Recession nightmare: When bankers move your foreclosure

It's hard to imagine a pleasant foreclosure. Like root canals or appendicitis, they don't really come with a silver lining; after all, it's hard to find a way to put a smiley face on being turned out of one's home. However, while there are few things that can make a foreclosure enjoyable, there are many factors that can make it considerably worse. Perhaps the worst of these is the notion that the bank, an entity that is ethically charged with making the foreclosure process as impersonal as possible, would allow its employees to reap a personal benefit from a customer's pain.

For Lawrence and Linda Elins, their forced relocation from their Malibu beach house was traumatic, as it came on the heels of a massive financial crisis. The Elins, who had invested much of their money with Bernard Madoff, were devastated by the December 2008 revelation that he was a fraud. In the ensuing months, they attempted to piece together the broken parts of their financial life, finally deciding in May 2009 to surrender the house that they had owned for 13 years.

In 2007, the Elins had refinanced their home with Wells Fargo for $7 million, but at the time of their foreclosure, it was valued at $12 million. However, after they left the house, the bank refused to show it to prospective buyers, repeatedly turning away the requests of area realtors. Instead, the company's senior vice president for foreclosures, Cheronda Guyton, moved her family into the home, using it as a weekend getaway.

Over the next few months, Guyton received a residential parking permit from the security firm that guarded the neighborhood, and neighbors reported seeing her Volvo SUV often parked outside the house. Her regular use of the home culminated in a late August party, in which some of the visitors arrived from a yacht anchored just offshore.

Confronted with the story, Wells Fargo admitted that it is not company policy to allow its employees to use foreclosed properties for their personal use. It has promised to investigate the allegations against Guyton; however, in many ways, it may already be too late for the company to repair its reputation. When economic disaster happens, it's hard to avoid taking it personally, and as the Guyton affair demonstrates, sometimes foreclosure may be personal.
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