Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Aunt Aggie's Farm

It's a dreadful story in the Chicago Tribune, a tale of foreclosure and an elderly woman at risk of eviction from her home.

Agnes Albinger is 100 years old and the bank is threatening to foreclose on her mortgage. She stands to lose the farm that has been her home since 1949.

How could a woman of that age still have a mortgage over her head? Is this a case of someone fallen ill, but too proud or stubborn to accept what Medicare has to offer, looking on it as an unwanted government hand-out? Was she strapped for cash to cover medical expenses?

Her neighbors are raising funds to pay off the debt, so that Ms. Albinger can end her years in a place she cannot physically maintain. The house is falling to pieces, and only when word of her plight got out did a local group show up to clear brush from around her porch and pick up the debris of an old farm that was scattered about the yard. They've patched her roof and are going all out to make needed improvements so that the house can pass inspection on 1 May.

One of her supporters blames the bankers for the cruelty of foreclosure, but the culprit may lie closer to the heart. It wasn't Ms. Albinger alone who obtained a $100,000 mortgage in 2000, on property that was free and clear.

It turns out that her niece, Bridget Gruzdis, is involved in a mess of transactions that smell of fraud and the most of heinous of crimes: taking advantage of an elderly relative.

Ms. Gruzdis started up a company that would develop land. Her aunt's land.

Takes money to make money, and so Phoenix Horizon LLC was formed. The financing came from loans backed by the 70 acre farm, financing to the tune of $700,000. And Ms. Gruzdis' fingers are all over it.

It only gets better. The property was put up for sale, at an asking price of $4.6 million, but no one knew about the listing except Ms. Gruzdis.

You can look on Ms. Gruzdis as a champion for her auntie, someone who thought she could ride the real estate boom and bring untold monetary benefits to a beloved relative.

Unless you've lived in this world for a time, in which case you'd be demanding that the Will County authorities throw Ms. Gruzdis in the dankest, darkest jail they can find. And if they were to lose the key to the lock, you'd not much mind.

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