Midtown Raleigh News

Occupiers arrested during protest at Southeast Raleigh foreclosure

More than a half dozen protesters were arrested after they took their movement to a new location Monday, a foreclosed home in Southeast Raleigh.

Members of Occupy Raleigh, Occupy Greensboro, and local organizations Save Our Homes and MortgageFraud staked out the lawn and peered out the bedroom windows of a home in the 2600 block of Pebble Meadow Lane as police stood by.

They were joined by Nikki Shelton, whose family lost the home to foreclosure in late 2010. The family received a notice in March that any of their belongings left in the house after April 8 would be turned into trash.

Raleigh police monitored the protest Monday morning, as most protesters chatted with each other. In the afternoon, dozens of additional police arrived, along with the Selective Enforcement Team. By day’s end, nine protesters were charged with second-degree trespassing.

Todd Warren, an Occupy organizer from Greensboro, said the group thinks Nikki Shelton is one of more than 10 families in the neighborhood who face illegal foreclosure. The protesters say they’ve uncovered “evidence of robo-signing,” the practice where mortgage servicers sign documents without reading them.

“Housing is a human right,” Warren said. “We’re not going to let people be put out of their homes while banks make record profit.”

Shelton, who was not among those arrested Monday, stood solemnly in the sun outside her former home during the protest.

“This is my civil right to fight to get my home back,” she said. “It’s not us who are the ones doing anything against the law.”

Shelton and her husband paid $157,500 for their home in February 2006, according to Wake County property records. The couple received two loans, one for $125,958 and another for $31,489, from Mortgage Lenders Network USA, a Connecticut-based subprime lender that filed for bankruptcy in February 2007.

Shelton said the family fell behind on a few payments at the end of 2007 when her husband was in a head-on collision that forced him to be out of work for 18 months. She said she tried unsuccessfully to get a loan modification to lessen her payments.

The Sheltons’ house was foreclosed upon and sold at auction for $124,015 on Nov. 22, 2010. The high bidder was U.S. Bank National Association, the trustee in the case. The property’s owner is Wells Fargo, according to property records.

Shelton thinks she was a victim of fraud. She says a “robo-signer” was involved in her loan and that the foreclosure process was accelerated improperly. A Wells Fargo spokesman, Josh Dunn, said the bank can’t comment on the loan because of customer privacy rules.

But he said the bank’s priority is to prevent as many foreclosures as possible by working with borrowers and that Wells Fargo’s delinquency and foreclosure rates are below the industry averages.

Robo-signing is one of several questionable foreclosure practices that have prompted investigations by regulators in recent years. Last year, as part of a settlement, federal regulators ordered some two dozen lenders and subsidiaries, including Bank of America and Wells Fargo, to end such practices.

Before she was evicted, Shelton said her primary job was working as a daycare provider out of her home. When the house was foreclosed upon and the family was evicted in April 2011, she said she was forced to close her business. Shelton and her kids moved in with friends and have tried to find a stable home since, she said.

The protest marked a change of venue for the Occupy Raleigh protesters, who have spent months downtown, demonstrating outside the State Capitol and camping on a private lot a few blocks away.

Police arrived on Pebble Meadow Lane at about 9 a.m. after hearing there might be a protest. At 2:15 p.m., after investigators confirmed that the bank owned the property and had not authorized anyone to be there, additional officers arrived, police spokesman Jim Sughrue said.

Police told those outside the house to move to the sidewalk or risk arrest. Five who did not move were charged with second-degree trespassing.

Police then told protesters inside the house that if they went outside they would be charged with trespassing rather than breaking and entering. Two people came out.

Shortly before 7 p.m., two more protesters arrived at the house and failed to observe the “no trespassing” notices posted there, Sughrue said. They, too, were charged with second-degree trespassing.

Those arrested are: Charles Ian Hancock, Maureen Elaine Kessler, Rafael Estrada Maya, Christopher Stella, Elizabeth Zukowski, Rachel Powell, Margaret Schucker, Kurt Zehnder and Ryan Thompson.

Zukowski, 54, a real estate broker, had been involved with other occupy protests and told her son James that the possibility of arrest loomed. On Monday afternoon, he checked his voicemail and found his mother’s plea for help. “I’m in jail,” her message said.

James Zukowski, 34, initially thought it was a joke. Then reality sank in. He withdrew $1,000 and went to the Wake County magistrate’s office, not knowing how to bail someone out of jail.

“I’m picking my mom up from jail,” he said, proudly. “How many people can say that?”

The President of the state branch of the NAACP, Dr. William Barber, said they have received a formal complaint about the eviction. The NAACP will be investigating the complaint and its merits.

Staff writers David Bracken and Anne Blythe contributed to this report.