SAN ANTONIO, Texas – Customers say a Houston company that promised to help save their homes from foreclosure, really did little more than drain their bank accounts.
The KHOU 11 News I-Team had barely started its investigation into Sunbelt Fidelity Corporation, when the president of the company, Janice McCarthy, sent a letter threatening a lawsuit.
But a trail of complaints and court filings accuse McCarthy of having a record of involvement with companies accused of ripping off consumers.
Customers like Richey Tanksley.
“Every bit of pride that you have is gone,” explained Tanksley as he walked through the door of a friend’s San Antonio apartment.
Without the generosity of that friend, Tanksley would be on the streets.
“I pull my little pillows off the couch and I pull the bed out, I unfold it and that’s where I sleep,” demonstrated Tanksley.
It’s a life he never dreamed of when he bought a home near Austin five years ago.
Unfortunately, Tanksley eventually ran into some financial trouble. Fearing foreclosure, he hired the Sunbelt Fidelity Corporation.
“Basically they were a company that just helped people with their foreclosures,” said Tanksley citing the company’s pitch. “They came in and made it possible to keep their homes.”
He says he made an initial $1,200 payment to Sunbelt Fidelity.
In exchange, he says the company told him they’d take care of the rest including handling his bank.
“They told me not to communicate with Wells Fargo because that's what they were going to do,” Tanksley said. “So if I had any calls from Wells Fargo, don't answer them.”
He says Sunbelt Fidelity also told him not to send his lender the monthly mortgage payment.
Instead, Tanksley says he was instructed to send Sunbelt Fidelity nearly $500 a month.
“I just thought that money that I sent them was going to make my life alright again,” Tanksley explained.
But a few months later, his lender contacted him: He’d lost the house to foreclosure.
“I was in absolute disbelief,” recalled Tanksley. “I was like, ‘well, wait a minute. What's going on here?”
Tanksley called his lender.
“They said they had never been contacted by Sunbelt Fidelity,” Tanksley said. “Wells Fargo had never had any contact. They had no communication with anybody.”
But the complaints don’t stop with Tanksley.
The 11 News I-Team found similar complaints from Sunbelt Fidelity Customers in at least five other states.
In December, the North Carolina Department of Justice ordered Sunbelt Fidelity Corporation to cease and desist providing “illegal loan modifications” in the state.
It turns out, those are familiar accusations for McCarthy, Sunbelt’s president.
The I-Team discovered McCarthy’s former company, East Coast Fidelity, was shut down by the Rhode Island Attorney General in 2011.
In court filings, investigators claimed they were unaware of even one homeowner who received payment help from McCarthy’s company.
Florida records show McCarthy was also a former officer of Ameridebt Relief Corp.
The New Hampshire Banking Department obtained a cease and desist order against Ameridebt Relief Corp. and fined the company $10,000 after investigators say the company collected $4,512 from a customer but failed to provide the mortgage modification promised.
New Hampshire investigators say some of those payments were made to Ameridebt Relief Corp. during the same time McCarthy was the company’s director.
“I think that what's alarming is that they've managed to continue this scam for years now and basically have jumped from state to state,” said Monica Russo with the Better Business Bureau.
“They continue to take money from consumers without ever actually offering them any type of benefit or any type of help.”
Tanksley says when he asked Sunbelt Fidelity why his house was set for sale, the company claimed he had been dropped as a client.
However, Tanksley’s own banking records show that the company still collected its $499 fee for that month.
“In the beginning, I thought it was just, what I needed,” Tanksley said. “It was going to work out. [But] just to get to that point where you get that last letter from the county, it's just…” he said , his voice trailing off as he shook his head.
In a letter, McCarthy claims Sunbelt Fidelity is not a mortgage modification company.
Instead, she says it only provides access to software and helps customers defend themselves in foreclosure cases.
Interestingly, after we contacted Sunbelt Fidelity, the company offered Tanksley a partial refund.
As part of the deal, Tanksley had to agree to withdraw all complaints against the company including any complaints made to the media.