Lawyers offer free help to West Side seniors targeted by mortgage scams

CHICAGO — While senior homeowners on the West Side say a con man cost them millions of dollars and their homes, a community activist is organizing a team of legal experts to help them fight back.

Mark Diamond is a name well-known by senior homeowners on Chicago's West Side, many of whom say they fell victim to his outrageous mortgage scams. Diamond has been sued many times, and the Illinois Attorney General eventually won an injunction to stop him for doing business in the state. He's now facing federal fraud charges.

But victims like Lillie Williams have largely been left out. In January of 2015, Williams was one of the first to share her heartbreaking story with WGN. After convincing Williams to take out a reverse mortgage on her home, Diamond made off with tens of thousands of dollars, but left her with incomplete, shoddy repairs, and her home in foreclosure.

"I know I ain’t ready to give up my house," Lillie Williams said.

While Williams passed away about a year later, her nephew Rev. Robin Hood kept up the fight to help her and other seniors like her save their homes.

"Even on her death bed, I was there, she said, 'keep going, save other people’s homes, because I’m not worried about my home,'" Hood said.

The community activist has since recruited lawyers from the Bluhm Legal Clinic at Northwestern's Pritzker School of Law to join the fight. Their goal is to help the hundreds of seniors and their families as they face foreclosure, eviction and in many cases the loss of their family home, free of charge.

"I am confident that we will be able to get at least some measure of meaningful relief for these victims," the Bluhm Legal Clinic Director Juliet Sorensen said.

Diamond was hit with federal fraud charges in June of 2017, accusing him defrauding more than 120 homeowners in a reverse mortgage scheme. While Rev. Hood has found the number of victims to be much higher, he is hopeful his work on this issue will finally pay dividends.

"He had help, he had plenty of help, you can’t do nothing for 30 years without having good help," Hood said. "Even in federal indictments they had indicted one of the mortgage brokers and a title company owner, so this lets us know that this is getting ready to happen, and it going to happen for the seniors and their families members."

On the national MLK holiday Monday, the Bluhm Legal Clinic and Rev. Hood will hold a community event at Williams Penn Elementary School on the West Side for victims and their families.

To contact them for free legal help, call 312-503-1473 or email them at clinicdiamondcases@law.northwestern.edu.

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