Unsuspecting couple faces foreclosure after chain of eventsWritten by Bibeka Shrestha
A Canton couple has sued town Alderman Eric Dills and three attorneys after learning their home was unknowingly being used as collateral by Dills’ for a revolving loan.
For more than 10 years, Carol and Joseph Hannah were unaware that their home was tied up in Dills’ equity line of credit — until May when they received a baffling notice of foreclosure from Champion Credit Union after Dills defaulted on his loan.
Dills claims innocence in the mixup, however. He argues that lawyers botched delivery of the loan payoff to the bank.
Carol and Joseph Hannah had bought the home from Dills in March 2000 for $85,000. They made a down payment of $8,500 and Dills financed the remainder.
Asheville lawyer Richard Maita inked the real estate deal on behalf of both parties.
A year earlier, Maita had arranged for Dills’ loan, which used the same home as collateral. The couple claims that at no point during the property transfer did Maita inform them of Dills’ prior loan.
Maita charged the couple for a title search — which makes sure the property is free and clear of any encumbrances — and for title insurance — which provides protection in case the title search fails to turn up a hidden claim against the property.
The couple accuses Maita of never carrying out the title search and failing to take out a title insurance policy despite charging them for both.
Dills said that he, too, was unaware that one of his credit lines was connected to the Hannahs’ house. Dills’ business consists of buying, renovating and selling homes. Over he past decade, he has dealt with 20 houses, 13 mortgages, 10 credit lines, and nine banks. Keeping them all straight has been a challenge, Dills argues.
Dills also claims that the Hannahs’ house was the first he’d ever sold.
“I know that I have done nothing intentionally wrong,” said Dills. “We relied on the attorneys to do their jobs.”
The Hannahs allege that two other attorneys were at fault: Asheville lawyer Jonathan McElroy and Greensboro attorney, Lawrence D’Amelio — a key point that Dills agrees with.
Both lawyers were hired by the Hannahs to refinance their home, McElroy in 2004 and D’Amelio in 2005.
Neither informed the Hannahs about Dills’ credit line, despite both charging the couple for a title search. It marked the second and third times lawyers failed to turn up Dills’ outstanding loan using their house as collateral.
The Hannahs decided to pay off their home loan to Dills and refinance the house with another lender. McElroy mailed a check for about $73,800 directly to Dills in 2004.
Dills said he took the check as confirmation that his credit line had nothing to do with the Hannahs’ home. He said he thought the line of credit was unsecured and not tied to the house. If it had been connected, Dills expected the check to be mailed to Champion Credit Union instead.
Moreover, Dills emphasizes that he had no connection with McElroy or D’Amelio.
“I’ve never even met those men,” said Dills.
Neither the Hannahs nor their attorney Kim Lay could not be reached. Attorney Richard Maita refused to comment.
For now, Dills has no plans to hire an attorney. He said he has already been in touch with the Hannahs and apologized for the misunderstanding.
“I’ve spent many sleepless nights since this happened thinking about this, Dills said. “This weighs on my mind.”
Dills said his businesses had suffered a devastating impact from the economic collapse, but he plans to stand by his debts.
“I don’t feel that I have done anything wrong to this point in regard to the lawsuit,” said Dills. “I owe money and I acknowledge that, but I have not tried to defraud or misrepresent myself in any way to the Hannahs.”
Dills said he has no doubt that the Hannahs will keep their home, despite the major mixup.
“There’s no chance in the world that the Hannahs are going to lose their house,” said Dills. “This is such a clear-cut case…The Hannahs and I both relied on these professional real estate attorneys to handle all the details of the closing, to do title checks and searches, and there were obviously some mistakes made.”
Greensboro lawyer D’Amelio received a reprimand in 2004 and a stayed one-year suspension in late 2005 from the North Carolina State Bar. D’Amelio was reprimanded for failing to follow a lender’s real estate closing instructions, disbursing funds “at variance with instructions given to him by his client,” and neglecting matters related to the closing.
Later, D’Amelio was suspended for falsely representing to his client that he had initiated a foreclosure when he had not done so.
“D’Amelio engaged in conduct involving dishonesty, fraud, deceit or misrepresentation,” read a report by the N.C. State Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Commission.
The report states that prior to his misconduct, D’Amelio suffered from depression. His medication had unpleasant side effects and led to a “loss of judgment that led to his misconduct.”
Neither Maita nor McElroy has ever faced any public censures or discipline by the N.C. State Bar to date.