Monday, December 3, 2007

The Fleecing of Frances Taylor- Uncovering Reality

Her assets drained, Frances Taylor, 96, has Alzheimer's disease, is now bankrupt and lives at an adult-care facility in Lake Forest Park. Her care is paid for largely by taxpayers.

By Susan Kelleher Seattle Times staff reporter Sunday, December 2, 2007

Seven years ago, Frances Joy Taylor was living in her own house, singing in her church choir and baking apple pies for friends. The 89-year-old widow had about $2 million in assets — which she intended to leave to her church to help children in Africa.

Today, Frances lives at an adult-care home and spends her days napping in front of a television. Her care is paid for largely by taxpayers, because Frances is now bankrupt. Frances' memory is fading as fast as winter daylight, the result of a steady assault by Alzheimer's over the past eight years. Her financial demise began around the same time, when a businessman named Tyrone Dash took over her affairs.

Acting on what he says was Frances' behalf, Dash methodically liquidated or leveraged almost everything she owned: her bank accounts and securities, her insurance policies, her credit cards, her two apartment buildings and, ultimately, her home.

What didn't end up in Dash's pocket went to others: Contractors who worked on her apartments. A lawyer who rewrote her will. A business group that bought one of her properties at a bargain price.

And tens of thousands went to financial institutions: credit-card companies, mortgage lenders and others that were more than willing to extend credit, assess large fees for questionable transactions and, in one case, violate their own rules to sell Frances high-cost loans she had no hope of repaying.

The companies that fed off her decline are part of a financial-services industry that targets people, looking for potential borrowers with high debt and assets that can be tapped to pay off that debt.

Frances was an easy target for someone wanting to separate her from her money. And as she slid into debt, she was an even better target for eager lenders who knew what she owned, what she owed, and how fast her nest egg was disappearing.

Along the way, some people raised concerns about what they saw happening to Frances and her money.Officials are now investigating filing criminal charges against Dash.
Some of Frances' lenders will be in court soon, too, waiting in line for the proceeds of her bankruptcy.

Uncovering Reality

Two and a half years ago, during a quiet birthday celebration for Frances, her longtime friends Paul Robert "Bob" Forgrave Jr. and his wife, Kathy, asked her about her apartments. Frances furrowed her brow: "I'll have to ask Tyrone."
"What do you need to ask Tyrone?" Kathy asked, puzzled.
"Whether the apartments sold," Frances replied. "First they did, and then they didn't. I don't know anymore."

The Forgraves peppered Frances with questions about Dash, a business consultant and tax preparer she'd met in 2000. Vague answers followed.The next day, Kathy Forgrave checked Frances' properties on King County's Web site. Both apartment buildings had been sold. Frances' house was in foreclosure, set to be auctioned off in 11 days.

Bob Forgrave drove to Frances' home with the news. She seemed shocked and confused.
The next day, he searched her papers. He found Dash's name on her accounts, on life insurance, mortgage correspondence, and on her checks.

He filed a police report, changed Frances' locks, installed a video camera and waited. Dash showed up later that day, and Forgrave met him on the driveway."Nice to put the face to the crime," he said as he shook Dash's hand."What do you mean?" Dash asked.
"Buddy," Forgrave said, "you left a paper trail a mile wide."

Forgrave hired a lawyer to file Chapter 13 bankruptcy for Frances and stave off foreclosure. His kitchen became a command center as he and his wife assembled the pieces of Frances' financial collapse.After two years of work, Forgrave is clear on one thing: The man alleged to have fleeced Frances had plenty of help.

.................A History of Thrift

Frances was a frugal woman. She kept track of her weekly $1.50 donations to her church. She reused construction nails and pulled clothes from other people's garbage to wash and give to charity. For decades, she had just one credit card — a charge plate the Bon Marché issued in 1969.

Frances' thrift was born of faith and experience: During the Great Depression, she saw her family lose its Montana farm; and while attending nursing school, she ministered to the homeless on Spokane's streets.

Today, Frances doesn't remember the businessman who spent much of her money, and she doesn't recall that she lost her home to debt.

"I don't believe in being in debt," she said in an interview. "If you have it, use it wisely, or you won't have it."

..................The Drain Begins

Frances first met Dash in 2000. He was working for Frances' contractor, helping him with billing and bookkeeping. The contractor was doing repairs on her apartments and needed Dash's help to get Frances a loan.

Dash, 58, is a wiry man with a broad smile and a disarming chuckle. But he prickles easily, especially regarding race.

"You know people make certain impressions about the way you look," said Dash, who is African American. "It's always, 'Oh, you're so articulate,' meaning I sound white, or I'm just a smooth-talking con man. I've been through all that."

Warning Signs

Frances' tenants were suspicious of Dash and Cordova, and thought many of the apartment renovations were unnecessary. Tenant Barbara Ristagno, who'd known Frances for 10 years, said Frances was confused about the work and what it cost. Ristagno and another tenant confronted Dash and Cordova in mid-2000, accusing them of taking advantage of Frances.
At least eight tenants filed complaints with the state attorney general, the state's Adult Protective Services (APS) office, Seattle police and the city planning department.
APS social worker Catherine Baker interviewed Frances in August 2000 and concluded that Frances was confused about the renovation and her finances.

Vanishing Assets

Dash liquidated more assets, sometimes accompanying Frances to banks to make withdrawals.
Her longtime stockbroker questioned Frances as she cashed out her stocks and bonds: "He is quite concerned about my spending — 'who is getting it?' " she wrote in her journal.

With Frances' signed permission, Dash began borrowing against her life-insurance policy, taking out more than $100,000 over five months.

Finally, Dash told Jackson National Life Insurance of Michigan to liquidate the account. The company charged a $42,482 penalty and sent a check for what was left: $71.96.

Dash acknowledges today that he charged or collected from Frances as much as $80,000 in cash and credit in 2002 alone. The amount that year was "excessive," he said, and there was likely "no excuse" for it. But he said he earned the rest.

Buildings Sold

Dash assumed more authority and conducted more business in Frances' stead.
Frances' new mortgage payment was $2,047, nearly three times her monthly Social Security check.She missed the first five payments, and Ameriquest filed to foreclose. Dash said he broke the news to her.She replied, "Not my house, not my house."


Bob Forgrave, her longtime friend, took over in March 2005. He found Frances a new lawyer and became her court-appointed guardian. In May, he moved her into an adult-care facility in Lake Forest Park.

Frances' bankruptcy attorney, William Linton, tried to block Ameriquest from getting any of its funds, arguing that Frances was not competent when she signed the mortgage.
The mortgage company has declined to comment. It stopped accepting business in August and is closing. Frances' loan is now being serviced by Citi Residential Lending.
In October, Citi informed Frances her interest rate had increased again, and, with it, her payment. By year's end, it wanted her to pay $900 more a month.
But 12 days ago, a federal bankruptcy court judge approved a settlement: Frances' home will be sold for $420,000. Ameriquest gets half.Linton may challenge claims by the other creditors but, for now, what's left after legal fees is up for grabs.

Dash also filed bankruptcy in 2005. He and his wife separated last July after he beat her unconscious, and he went to jail for 52 days on an assault conviction. Today, he lives in a one-bedroom apartment in White Center. He collects disability payments after losing sight in one eye. A King County prosecutor, in a letter, told Dash he would be criminally charged and offered him a plea bargain in October. Dash ignored him.Dash said he was naive about his ability to help Frances. He mostly regrets that he got involved at all.

Cordova continues to work construction, and Oden is still practicing law at Miller Nash.
Frances attends church when she can and is fond of her caretaker's banana bread.
She no longer has a home of her own, but she does have a mailbox full of offers for new mortgages and credit cards.

Susan Kelleher: 206-464-2508 or
Seattle Times researchers Gene Balk and David Turin contributed to this report.

Abridged for E.A. please read the entire sordid story that keeps self replicating under different names =>>

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