Pablo and Guadalupe Bocardo have had some rotten luck in the past couple of years.
They wanted to modify the mortgage on their Elk Rapids home and they wound up working with a woman who has since become notorious as a swindler.
Their mortgage servicer foreclosed on them.
Their home was sold to Fannie Mae in a sheriff’s sale and eviction proceedings were started against them before they even knew something was wrong.
Remarkably, however, the Bocardos remain in their home.
That’s thanks to a little bit of good luck -- they found an attorney who, so far, anyway, has been able to stave off eviction and foreclosure and keep alive their chances to save their home in a federal court lawsuit, despite long odds against such a thing.
The Bocardos ordeal began when they became one of at least 60 or 70 homeowners from across Michigan who enlisted the services of a woman who claimed she could work out a better deal for them on their mortgage.
‘SHE SAID SHE HAD OUR BACK’
It started when the Bocardos heard about Tashia Lynn Winstanley and her company, TLW Mortgage of Holly, MI. It sounded like an outfit that could help them.
They wanted to lower their monthly payment and to do that, they needed a mortgage modification.
“We went to her and she said she could help us,” Pablo said.
They needed to put their trust in someone. Navigating the world of mortgage modification is complicated -- banks and mortgage companies are opaque, the process is complicated and hard to understand, and the language of real estate finance, for a regular person, may as well be in Czech.
“She said she had our back,” Pablo said. “She would always tell me not to worry. She had our back, and I believed her.”
The realization that Winstanley was a scammer and that they were the victims of a fraud did not come suddenly. It unfolded in a series of occurrences that just did not sit well for the Bocardos.
For one thing, their mortgage payment had been $1,200 prior to dealing with Winstanley, but soon after signing on with her, it went up to $1,400.
Winstanley told them they owed more because the bank believed they were a higher risk because they had missed a payment, which Guadalupe now believes must have been lost in the mail.
Now they also had to send their mortgage payments to Winstanley, not the bank.
Winstanley told them this was necessary to ensure the payments got to the mortgage servicer on time. She said this had to happen in order to negotiate a modification.
Guadalupe said she balked at paying $1,400 to Winstanley each month, not sure that she could afford it. Winstanley instead insisted on two payments of $700 each month.
The Bocardos would later find out Winstanley did little or nothing to attempt to renegotiate their mortgage. But the woman sure was tenacious when it came to collecting their checks each month.
“As soon as the day came, she would call me, ‘Did you make the payment? Did you make the payment?” Guadalupe said.
LOTS OF RED FLAGS
Another thing that should have been troublesome was Winstanley’s insistence that no matter what, the Bocardos should not contact the bank or the mortgage servicer directly.
The Bocardos honored that request for a while, until Guadalupe decided she needed to go around Winstanley, if only to reassure herself that everything was going alright.
“Even though she told us not to call them, I did call them,” Guadalupe said.
When she called the mortgage servicer, Select Portfolio, she learned that the mortgage payments she thought she had been making through Winstanley, the $1,400 she sent her each month, were not making it to the bank.
Winstanley, as usual, had an explanation.
The Bocardos said Winstanley redoubled her insistence that they not contact the mortgage company.
“She goes, ‘They will not talk to you,’” Guadalupe said. “’They will lie to you and tell you they are going to foreclose on you, only because they don’t want you do deal with me.”
“We trusted her because we were in a bind,” Pablo said.
Soon, however, Winstanley’s explanations could not keep up with reality.
There was a knock on the Bocardo’s door. It was a process server with an eviction notice.
Since they hired Winstanley, their house has been foreclosed, the redemption period when they would have been in a better position to contest the foreclosure had passed, and eviction proceedings against them had begun.
One day a man came around and offered them a few hundred dollars if they would just go away quietly. They declined.
And the $13,000 they’d given to Winstanley in fees and mortgage payments was gone, according to their attorney, Jason Jenkinson.
TRUTH LEARNED TOO LATE
It was a devastating blow for the Bocardos. They did not want to lose their home. They’d been in the house for around 12 years. They’d raised three sons and a daughter in that house.
Two of their sons now play for the Traverse City Wolves semi-pro football team and one of them still lives at home with a grandchild.
“I put a lot of work into it when the kids were young,” Pablo said.
The house, located on a quiet street in the village of Elk Rapids, was a Habitat For Humanity house which they’ve made a lot of improvements to over the years.
Also over those years, Pablo planted rose bushes. The pink flowers grew in front of the house and along each side and in a garden in the back, surrounding two Catholic shrines the family erected.
Neighbors were astonished and thought Pablo must know some trick to get such lush, vibrant rose blooms, but he says he doesn’t do anything special -- he just plants them, waters and cares for them, and sometimes talks to them.
As foreclosure loomed, however, Pablo decided the rose bushes had to go. He didn’t want to lose them to the bank, too.
He ripped them out, all of them but one, and gave them away. It was unhappy but at the same time therapeutic.
“Last year I got so upset, I pulled them all out,” he said.
Since then, Jenkinson has had some success fighting their case and Pablo said he has allowed himself to have some hope that he will be able to keep his home.
He has started planting rose bushes again.
A BIT OF LUCK
It seems that the Bocardo’s best luck throughout this ordeal was when they called a lawyer for help and wound up reaching Jenkinson, who specializes in fighting foreclosures.
When they called Jenkinson, he had already heard of Winstanley from another case and he knew the Bocardos were in trouble.
Ironically, it was Winstanly who pushed the Bocardos to call Jenkinson in the first place.
When the Bocardos confronted Winstanley about the eviction notice, she suggested they get another lawyer because she didn’t have time to deal with it.
Winstanley apparently didn’t suspect the Bocardos would find Jenkinson, who by then had already sent Winstanley a letter alleging that she was conducting a criminal enterprise by taking money up front and promising to modify mortgages as a nonlawyer.
“I wrote her a letter, saying she was breaking the law, and she just kept going,” Jenkinson said.
When she learned who they had hired, the Bocardos said, Winstanley told them Jenkinson should not be trusted and she told them not to talk to him anymore.
Jenkinson soon got to the bottom of what happened with Winstanley and discovered she had defrauded them of $13,000. But what she’d really done to them, and had done to many others, was so much worse, he said.
“Her actions actually caused them to lose their home,” Jenkinson. “How do you put a price on losing your home, losing your credit? ... I think that the human wreckage that she has caused, I don’t think she should see the light of day again.”
LEELANAU COUNTY CASE
Winstanley, 38, sits in a prison cell today, at Huron Valley Women’s Correctional Facility in Ypsilanti, in part because a Leelanau County couple went through something a lot like what the Bocardos went through.
Winstanley was charged in Leelanau County last October in connection with a couple who also lost their home to foreclosure after she took around $16,121 from them.
She was charged by prosecutor Joseph Hubbell with using a computer to commit a crime, a seven-year felony; and with larceny by conversion, a five-year felony.
The Leelanau County couple went to the sheriff’s department last July after they discovered the money they had been paying to Winstanley to pay their mortgage was not making it to the bank.
They had hired Winstanley to negotiate with Bank of America to modify their mortgage, according to the charges. They received repeated assurances from Winstanley via phone and email that she was making progress in the negotiations.
Like the Bocardos, the result of Winstanley’s fraud was foreclosure -- Bank of America foreclosed because Winstanley failed to pay the couple’s mortgage and by the time the couple recognized the problem it was too late.
In an interview with a detective, Winstanley admitted in September that she took the couple’s money for her own use, according to the charges.
However, once charged, Winstanley maintained that she was virtually broke, despite all of the alleged fraud.
She applied for a court-appointed attorney and claimed an income of less than $1,000 per month and said all she had in the bank was $304.
Winstanley pleaded guilty in January and was sentenced by Circuit Court Judge Philip Rodgers to 17 to 60 months in prison.
She was ordered to pay $25,290 in restitution to the victims of that case and victims in one other case and she was ordered to forfeit a stake in an Otsego County property she inherited.
WHERE’S ALL THE MONEY?
Winstanley’s legal trouble is far from over, despite other felony fraud convictions in Oakland and Kalakska counties. She is serving a sentence of up to five years in prison. She could be released as early as next July.
Prosecutors were not content to leave her sitting in prison, however.
She now faces charges in Grand Traverse County filed by the Michigan Attorney General that could get her put away for up to 20 years for conducting a criminal conspiracy.
That case involves four other homeowners.
A preliminary examination is scheduled in that case July 26. Winstanley’s attorney, Janet Mistele, did not return a message seeking comment. An aunt of Winstanley’s, who lives in Grawn and was listed in a Leelanau County court file, did not return a message seeking comment.
According to a filing in the latest case, prosecutors estimate Winstanley took over $250,000 from 60 to 70 clients from around Michigan since 2008, many of them from Northern Michigan.
Winstanley was allegedly so brazen that investigators say she continued to embezzle money from clients in late 2011 and early 2012 as she was out on bond while facing felony fraud charges in Leelanau County.
Yet, Winstanley is also a paradox. Despite the large amount of money authorities say she brought in over the period of a couple of years, Winstanley apparently has nothing to show for it.
In Leelanau County, and later in Grand Traverse County, Winstanley signed declarations that she was indigent and could not afford an attorney.
Also, a 2006 conviction for drunk driving in Grand Traverse County remains an open case because over the years she has failed to pay off the fines and costs in the case which amounted to just a little over $1,000.
So, what happened to all of the money? According to an affidavit filed by the attorney general’s office in the Grand Traverse case, the money might have gone into Winstanley’s bloodstream.
She admitted in an interview in the Leelanau County jail in February that she did not work to modify people’s mortgages and instead took the fees and the money people sent her to pay for her methadone drug addiction.