Mi Casa? Sue Casa!

Hispanic immigrants cry foul over an alleged St. Louis housing scam

Located in the Tower Grove South neighborhood, the clapboard house is in a state of disrepair. Like del Rio, Sophia says she was promised improvements to the home would be made before the sale, but says she was not allowed to inspect the house prior to closing. St. Louis real estate records show Cots Realty Investments purchased the home for $35,000 in May 2004. Two months later, they sold the home to Sophia for $105,000.

If Cots Realty put $70,000 worth of work into the home, Sophia says, she doesn't know where it could have gone. Over the past two years, her husband has made some superficial improvements to the home — expanding the living room and widening closets — but it still feels something like a carnival fun house. The second-floor stairs are tilted almost to the point of falling over, and the sagging basement is held up by a temporary support beam. An advertised "bedroom" in the unfinished cellar is little more than a cubbyhole with a mattress.

When Sophia called Olmos to complain that the promised improvements had not been made to the home, she says the agent told her not to worry. They'd resell the house for $160,000 and get her money back. That was two years ago. Sophia says she hasn't heard from Olmos since.

Fraudulent loan documents qualified Alfonso del Rio and 
his daughter, Maria, for a home they say they cannot 
afford.
Jennifer Silverberg
Fraudulent loan documents qualified Alfonso del Rio and his daughter, Maria, for a home they say they cannot afford.
Attorneys Gustavo Arango (left) and Ken Schmitt believe 
as many as 70 Hispanic immigrants may have fallen 
victim to the alleged scheme.
Jennifer Silverbergphoto by Jennifer Silverbergpho
Attorneys Gustavo Arango (left) and Ken Schmitt believe as many as 70 Hispanic immigrants may have fallen victim to the alleged scheme.

Sophia's loan documents, like del Rio's, contain erroneous information. For the past year Sophia has worked part-time as a bartender at a Hispanic nightclub. The job pays a few hundred dollars per month, but the loan application for her home has Sophia earning $3,200 per month with Dormire Security & Consultants in Maryland Heights. No such company exists, according to the Secretary of State's office.

Sophia says she spent thousands of dollars to make the home habitable but realizes she'll likely never sell the house for what she paid for it.

"They're taking advantage of people who come to this country looking for a positive change," Sophia says. "We demand justice."

Whether justice will actually be served remains a question, cautions attorney Ken Schmitt.

"We hope to get the victims their money back, but that depends on what kind of assets the defendants may have," he says. "In the short run, we just want to expose the practice and put a stop to it."

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