Bolingbrook woman facing eviction, claims attorney misled
By Cindy Wojdyla Cain firstname.lastname@example.org September 29, 2012 1:40AM
Constance Coleman talks about how she might have to move out of her rental home while sitting in it in Bolingbrook, IL on Saturday, August 18, 2012. | Matt Marton~Sun-Times Media
Updated: November 1, 2012 6:02AM
For more than a year, Constance Coleman complained to anyone who would listen that the lawyer who rented her a Bolingbrook home didn’t tell her the house was in foreclosure and he didn’t own the home or have permission to rent it.
As Coleman continued her quest to avoid eviction and shed light on her situation, she found out that the home’s real owners, Jennifer and Steven Gibson, had no idea their house at 560 N. Pinecrest Road was rented out by attorney Joseph P. McCaffery after they moved away.
The Gibsons say they believe McCaffery of Aurora purposely delayed their foreclosure so he could collect more rent money.
McCaffery, who denies all of the allegations leveled against him, was hired to expedite the foreclosure case, Jennifer Gibson said.
Someone finally listened to Coleman and Gibson and investigated the women’s complaints.
On Sept. 20, the Illinois Attorney Registration and Disciplinary Commission (ARDC) filed a complaint that alleges McCaffery rented out the home without permission.
The document also claims that McCaffery misrepresented himself as the owner’s agent to the Housing Authority of Joliet to collect about $20,000 in rent from the agency’s Section 8 housing assistance program. Coleman paid an additional $8,000 in rent.
The housing authority would have rejected the rental contract if it had known the property was in foreclosure and that McCaffery didn’t have permission to rent out the Pinecrest Road home, according to the ARDC complaint.
The complaint also says there is evidence McCaffery “took no action to expedite the foreclosure as directed by the Gibsons.”
McCaffery denies he did anything wrong. He said he told Coleman the home was in foreclosure. And he said he had power of attorney over the residence and that he collected the rent as payment for his legal services.
“It gives me all power with respect to that property,” he said. “I could have sold it. I could have rented it. I could have lived in it. ... I can burn it down if I want to.”
Coleman’s story started back in late 2009 when she was forced to move from another Bolingbrook home because it was in foreclosure. She vowed then to stay in the neighborhood she loved and to find a place that wasn’t mired in mortgage trouble.
That’s why she was thrilled when a “for rent” sign popped up in the yard of a nearby three-bedroom, brick ranch home. Coleman agreed to rent the new home on Pinecrest Road from McCaffery and a partner who said they had purchased the home in a short sale as an investment, Coleman said.
“I thought it was a grace from God,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Thank you Jesus.’ ”
Instead of being a blessing, the rental turned into a nightmare for Coleman. After renting the home without incident starting in January 2010, Coleman said she was shocked when she found out in April 2011 that the home was in foreclosure, she was going to be evicted and that McCaffery was not the owner.
Now Coleman is being evicted because the home was sold back to the mortgage holder, CitiMortgage, in May 2011. She has until Monday to be out of the home.
Because she knew it would be tough to find another home to rent, Coleman fought in court to stay in the home as long as she could, and she contacted any agency she could think of for help.
But she received a mixed bag of advice from federal, state and local legal and banking agencies ranging from “sit tight” to being told to stop paying rent.
“It’s so stressful. You don’t sleep. The worry is unbelievable. You just don’t want this to happen to other people.”
Gibsons had ‘no idea’
Jennifer Gibson said McCaffery never had permission to rent the home.
“He did not do that much work for us, and he did not have permission to rent the home,” she said by phone from her new home in Wisconsin.
The Gibsons left the home when Steven got a new job in Kansas and they were underwater on their Bolingbrook mortgage and couldn’t sell the house.
Jennifer Gibson said she didn’t know anything was amiss until she returned to the home in June 2011 to check its condition and found all of the locks had been changed and that Coleman was living in the house.
“We had no idea he (McCaffery) was renting it, and we never saw any of the money,” Gibson said.
While McCaffery said the rent payments were for his work on the foreclosure, Jennifer Gibson said the lawyer received a flat payment of $2,500. She also said he didn’t seem to be expediting it as instructed.
“He went for eight months without talking to us,” she said.
The Gibsons weren’t the only people who didn’t know what was going on at the home. The housing authority paid its portion of the home’s rent even after the foreclosure was complete. Some of the money went to pay off an IRS lien for McCaffery’s unpaid taxes.
Joyce Johnson, Section 8 Housing Choice Voucher Program coordinator for the housing authority, said McCaffery told the agency he was managing the property.
“As soon as we found out something was going on, we stopped the payments,” Johnson said.
Lawyer denies allegations
McCaffery denies all of the allegations leveled by Coleman, the Gibsons and the ARDC.
“I have nothing to hide,” he said.
He said Coleman knew the home was in foreclosure and he collected rent as payment from the Gibsons for his legal services. The slow pace of the foreclosure case was not his doing, he added. Most foreclosures take 18 to 24 months, he said.
“The banks control the pace of a mortgage foreclosure,” he said. “ ... I did not delay the matter intentionally. I did not do it with the intention of lining my pockets.”
McCaffery said the home was foreclosed on by CitiMortgage for the full amount of the mortgage, which is “highly unusual.” That means there is no mortgage deficiency pending against the Gibsons, so he did his job, McCaffery said.
“I fight the banks every day for the little people,” he said.
This is not the first time the ARDC has investigated McCaffery. His license was suspended by the ARDC for a year in 1999. He was disciplined for a “pattern of neglect of criminal appeals, failure to keep his clients informed of the status of their cases, failure to refund unearned legal fees, repeated false and misleading statements to the court and his clients,” according to the Illinois Supreme Court ruling on the complaint.
A 13-count complaint filed against McCaffery in 2010 is pending before the ARDC’s hearing board now. In one of the complaints, it is alleged that McCaffery took thousands of dollars from a fund set up to pay medical bills for three Aurora teenagers who were struck by a car. McCaffery was representing the teenagers in a personal injury lawsuit.
McCaffery said he expects to win his cases pending before the ARDC.
“They’re nothing more than a purge organization for lawyers,” he said of the agency.
Coleman and the Gibsons cooperated with the ARDC investigation that led to the most recent complaint. The ARDC’s hearing board will review the complaint and determine if McCaffery violated ethics laws. If so, he could be censured, have his license suspended or revoked by the Illinois Supreme Court.
Jennifer Gibson said she’s angry with McCaffery and feels bad for Coleman.
“Who’s getting hurt in all of this is the woman who’s renting the house,” she said.
Coleman was scrambling in recent weeks to find a new place to live after another rental deal fell through. As of Friday, she still had no place to live and she planned to go to court Thursday to ask a judge for more time.
All of the rental homes she finds are either too expensive or they’re in dangerous neighborhoods, she said.
“I was ready to fight to the bitter end,” she said. “ ... I went to everyone so I wouldn’t end up in this situation. This just shouldn’t have turned out like this.”