I believe certain things when it comes to business. One, as you know, is the customer is always right. Secondly, one should pay well, and be well paid, for work well done. Thirdly, I (naively?) believed that if you work hard and live honestly, life would always work out.
During my life, however, I have come across those who believe in earning an income any way they can. Professionals, mind you, in respectable careers, not just those who live on the fringes of society.
For example, in August 1997, my husband and I purchased a house with some help from my parents. They gave us the down-payment so we could get out of that 1 bedroom apartment and raise our newborn little girl. It should have been one of the happiest moments of my life, and for a few weeks, it was.
We went through all of the usual steps, credit checks, applications, paperwork and more paperwork. We stood on our heads for weeks running down all of the documents they needed and then my folks agreed to help out with the down-payment. Hurray! We had everything we needed! We were finally going to get off the hamster-wheel of renting and have something to show for all of those monthly payments.
But, what my mother refused to do, was sign a piece of paper stating that the money was a gift, not a loan.
We were screwed.
We’d spent months looking at houses, meeting with realtors, collecting business cards until we found the perfect one — which happened to be located right next door to the realtor who was selling the home for her former neighbors. She was a real sweetheart and I was looking forward to having her and her family for my neighbors.
Until it all fell through…or so I thought. Without that “gift” notification, the mortgage company would have to consider the money a loan that would, at some time in the future, need to be repaid. In other words, they would reject our mortgage application and all of our months of running around would be for naught. I was heartbroken.
Meanwhile, I was being harassed by my husband’s ex-wife, a cruel alcoholic, who after 3 years of marriage, would still not accept our union. Or our daughter as legitimate, even though we got married in May of 1994 and she was 5 months old. So, on top of all the stress with my parents, I had The Harpy to worry about. Every night, like clockwork, she would call after midnight, ranting and raving about something and finally, I’d had enough. Consequently, I had a machine hooked up to our phone which recorded her calls, their content and duration as proof for the police. We were pressing charges. But this tape recording would turn out to have more than one use.
When the realtor found out about the gift letter, she freaked. I thought I was upset. She then told me to give the money to my husband’s grandmother and have her return the money, with the signed letter, as if the down-payment had come from her. Which is fine, except that it’s money laundering. Possessing a Bachelor’s in Business, I knew this. I called the credit union, to verify my suspicions. A nice young woman answered and proceeded to tell me, in a very chipper voice, “oh don’t worry, there was someone in here doing the same thing just the other day.” Apparently, to the bank, that was not a crime. I hung up before I could blurt out: “Well, you sit right there honey, ‘cause I’m going to run off a stack of twenties with my laser printer. When I’m done, I’m bring them to your window, because you probably don’t know that counterfeiting is illegal either.”
But that’s not all. Being a veteran’s widow, Grandma had gone to the Judge Advocate General’s office up at the Army base nearby. He confirmed my fears – that we could all get in serious trouble, if caught. Fair enough.
So I told the realtor, “Thanks, but no thanks.” But she was relentless. Next thing I knew, she had the mortgage broker call me on a three-way line. You see, they were not willing to forfeit their potential commissions…not yet. They outlined, in detail, how I could still get the house of my dreams…if I was willing to bend the rules a little.
Step 1: Sign the gift letter with my mother’s name.
Step 2: Fill out the mortgage documents and sign them, stating unequivocally that all of this was on the up and up.
Forgery? Falsifying government documents? Really? (Those are not rules, lady. Those are felonies.) But, I had an ace in the hole… Remember the phone tap? Bingo!
Now, for the record, I’m usually pretty laid back. Not a narc. I’ve bent my share of rules. If you want to have a beer and you’re over 18, I’ll turn my head. If you have a joint and it falls out of your pocket in front of me, I’ll give it back, provided you’re an adult. But this was something like 10-15 years in prison, ok, for something that was supposed to be perfectly legal. And these people had licenses to do their jobs, so they knew they were telling me to break the law. They have seminars about this stuff.
I was furious, so I took the advice of a friend and called the largest federal law enforcement agency in this land. They answered, took my statement over a period of about 30 minutes and sounded very surprised that I had this all on cassette tape. But yes, I had them dead to rights. This was fraud, forgery, money laundering… right up their alley, one would think. Finally, I thought, some justice – for these no-account crooks dressed up as legitimate businesspersons. (Both women, I might add. How disappointing.)
And do you know what they said? “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”
Yep, hold on to that tape honey, and if, at some point, we decide to DO OUR JOBS, we’ll let you know. Click. I sat there in shock, staring at the phone. I had agonized for days over whether to even make this call. These women had families! But I knew what the agency was thinking, a victimless crime, right? It’s houses lady, not heroin. And they were correct, for the moment.
My mother did finally sign the paper. We got our house and the incident was forgotten. That tape got lost somewhere over the next 18 years.
But since then, exactly 11 years later, it was revealed that thousands of mortgages were pushed through the system that were not strictly legitimate. Many would not have been approved, if not for some “creative accounting”. Countless Americans lost their homes. Banks and mortgage companies went under by the dozens and those that survived had to be bailed out to the tune of hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. Death by millions of cuts.
Yet the Law Enforcement Agency claimed to know nothing about it.
I have one question for that agency. How victimless is it now?