Elderly residents may lose home of 50 years after falling victim to reverse mortgage scam

Chicago News

CHICAGO — The story is all too familiar: homeowner Kerwin Cockrell said in 2014 a knock on the door of his West Humboldt Park home was followed by promises of a free home repair program. 

“Young lady came out with a flyer, asking people if they needed work done on the house, you didn’t have to have no money; just call that number and talk to Mark, Mark Diamond,” Cockrell said.

It’s a scam Diamond had been running for years: preying on elderly, black homeowners with promises of a free home repair program that in reality was a reverse mortgage. 

Kerwin Cockrell and his brother Bruce eventually agreed to sign up to get work done on their home in 2014. 

“He started working on the house, putting a new roof on the house and after that you couldn’t find him, you call him and he wouldn’t show up,” Cockrell said.

Then years later, someone came knocking on Cockrell’s door, telling him that his home of 50 years was in foreclosure.

Now he and dozens of other elderly, African-American seniors living on the West Side are close to losing or lost their homes due to Diamond’s schemes. 

Back in 2013, the Illinois Attorney General won a civil suit ordering Diamond to pay restitution to dozens of his victims — which he never did. 

Then Diamond and five others were hit with federal charges in 2017 for fraudulently obtaining home loans in the names of at least 122 homeowners and pocketing millions in profits. 

Kerwin’s brother Bruce died in May 2016,  leaving him —  a veteran battling cancer while confined to a wheelchair —  and Bruce’s wife Eloise to figure out the legal mess.

“We don’t understand why people come here and use people like that, you think you getting ahead and you just fall back down,” Eloise Cockrell said.

Attorney Juliet Sorensen with Northwestern Law’s Bluhm Legal Clinic has taken on the Cockrell’s case for free. They lost in trial court, and an appeal was recently rebuffed by the Illinois Supreme Court, even though the court acknowledged mortgage fraud. 

But Sorensen says they are not giving up.

“Mark Diamond, he is like Teflon,” Sorensen said. “There are a variety of ways to skin a cat as we seek justice for our clients.”

Illinois Anti-Foreclosure and Eviction Coalition Executive Director Reverend Robin Hood uncovered Diamond’s scam.

“It’s evident after five years these people were a criminal enterprise, so just stop even thinking about putting these people out of their homes that had to deal with this criminal enterprise; that needs to stop right now,” Hood said. 

“This is our home, they want my building for nothing,” homeowner Eloise Cockrell said. “We gonna fight; if I can help it, you ain’t getting this one.”

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