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‘Working on the Obama Program,’ Hey?

MADISON, Wisc. (CN) - A retired couple says they lost their home to foreclosure after a Florida law office, Finley & Bologna International, called to say they were "working on the Obama program," and made promises they didn't keep. The couple says they found out too late that the law office is not licensed to practice in Wisconsin, and that its attorneys never bothered to show up anyway.

Timothy and Rhonda Kelley sued Finley & Bologna International, Chandler Richards Finley and Stefania Bologna-Finley, in Dane County Court.

The Kelleys, retirees who live on a fixed income from Social Security disability and retirement benefits, say, "Finley & Bologna called Timothy Kelley during late 2009," after they had fallen behind on mortgage payments on the house where they had lived for 11 years.

"Finley & Bologna claimed that they were 'working on the Obama program' to help people at risk of foreclosure to negotiate new terms on their mortgages," the complaint states.

The Kelleys, who were paying 11 percent interest on a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage, say, "Finley & Bologna said that they would start working on lowering the Kelleys' mortgage rate 'as soon as [they] receive[d] $3,250.' Finley & Bologna 'guaranteed' they could negotiate a lower interest rate on the Kelleys' mortgage."

They say the law office faxed them a "Legal Services Agreement" on Nov. 11, 2009, and that office representative Jessica Riley told them "they could pay the $3,250 in five installments of $650, but that Finley & Bologna would not do any work on lowering the Kelleys' interest rate or otherwise modifying their mortgage until they paid the entire $3,250. The agreement contained a power of attorney clause, and permitted Finley & Bologna to bill the Kelley's debit card at a rate of $650 per month until the full $3,250 had been paid. ... The Kelleys paid the first $650 on or about November 13, 2009, on Timothy Kelley's debit card."

The Kelleys say they "continued paying the $650 for a few months, then used their tax refund to pay the remaining balance during February 2010."

Riley is not named as a defendant.

The Kelleys say that Finley & Bologna is not licensed to practice law in Wisconsin, but it instructed them that all correspondence with their lender, Beneficial Wisconsin, should go through Finley & Bologna.

"Finley & Bologna never delivered on their promise to lower the Kelleys' mortgage interest rate. Instead, Beneficial sued the Kelleys for foreclosure on June 23, 2010," the complaint states.

Beneficial served them with notice of foreclosure on July 5, 2010 and the Kelleys say they "faxed the summons and complaint and all subsequent court papers to Finley & Bologna on the same day they received them. Finley & Bologna assured the Kelleys that they would represent the Kelleys in the foreclosure action, and that they would obtain forbearance from the mortgage holder, such as a lower interest rate and monthly payments."

But it didn't happen, the Kelleys say.

"Neither Chandler Finley nor Stefania Bologna was licensed to practice law in the State of Wisconsin. No attorney at Finley & Bologna was licensed to practice in Wisconsin or even had the ability to represent the Kelleys in the foreclosure action.

"No attorney from Finley & Bologna ever appeared in the foreclosure action.

"The Kelleys ended up defaulting in the foreclosure suit, because they never answered the complaint. The Kelleys continued to operate under the assumption that Finley & Bologna was taking all the necessary steps in defending them in the foreclosure action."

After default judgment was entered, on Sept. 1, 2010, the case was reopened "when Beneficial filed an amended complaint and new parties intervened," according to the complaint.

A week later, Timothy Kelley underwent open-heart surgery, a quadruple bypass, while "Finley & Bologna continued to assert that they had the situation under control, and would take care of any foreclosure issues for the Kelleys," the complaint states.

But that didn't happen either, the Kelleys say. Finley & Bologna failed to appear again and another default judgment was entered.

The Kelleys say they followed Finley & Bologna's instructions to fax them pages of financial information, including bank statements and pay vouchers, and that Finley & Bologna "assured the Kelley's that they 'could get it dropped.'"

But in a conference call with a vice president of loans for Beneficial, and "Isabelle," from Finley & Bologna, the Beneficial vice president washed his hands of Finley & Bologna and the Kelleys: "The Beneficial VP said he had not seen the Kelleys' paperwork, and said that Beneficial never received it. He then said that Beneficial would not deal with the Kelleys or Finley & Bologna anymore. Isabelle responded that there 'had been a lot of turnover at Finley & Bologna,' and conceded that Finley & Bologna never sent the Kelleys' paperwork to Beneficial. The Beneficial VP reiterated that Beneficial was no longer interested in working with Finley & Bologna or the Kelleys. Isabelle said, 'You mean, because we made a mistake he's going to lose his house?' The Beneficial VP said, 'Yes.'

"The Beneficial VP hung up. Isabelle told Timothy Kelly, 'Sorry. I guess there's nothing else we can do for you.' Timothy Kelley said if he could at least get his $3,250 back. Isabelle said, 'No.'

"The Kelleys never heard from Finley & Bologna again. They moved out of their house on February 28, 2011, and have been paying $1,250/month in rent since then."

The Kelleys seek punitive damages for deceptive trade and violations of Wisconsin Foreclosure Consultant Law, Wis. State § 846.45(3).

They are represented by David Dudley with the Consumer Protection Law Office, of Madison.

A Finley & Bologna International ad in the October 2010 issue of "Boomer Times & Senior Life," bears the headline "Mortgage Foreclosure Defense." A 1-800 number and two local numbers appear under a photo of Chandler Finley and Stefania Bologna, who say they have offices in Miami, Boca Raton and West Palm Beach.

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