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NEWS 8 INVESTIGATES

DALLAS - If the nation's largest bank had lost the records of thousands of its customers, federal regulators would take swift action.

But, that's just what Bank of America directly and indirectly has done with the paychecks of thousands of its contractors and sub-contractors in the property preservation business.

The failure to pay contractors millions of dollars has created a tide of financial ruin in the backwash of the mortgage crisis. Just one of the places where the suffering has taken hold is the Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Fort Worth.

At a time when the jobless rate is at an all time high, at a time when there is the mortgage meltdown, everybody needs a miracle, said Pastor Patrick Turner.

Turner knows that as well as anybody. When he's not at the pulpit, he's in the property preservation business. Until recently, his company, Turner Mortgage Services, maintained thousands of foreclosed properties in Texas, Louisiana and Oklahoma for a branch of Bank of America. He said his relationship with the company destroyed his life, the lives of hundreds of others and nearly his church.

I know several who've had to file bankruptcy, who've had to liquidate, who are homeless now because they've lost everything, he said.

WFAA obtained an e-mail Bank of America Field Services (BACFS) sent out to contractors last October. BACFS oversees property preservation for Bank of America. The memo announced delays in payment because of computer problems.

The problems concerned electronic photos. Contractors must upload pictures of their work into a Bank of America computer to prove they've done the tasks assigned to them. Bank of America lost millions of the snapshots and then decided not to pay its contractors as a result.

Turner said he's owed money from over a year ago. He had five crews working for him, including some men from his church. He said Bank of America owes him more than $300,000.

Near Hartford, Connecticut, Robert Popoff runs a company called Hometeam. His firm maintained hundreds of properties for Bank of America in Connecticut, Massachusetts and Pennsylvania.

We did the work, he said. We did it in a timely manner. We did it correctly.

But, Hometeam didn't get paid for much of the work. After months of correspondence, Popoff said he is still owed more than $50,000. He said the non-payment has been a body blow to Hometeam.

Our cash flow here is such that some of the contractors who've been with us for some period of time have either had to go out and work for someone else or go to other professions, he said. Some of them are facing foreclosure themselves.

One of those is Robert McDonald. In addition to depending on Bank of America for his paycheck through Hometeam, McDonald has his mortgage through the bank. He hasn't been able to pay it because Bank of America hasn't paid him. Now, the bank is foreclosing on him.

They said they didn't' care that they owed us money, he said. They wanted their mortgage payments.

WFAA has talked to contractors in California, Colorado, Alabama, Mississippi, Florida and Tennessee who all say their businesses have been crushed because Bank of America did not pay them.

Bank of America Field Services has a major facility in Plano. In an e-mail by WFAA and sent to dozens of Bank of America contractors in January, manager Robert Bannecker of the Plano office inquired how they were re-uploading their data to prove they should be paid.

Bank of America declined to be interviewed on camera. In answer to written questions, the bank said, We apologize to our vendors for the system issues that resulted in late payments ... We have been working diligently with our vendors and contractors to resolve any outstanding payments.

It is too late for Steve Teideman. He worked for a third Bank of America property preservation contractor in Texas. Teideman lost $20,000 when Bank of America quit paying the contractor he worked for. Teideman said he doesn't believe the bank's computer glitch explanation.

If they do [have the glitch], someone should be replaced, he said. They should have someone that should be able to get a computer glitch fixed in 24 hours.

Bank of America said Turner of Fort Worth is one of 41 contractors who were affected by the computer problems. The bank won't say how much money is involved. But, WFAA has learned the amount is millions.

According to the bank's written statement, only four of the vendors' problems had a meaningful impact. The bank does not define meaningful impact. Popoff, McDonald, Teideman and Turner know what meaningful means to them.

Turner has hundreds of thousands of photos of his work. Bank of America has told Turner to send them in and they will determine if they're valid for payment. Turner and others say that procedure would take months. Bank of America said it has offered to pay for temporary help and assist with the data, one person for one week.

E-mail bharris@wfaa.com

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