Beware of quick fix for mortgage woes

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by BYRON HARRIS

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WFAA

Posted on November 7, 2011 at 10:57 PM

Updated Monday, Nov 7 at 11:21 PM

NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

If you've got mortgage problems, there are plenty of people offering to help by taking your house off your hands.

You can see the signs alongside the road every month, offering to buy your home. They promise quick and ready cash.

Instead, they can yield ruined credit, an angry bank and lots of doubt about who your house really belongs to.

Kristina Miller saw a TV ad for a company called The Real Advantage, Inc. In the commercial, spokesperson Tony Sicilian said: "If you have a house to sell, we have a deal for you."

Miller gave Sicilian a call. "Literally my phone call was returned within an hour," she said. The e-mails she received later show an intense pressure for her to sign over her house to an "investor" Sicilian had hooked her up with.

The deal: She would sign over the deed to her house, and the investor would take over mortgage payments.

Recently divorced, Miller was having trouble making ends meet. The solution seemed quick and certain.

It was not.

The payments on her house are still behind.

"I would have never thought this goes on," Miller said. "I'm sitting in a house that's three payments behind, that they have the keys to."

The investor is a man named Steve Joseph, who traces to a post office box in Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania, according to property records.

Tony Sicilian said he's never met Steve Joseph. "He's part of an investor network through the Internet. You just find them," Sicilian said. "Everything's done through e-mail and telephone."

In an interview, Sicilian — who is not a Realtor — said he's only done one deal with Steve Joseph. But in his e-mails to Kristina Miller, Sicilian said he's done several deals with Joseph, and that Joseph is totally reliable.

Joseph's name is listed on seven properties in North Texas. We were never able to find him.

After visiting one house titled to Joseph and talking to someone who who said she was his sister, we were contacted by a woman who calls herself Doris Czerny.

Czerny said she runs a company called T&C Management, which operates out of a post office box in Keller. She said Steve Joseph is her business partner. Czerny's name shows up on several properties as well.

One of them used to belong to Melissa Bostick of North Richland Hills. Bostick signed over her mortgage to Czerny for $250 cash and a promise to pay her mortgage.

The mortgage has not been paid, but Bostick did not know until recently, she said, because Czerny intercepted the delinquency notices that the bank sent to her house.

"I have done nothing but good," Czerny said. "And I am registered. I am not illegal. I do not commit crimes."

T & C Management is not registered with the Texas Secretary of State.

The paper trail in the case of Robert and Tiffany Morris, who also dealt with Czerny, shows how deals can go wrong.

The Morrises said Czerny was supposed to take over their mortgage. They signed over their deed. Their house was put in the name of the "Morris Family Trust," with an investor as the trustee.

The investor was supposed to pay the mortgage, but the mortgage went delinquent and the Morrises discovered their house was being used for low-income Section 8 rental.

Czerny said she has the paperwork to show she paid the Morris family money for their house, and that she would come to our offices and show it to us.

She did not come.

Instead, Czerny gave us the name of a person she said was her lawyer, who had the paper proof.

That lawyer said Czerny is not her client.

At the Tarrant County District Attorney's office, Presley Darnell said questionable deals are on the rise. He said he finds that the promises buyers make do not always match the paperwork the seller signs.

He suggests seeking out an attorney to look at the paperwork, and he cautions people with mortgage problems that signing over a mortgage does not relieve you of the responsibilities — unless the bank gives its approval.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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