December 6, 2007
Church-Based Affinity Fraud
Why not to trust your pastor/mortgage officer.
The Wall Street Journal today has a fascinating, front-page story of what seems to be church-based fraud. "How the Subprime Mess Hit Poor Immigrant Groups" begins:
Naira Costa, a 27-year-old housekeeper, met her husband at Message of Peace, an evangelical church that is a spiritual and social haven for Brazilians in the Bay Area. When the couple considered buying a house a few years ago, the church's head deacon, Soario Santos, ministered to that need, too. Mr. Santos, a fellow Brazilian, served the Pentecostal church on nights and weekends. During the day, he worked as a loan officer at a mortgage brokerage owned by a Brazilian immigrant. Mr. Santos and other church officers also working at the same real-estate business routinely approached churchgoers to encourage them to buy homes.
Weak credit and low wages weren't barriers, Ms. Costa recalls. "He told us that a house easily would appreciate $100,000 in a year," enabling the owner to refinance, says Ms. Costa. "We trusted him implicitly. Everyone at the church was buying houses from him."
Today, Ms. Costa and other former Message of Peace parishioners claim that Mr. Santos was a key part of a mostly Brazilian ring that allegedly conspired to defraud people by persuading them to buy homes they couldn't afford. Ms. Costa, the housekeeper, secured a $713,000 sub-prime mortgage. In another instance, a Brazilian baby sitter borrowed $495,000. Now, the home buyers are beset by foreclosures and additional stains on their already-tainted credit.
What follows is a complex tale of shady mortgage brokers, too-trusting immigrants, unethical pastors, and, most of all, lawsuits.
The Journal does a terrific job of untangling this knot of a story.It also shows that church-based affinity fraud is still a problem in the evangelical community.