Saturday, June 22, 2002

Family faces loss of home, savings


Immigrants lose faith in honesty of businesspeople

By Karen Samples Gutierrez, ksamples@enquirer.com.
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        RICHWOOD — They are by turns angry, incredulous, uncertain and calm.

        Yes, a bank has just sued Marlene and Miguel de los Reyes to force the sale of their home. But surely they won't lose everything — shelter, savings, credit rating — because of the unscrupulous behavior of businesspeople they don't even know.

[photo] Marlene and Miguel de los Reyes may lose this home purchased from an Erpenbeck company.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
        “Maybe I'm naive, but I just can't think of us being innocent and being put out in the street,” says Mrs. de los Reyes, 45.

        She and her husband, along with two other couples in the Steeplechase subdivision in Boone County, are the first to face foreclosure proceedings in fallout from the Erpenbeck scandal.

        They purchased their home from an Erpenbeck company, Erpenbeck & Kennedy Builders, with the understanding that part of their money would be used to pay off construction loans taken out by Erpenbeck. But that didn't happen. Instead, the Erpenbeck company deposited the money into its own accounts at Peoples Bank.

        Millions of dollars in checks written to lending agencies were diverted this way, and about 220 homeowners are now discovering liens on their property. Most lenders are waiting to see what agreement will be reached between Peoples and title companies to assist the homeowners. But one bank, Cincinnati-based Guardian Savings, is moving ahead.

        “I think it's a low blow,” says Miguel “Mike” de los Reyes, 46. “They know the situation the 222 homeowners are in. They say they want their money. Why didn't they tell that to Erpenbeck a year ago? They're going to pick on the little guy?”

        Erpenbeck owes Guardian a total of about $510,000 on three homes in Steeplechase, the bank claims. It wants the homes sold and the proceeds used to pay off Guardian first.

        Guardian president Rick Burkhart declined to comment.

        The de los Reyeses paid $216,000 for their home in 2000. Guardian is demanding $157,800. Selling the home won't bring enough to pay off Guardian and the couple's mortgage company, much less allow them to recover their $60,000 down payment.

STORY ARCHIVE
Click here for all Enquirer reports on Erpenbeck Co.
INVESTIGATION
If you have any additional information on the business dealings of the Erpenbeck Co. or Peoples Bank of Northern Kentucky - or on the involvement of any parties not yet identified in our coverage - please email Enquirer business reporter James McNair at jmcnair@enquirer.com or Kentucky Enquirer reporter Patrick Crowley at pcrowley@enquirer.com.
        That money represents savings from years of living within their means. They have built equity in previous homes, driven the same cars for years and paid off credit cards at the end of each month.

        Marlene and Miguel de los Reyes are Cuban immigrants who met as teenagers while working in the same Kroger store in Miami. They have two children, Vanessa, 20, and Gabriel, 16.

        Mr. de los Reyes is a manager at Dynamec, a Walton company that makes car seats. When the family moved to Boone County in 2000, he fell in love with the Steeplechase subdivision, where the homeowners' association enforces rules that help maintain property values, he says.

        Vanessa is enrolled at Northern Kentucky University, and Gabriel loves Ryle High School, his mother says. But now the family's dream is turning sour. Never again, they say, will they trust the officials involved in real estate.

        The couple is represented by attorney Brandon Voelker, who also has filed, along with attorney Stan Chesley, a class-action lawsuit against Peoples Bank.

        Peoples allowed Erpenbeck to deposit checks made out to other companies, the lawyers say, so they want Peoples to pay off the the homeowners' old mortgages.

        On July 5, Boone County Circuit Judge Jay Bamberger will hear arguments in that case as well as discuss the foreclosures, Mr. Voelker says. He's hoping that through the class-action suit, the de los Reyes family will be able to keep their home.

        “As you get older, you don't get attached to material things anymore,” Mrs. de los Reyes says. “If we have to walk out tomorrow, I don't have a problem with that. I just don't want to lose the money we've saved for 22 years.”

       



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