100 percent, it’s never what’ is promised 31:27 it’s shoddy, it’s overpriced and often not done at all,” Weinberg said. “And if it is done it’s done after long delay and lots of calls and complaints and begging him to come back and do the work.”

Diamond has been sued several times over the years by individuals and government entities.  In 2002, the federal trade commission and the Illinois attorney general filed a rare joint complaint in which the a-g called him a con-artist… claiming he misled low-income and elderly homeowners on key loans terms.  He settled for $270,000.

Then in 2009 the AG the sued Diamond again, along with several of his business partners claiming they swindled $1.3 million in equity from elderly, African-American homeowners.  That case still unsettled but as a result his mortgage broker’s license was suspended by the state.

Ms. Pruitt finally got fed up and contacted Attorney Weinberg after she signed a contract with Mark Diamond in July of 2012 to fix up her West Garfield Park two flat.

As part of Ms. Pruitt’s lawsuit… a home inspector found the back porch, a portion of the roof and overhead electric service was in danger of collapsing.  Diamond eventually settled the case… but Ms. Pruitt has yet to see any money and her porch is still not finished.

Ms. Williams’ family says she lost a lot more.  Diamond took out a reverse mortgage for $255,000- in November of 2009, with the promise that he would fix up her North Lawndale two flat from top to bottom…  but five years later, only a small portion of the work has been done.

“He didn’t never come back, he never answered the phone no more.”

And now because the insurance policy that she says Diamond arranged for the home was mysteriously dropped and premium payments were missed… the lender has started foreclosure proceedings.

I reached out to Mark Diamond to get his side of the story, first calling… then stopping by his office… but no luck.  I finally reached his attorney via email.  He told me he saw no advantage to arguing this matter outside of court.  When i pressed him further he denied any wrong doing and said all of the facts, rather than one side will come out in court.  Michelle Weinberg has faced Diamond in court… almost a dozen times.

Weinberg: “What he says in virtually every lawsuit is that, “I wanted to do the work, he wants to do the work and the customer won’t let him” that’s basically what he says or he’s even gone so far, his lawyer’s filed papers in court saying that these elderly people are trying to scam him. And get repairs for free and not pay for all he’s doing for them.”

So instead of just filing civil suits, could diamond be charged criminally?

Weinberg: “He gets them to sign something so when the police look at that they’re like well they signed a contract and they just fighting over, and he does some work and he does enough work so that the police are just going to look at it as a civil matter usually.”

Pruitt: “He let me down, I’ll tell you that.”

So as cliché as it sounds… Weinberg says the lesson to be learned here is… “If Mark Diamond knocks on your door, don’t answer.”

“If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

Since 2003 the attorney general says she’s gotten more than a hundred complaints about mark diamond.  And last year she saw a spike in complaints… two of which claim he’s now using the name of a new home repair company.   Madigan hopes this injunction will eventually put Mark Diamond out of business.

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