In San Mateo County, California, The San Mateo Daily Journal
- Attorneys representing an elderly Menlo Park woman have filed a lawsuit against a [local real estate agent] they say now has an interest in her home after he took advantage of the widow who was facing foreclosure last year.
But while the civil case is just getting started after being submitted in San Mateo County Superior Court [...], it represents the ongoing work of a county task force comprised of public and private groups seeking to deter elder abuse.
Gunhild B. Bogue, an 89-year-old whose estate is now under the conservatorship of the San Mateo County Public Guardian, is believed to be a victim of foreclosure fraud during which she agreed to sign a will promising to leave her Menlo Park property to a practical stranger, said Alexandra Banis, an attorney with Barulich Dugoni Law Group. The suit alleges [the real estate agent] contacted Bogue after the property was listed as in foreclosure. He offered to pay her mortgage while allowing her to remain in the home until she died in exchange for her to deed him the property worth an estimated $1.4 million, Banis said.
As an elderly woman with health problems who was in a desperate situation with little understanding of what was happening when she met [him] in February, 2015, Banis said it’s an unfortunate case of what surmounts to elder abuse, fraud and negligent misrepresentation.
[He] disagrees, noting the county and attorneys have yet to hear his side of the story. He claims to have helped Bogue as she was just days away from losing the property that had nearly $800,000 worth of debt and a mortgage that hadn’t been paid for years. He also contends Bogue was a hoarder who, despite their agreement, didn’t allow him to fix up the property that’s in shambles.
Now, the county’s Elder and Dependent Adult Protection Team is seeking to support Bogue and deter abuse against this vulnerable population, said Banis and Deputy County Counsel Aimee Armsby.
The group made up of representatives from the county’s Health System, District Attorney’s Office, County Counsel and private law firms was solidified by the Board of Supervisors in November.
“It’s about providing protection and education for the seniors who reside in our county and we know that there are folks out there who are at risk of being taken advantage of,” said Armsby, who expressed concern about the increase of financial-fraud related cases. “I think that’s always going to be a worry in particular in San Mateo County because of the value of real property. Real estate is often the most substantial asset that a lot of older folks have.”
Banis said the firm she works for has been involved with the county team’s work and women over the age of 85, such as Bogue, are one of the most susceptible demographics in the United States.
“We interact a lot with the aging population here in San Mateo County and we saw the need to protect against elder abuse, which is running rampant and growing here,” Banis said. “Our client, in this case a widow in her late 80s, is a perfect example of someone that this task force in San Mateo seeks to protect.”
Bogue and her husband took out a $500,000 mortgage. Shortly after he died in 2013, her mortgage debt was $800,000. When her home went into foreclosure, [the real estate agent] sent an “inviting” letter offering a solution to what seemed to Bogue like an insurmountable problem. Thinking she’d found her savior, she contacted the man who rushed to the Menlo Park property within a few hours after she called, Banis said.
[He] allegedly drafted several documents for Bogue to sign such as a will, deed of trust and loan agreement. Under the duress of facing foreclosure, she signed unaware of the predatory nature of the terms, Banis said. In exchange, Bogue was assured she would be able to continue to live in her home rent free for the rest of her life, according to the suit.
Moving forward, Banis said they’re seeking a judge to void the contracts Bogue signed with [him]. With the county’s housing market growing increasingly lucrative, Banis and Bogue said it’s important for family members or anyone who comes in to contact with an at-risk elderly person to notify appropriate agencies like the county’s adult protection team.
“Isolation is another factor that can contribute to elder abuse, when people don’t have family members around to look out for them,” Banis said. “I have heard of these types of cases (mortgage fraud) before and it may have to do with the increase in the property values in the county.”
Anyone who suspects elder abuse in San Mateo County is encouraged to call (800) 675-8437.