Our dream home

Our dream home
This is what the house looks like from the street, it is only when you get closer that you see how incomplete it is.

I have been told by many people I should write a book about my experience with SunTrust, but for now I will share my story through this blog.


My apologies to all my friends and family, and especially to all the brave deployed heroes that I used to support, for dropping off the face of the earth for the past year. This nightmare has consumed my life and has become a battle to protect my childen's future. I guess the easiest way to do this is to tell my story...


SunTrust Mortgage: Fraud, Lies and Deception…

...And How SunTrust Harmed Our Family


We lived the American dream. We decided to become entrepreneurs and with a lot of hard work and sacrifice, became extremely successful. Our business was acquired after five years in operation by a public company. As a reward to ourselves, we decided to build our dream home.


We signed a construction to permanent loan with SunTrust in May of 2005. SunTrust had our lot and plans appraised, subject to completion, for $2.5 million. We only borrowed $1.6 million. We owned the lot free and clear. We had zero debt, perfect credit scores, and $900,000 in equity. The construction loan was supposed to be for 12 months. The bank had us sign a builder direct disbursement agreement which allowed them to pay the builder directly, thus taking us out of the loan disbursement loop.


It is now almost 5 years later, the house is sitting vacant only 60 – 65% complete, there are over $60,000 in mechanics liens, and all but a few thousand dollars of the construction loan has been given to the builder, Premier Construction, by SunTrust’s loan administrator. When the builder realized there was no more money left in the construction loan, he walked off the project. We have since found out that the bank gave our money freely to this crooked builder and never made him accountable for it.


Our contract with SunTrust stated it would only disperse funds to the builder for completed work. The bank would charge us a fee to send an inspector to verify the completed work. Our original contract allowed for 10 draws to be paid to the builder. The bank funded 26 draws to this builder, often funding draws without an inspection. In addition, we have since found out that the inspector was never given our plans and specs, thus he had no idea of what to inspect, nor was it possible for him to determine if anything was “complete”. There are many items that the inspector reported a 100% completion percentage on, but unfortunately do not match the approved plans and specs. In spite of the inflated completion percentages in the inspection reports, the loan administrator chose to fund even a higher percentage of our construction loan than was warranted. At times the construction loan funds disbursed were nearly 20% higher than the percentage the inspection reports claimed was complete. This “gap” between percentage of work complete and construction loan funds dispersed was present during the entire construction period and the percentage of funds dispersed was always higher than percentage of work complete.


Florida lien laws state that when a lender receives a Notice to Owner from a subcontractor or vendor and the lender pays the contractor directly, the lender is responsible for getting lien releases. We asked our loan administrator many times about this and asked if we could see the lien releases. She told us that she could not fund draws without lien releases, that she was keeping track of them, and for us not to worry about them. We now know she never did this. Most of the time she got partial lien waivers stating the subs got partial payment, but she would pay the builder the full completion amount. This enabled our builder to use our money for other projects, including his own home. If the inspector verified that the work was complete, then the loan administrator should have demanded full lien releases before funding a draw. Instead, she would accept partial lien releases and continue to fund draws for other items and the damage just snowballed.


By not following standard lender procedures concerning the handling of liens, SunTrust set our construction project up for failure from the very beginning. For example: Our contracted allowance for foundation work with the builder was for $120,000. SunTrust funded the builder $140,000 and did not get a full lien release for another 14 months after they paid him. We verified the subcontractor was not paid for over a year after he finished the foundation. SunTrust’s negligence allowed the builder to walk around with our money in his pocket, comingle our funds with his other projects, and ultimately rob us and his other clients blind. During the 14 month period the builder had our $140k and had not been forced to provide a full lien release, SunTrust funded another 7 draws totaling almost $400,000 on our project. With this kind of negligence from the very beginning, the builder was almost encouraged to steal from us. Sadly, even after SunTrust overfunded the foundation by $20k, the foundation is still incomplete to this day! We are missing walls that are clearly evident on our plans that SunTrust has in its possession. See how important it is for the inspector to have plans and specs?


We have shown the bank clear evidence of negligent disbursements including:

  • Multiple instances of funding for deposits—our contract with SunTrust clearly states there will be no funding for deposits, only completed work.

  • Funding a draw based on a letter from the builder that stated our contract price had increased. The letter, on our builder’s letterhead addressed only to the loan administrator, did not have our signature on it and was completely false. This can only be described as blatant fraud, and was described as such by our attorneys in a mediation complaint to SunTrust
  • Funding based on invoices for someone else’s home
  • Funding draws where the builder had let the builder’s risk insurance policy lapse for over a year.
  • Funding draws when the builder had let the building permits expire
  • Funding draws WAY over the completion percentages
  • Funding draws for WAY over our contracted amount with the builder
  • Funding 16 more draws than our contract allowed for
  • Funding draws without getting proper lien releases
  • Funding draws without getting an inspection
  • ETC., ETC., ETC…

We kept asking SunTrust’s loan administrator for help when she would send us a letter informing us, after the fact, that she had given our builder large sums of money. We would tell her that we had signed zero change orders and our builder kept asking for more and more money. In fact our bank contract specifically states that we had to get bank permission if we wanted to make any changes to our original contract. We made NO changes! We went in personally to the branch and discussed our problems with the administration of our loan proceeds with a supervisor and were assured that we would get a new loan administrator. This did not happen. This loan administrator was eventually “let go” and the branch was closed. We started dealing with the main office of SunTrust and a new loan administrator. She sent us our entire loan file, giving us access to the paperwork that we had never seen before. In this paperwork we found out how badly our loan was mishandled and how we ended up in such a terrible predicament. Our money is gone and our home is sitting fallow. Our new loan administrator stated that she would have been fired had she handled our loan in a similar fashion.

We have had sympathetic SunTrust employees tell us that they would get a lawyer to go after SunTrust.

We contacted SunTrust corporate with our evidence almost a year ago. They have done nothing to help us and even requested we get an estimate of how much it would take to finish the home. We had to pay $1,000 to a SunTrust approved builder to furnish the estimate and it was $853,000. Almost a year later that figure will have to be adjusted higher because of the damage that is occurring to the home while it sits vacant. We continued to make our construction loan payments on time, as we always did, up until SunTrust told us to “get a lawyer”. That was the last payment of our construction loan and they have now sent us a bill for the entire amount of the loan due in full. We cannot get a permanent loan because the house is barely over 60% complete.

This whole ordeal has caused us grievous harm. We have gone into serious debt during this whole sordid mess. We have had to incur the extra expense of renting a home for an extra four years while continuing to make our construction loan payments. We have paid about $200,000 in interest on the construction loan without having the benefit of having a home to live in, and we paid interest on items and work we do not have. The builder extorted money from us by threatening us with liens if we did not pay him for “cost overruns”. We demanded invoices from the builder to prove his claims but they were not forthcoming. We could not fire the builder knowing he was already paid large sums of money for incomplete work. We have incurred over $30,000 dollars in attorney’s fees. Our attorneys appeared to be confident that after sending SunTrust a mediation demand outlining our complaint, SunTrust would have to make things right. At one point, SunTrust offered to mediate, but then withdrew their offer. Numerous attorneys have advised us that we have an excellent case against SunTrust, but to litigate would require in excess of $100,000 and would likely take two years at minimum. We are no longer using these attorney's and are currently representing ourselves. Since SunTrust has deeper pockets than my family does, especially since our tax dollars bailed them out, we can only conclude that SunTrust wants to test our resolve, resources and patience and hope we come up short.

SunTrust knows that the longer they drag this out, the more financially devastated we become. We have tried to be reasonable and work with them privately without making this a public matter. We know of at least two other families conned by SunTrust and Premier Construction with almost identical circumstances, all with the same SunTrust loan administrator. In fact, one of the other families provided us with a copy of a letter their attorney sent to SunTrust stating their displeasure with the same loan administrator as us and that Premier Construction had misappropriated their construction funds. They went on to say they no longer wanted SunTrust to fund draws to Premier. This letter was received by SunTrust a year before we found out our funds had been misappropriated as well. So even after being warned that this loan administrator and this builder were not conducting themselves properly, SunTrust continued to fund our project to our detriment. The builder had his operating account with SunTrust so I assume this would have been an easy matter to investigate if they were so inclined.

Another interesting fact to our case is that SunTrust loaned the owner of Premier Construction over $600,000 for a construction loan to build his own personal house and it still shows in the public records as being unsatisfied. The interesting part is that the loan was made in May of 2007 and not one bit of construction has occurred on that lot. The builder owned two lots and proceeded to build himself an 8,000 square foot home on the other lot and got mortgages from other mortgage lenders using cosigners to qualify. It appears in the public record that the builder would probably not qualify on his own given his poor credit history.

If the above mentioned paragraph is not suspicious enough, it gets even better. Our project manager and Premier’s operating manager was a man named Greg Campion. We had no idea as we dealt with Campion that he was a disgraced DEA agent caught stealing confiscated drug money up in Atlanta and was indicted on 17 counts of embezzlement. As he was awaiting sentencing, he worked closely with our SunTrust loan administrator. They both stated they were “dear personal friends” on many occasions. We learned that Campion often met with our loan administrator. Campion was the notary on almost all of our Builder’s Lien Releases documents required each time SunTrust funded a draw. Campion continued functioning as a notary even after pleading guilty to felonies and awaiting incarceration. As best we can determine, Florida does not allow convicted felons to be notaries. Here’s where it gets really interesting: When Campion moved into his home that he purchased with the stolen drug money, the Department of Justice filed a lien for forfeiture on that same property. It was in the public records showing his indictment and the lien for almost a month before SunTrust gave Campion a mortgage on that same home. We will let you decide, but many public officials and attorneys have stated to us that there appears to be collusion between SunTrust’s loan administrator and the builder.

I wrote a letter to SunTrust construction loan vp’s and senior construction loan administrators across the country. These SunTrust employees were soliciting construction loan business on the web. In the letter I outlined just some of the facts of our case. I did not identify the lender that had perpetrated these offenses in order to get truthful answers. The responses I got were unanimous in their overwhelming belief that our lender had harmed us. I even had one loan officer ask me “Who was your lender, scams r us?”

SunTrust has made many changes to their construction-permanent loan program in the last couple of years. These changes are commendable if they were made to prevent the kind of problems that we have endured. I know that when we started this in 2005 SunTrust and their competitors were working very hard to increase their footprint in the Florida market. Perhaps they grew too quickly and did not have the proper resources in place. If that is the case, then SunTrust should continue to make changes, but SunTrust should fix the problems that were already created! They are ruining people’s lives, and in my case, putting my young children’s future financial stability at risk. This I cannot tolerate! SunTrust’s highly paid attorney suggested that we give the house back without receiving any reimbursement for all the money we have already invested in it. When SunTrust stands to gain all of our equity I might call that EQUITY STRIPPING and is the most egregious form of predatory lending I have ever heard of.

Now, in retrospect, I can only draw conclusions as to why this happened to us:

  • The bank was not aware of this errant employee that blatantly disregarded bank protocol. Now that they have become aware of it, they do not want to own up to it because of vicarious liability.

  • This practice was more widespread than just my family and the couple of others that I already know about and the implications of a public scandal would not bode well for investor confidence in this volatile market.

  • The bank knew that in lending to a “golden” customer with impeccable credit, that when the borrower found out that the money was all gone they would just modify their loan for a much higher amount (talk about a low credit risk, the borrower has already been qualified and has a perfect payment history. This borrower would have a huge financial and emotional investment in the property and would willingly increase their loan amount to finish the home incurring additional closing costs as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars in additional interest to the bank). We know of a couple of people that did just that. In fact we had to modify the loan once already for an additional $150,000. If the customer is not willing or able to modify the loan, the bank could take the house back with a tremendous amount of equity. I believe this is called “asset based lending” or “equity stripping”, just on a VERY large scale

My dream home has become an absolute nightmare because of this bank. This is a story that the media has not reported on as of yet. It is a very different side of the housing and economic crisis and one that many might find interesting.


Friday, February 19, 2010

In their own words...

I contacted several SunTrust employees that were soliciting business for new construction loans. I outlined exactly what happened to us without naming the lender and here are some of their responses:

"Wow, that sounds like a very tough situation (to put it mildly). So many of the things that you mention went so far against all of the checks and balances that we have and if any of them were implemented (safeguards, that is) you would not be in the position you are in now." but we’ll be happy to show you how the other side of the lending fence does business."

"Wow, what a nightmare."

"Yes we require an inspection before every draw. We start with a draw schedule and go off of percentages. The inspector releases items as they are complete, such as footings, foundations, roof, etc. You are responsible for paying for change orders as they occur. 10 draws is excessive and 26 is ridiculous. No we only fund after work is completed. We have to approve the builder ahead of time with references. I can’t answer why the bank would not go after them. I just don’t understand why they would pay him for work that was not completed."

"I firmly believe that you are victims of an extreme situation – almost “smells” like collusion. Do you have a good attorney????? This is truly horrible, and I am sorry you have been involved in such a debacle. Essentially, draws are based on percentage of work completed, and not on materials delivered, etc."

"I regret to hear of your construction to permanent loan loss. I can say I’ve never heard of anything like this in 30 years of business experience. We do not disburse funds to the builder for the very reason of funding another project.

1.NO – we require the Builder sign an addendum to the builder’s contract that would include STM.
2.We check out the builder’s permit and how he pays subs.
3.We require an inspection $100.00 each and do not fund until appraiser states complete (if he orders lumber he is not paid until framed) STM and appraiser keep a percentage of completion chart which must be followed.
4.We do not disburse for up grades – you pay the difference.
5.We have a construction lending department which keeps tight control of draws
6.Draws are limited to usually once a month; builder can draw 10% up front to establish his cash flow."

"I can certainly understand all your current problems and in a lot of ways more than you will ever know. We have a complete construction department that has been set aside because of all the problems that people have experienced in the past and we now take the application here locally and then send the file to Gainesville to the department for processing, underwriting, approval of the builder and that way they stay on top of things from the start to finish. It is unfortunate that things like this happen but with all the changes that we have gone though I think that we have put a lot of things in place to help people not have to go through things like you and have I."

"Hi Cat. Oh…. I am so sorry! I know you must be devastated. Take it from me though that there are other families in similar scenarios as you all.

In years past, there were several construction perm “programs” that were way too aggressive. Although they sounded perfect at the time, the unfortunate part is that buyers, builders & lenders are NOW realizing that it wasn’t well planned out. Builders began having a hard time obtaining financing on the business end, they relied on the customer’s money for the cost building (c-p loans) and the, c-p programs were too aggressive. The other biggie is that no one expected such a declining market or prepared for the “long term”. So …..I’m saying all of this so you will not beat yourself up…it’s been a tough year. I’m glad you emailed and will be honest with you with what I know.
Direct disbursement to the Builder??? No maam. You are in control of the funds. They are released to YOU unless you would like for them to be released to YOU and the builder (I strongly suggest the disbursements go to only you).
We give YOU to money and you give it to the builder.
We do not disburse funds to YOU until we are sure the work is complete and there are normally 5-6 inspections and disbursement so the disbursements and completed work in monitored often.
We distribute the amount per the draw schedule, plans, specs and proof of completion of each stage.
Unbelievable.
The builder had too much control of your build AND loan. You need to be in control of when your money is disbursed and it needs to go to you directly. When you are satisfied with the builders work & inspection is satisfactory, THEN you can give the builder the funds.
Lenders have to be careful with the lawsuits and the documents usually read that you can choose the builder (however, SunTrust requires that the builder you choose provides quite a bit of documentation about their business, providing references, credit checks, etc) to minimize as much risk for you as possible."
I’m so sorry about your experience. It should NOT be that way."

"I’ll have to add that we’ve had more changes in our industry in the last 18 months than I’ve seen in all my previous years in this industry and it’s a continually refined set of guidelines that we have to keep up with and understand. Many lenders have dropped their construction programs all together.
Yes but it’s the customers choice whether they want to disbursements to come to them or the builder. I personally always suggest they only go directly to the customer’s account so if you are not satisfied with anything in the process you have the power of control on your side in negotiating with your builder.
We require invoices before all work is paid for.
That is the most extreme I’ve heard!"

"WOW! That does indeed sound like a nightmare.
I have done probably over 100 builds in this area. I have been with Suntrust for 22 years and have a great deal of experience on cp loans. Our CP program has changed a lot and has gotten a great deal more conservative.
Here are some of the basics:
These loans are funded out of Gainesville GA. We have a strict draw schedule that we adhere to and fund based on level of completion. We do require inspections, that being the indicator of what is funded.
We generally only do 4 to 5 draws."

"This makes no sense whatsoever. Draw schedule is established. Inspections are provided by us only upon inspection and work actually finished and completed to schedule would funds be dispersed. Period. This would never happen with a CP lender of reputation. This makes no sense. We would just not give money away to a builder without work being done. The inspectors and people involved are professionals and spot on. Flexibility is part of any construction process and financing. But an error of this magnitude I have never heard of. Not with me. And I have done many. 65% completed and 95% of funds dispersed – this makes no sense and awfully fishy.
Remember you are “our” client not the builder. The builder has to be approved by us to make sure he is legal and above board. It’s your money – your house – the funds can be dispersed to you who then can provide them to the builder. But we are not going to disperse funds to anyone unless the work on the schedule is completed. We protect our investment and our clients.
Remember any lender is not only protecting the client. They are also protecting their own self interest. What good would it do if the clients project was not finished and the client walked away?? The bank would have a mess on their hands and a foreclosed property that is “unmarketable.” No we do not require the funds go to the builder. Of course safe guards are in place. We make sure the builder is legit – then we look at the contracts, draw schedules – and disperse money only for what is done.
This would never happen with us. We make sure releases are provided as the project is being completed. Yes, some builders squawk. But this is why we do it our way – so we don’t have these messes. Our Construction people are pretty smart. You may have done this once or twice we have done thousands….That is why you come to us. Not just for financing but piece of mind.
Craziest thing I ever heard. Who was your lender….Scams are Us? Is this for real? Are you putting me on?
This is the craziest thing I ever heard of. I am doubting the “reality” of your letter. You do not even include your phone number.
If you want to understand CP financing and work with a real lender call me to discuss.
I’m sorry about your situation (if this letter is even real)."

12 comments:

  1. Suntrust is so in the wrong. If this case ever got to court, it would be no contest Suntrust would loose bigtime.

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  2. Looks like you "acorned" the clowns at SunTrust! From some of the comments, it sounds like some of the construction loan administrators who responded were aware of what was going on in states like FL. If you could get some ex-SunTrust employees to testify that they were knowingly doing the wrong things but were forced by management to do them, SunTrust is toast. I hate hearing about big business arrogance like this and they should be made to pay for their mistakes. The public is behind you, Cat, and God bless your family.

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  3. Wow!!! This looks really bad for SunTrust.

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  4. There's always two sides to every story. If everything you say is true -- go to court.

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  5. The TARP recipients like Sun Trust are disgraceful. They take the TARP money to keep them afloat, then keep the money, force foreclosures or worse ask them to do a loan modification.Meanwhile the banks known Net Present Value is NOT what the market is worth, so after months of trying to save homes and credit, the homwowner looses while the lender picks up the equity--like Sun Trust, IndyMac and many others. Then they send out 1099 abondment and whine to the government for "loss of equity"--as if they are truly helping people. What a crock. Banks need to take the taxpayers money and help the taxpayers homeowners like you.

    God Bless you. We will send your story out to Marco Rubio Florida Congressman that thinks like us--bailout of banks stinks. Helping the banks make profit is much different than helping the families keep their home and do the right thing.

    It amazes me that Sun Trust allowed the $65,000 lien to be placed on the home. I think you should look into homestead laws in your state, then see how does Sun Trust like that!

    Write me anytime. I will be on twitter @patriot101 complaining about Progressive Congressmen and Progressive bankers that ALL need to be shut down in 2010.

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  6. What they have done is a felony in California. They should not be able to disburse money without a third party who is qualified to determine the progress of the construction and put in writing that the contractor is due for a payment.
    I have never heard of a bank just disbursing money without an inspection stating that the contactor is due a disbursement It's your money not theirs. You are borrowing the money, you are the one who will have to pay the bank. I am a general contractor and civil engineer and have been in business for 30 years. In California, the bank's employees would be in jail. I'm not sure that they can still be tried for criminal actions.
    I do know that a good attorney could hang the bank out to dry and you should be able to collect for the completion of your home, the contractor should lose his license and you should be able to collect for pain and suffering.
    I don't understand why you haven't sued the bank and the contractor. The contractor committed fraud when he took money for work he hadn't done. Again, in California he would be behind bars. There is consumer protection here. Putting all this on the internet is not the solution, it's going after their hind end. Banks could care less about you, they hope you will just go away if they wait enough. Don't let the statue of limitations for filing a lawsuit go by.
    I don't know the contractor's law in Florida, but I would contact an attorney this week. Make sure he or she has dealt with contractors and knows the in and outs of suing banks and contractors. You sure as heck have a great case!
    John O'Dell
    General Contractor
    Civil Engineer

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  7. We at SunTrust recognize that some reading this blog may be wondering if SunTrust is responding. We wanted to indicate that have been in steady communication with the Brooks for some time now. Our policy is to protect the privacy of our clients and refrain from publicly discussing the personal business we have with all of our clients.

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  8. To SunTrust: Seems to me, the time for "steady communication" is long over. Time for action is looooooong overdue, for you all to make this right for the Brooks family. Just my 2 cents' worth from outside your borders...:)

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  9. As a Suntrust customer for many, many years, I am absolutely beside myself over this! For years, I have invested and saved millions of dollars. My money, until reading this blog, was in a Sun Trust account. Best of luck to you. I hope you know you blog has already made a huge impact. Sun Trust just lost a longtime customer and millions of dollars that have now been put into an account with USAA. I don't negotiate with terorrists.

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  10. I had a very similar situation although not with Suntrust. A much lower dollar scale, but was still a lot of money to my family and I. I was considering using Suntrust for a refi of my house and I can say that they will not be an option. I feel your pain and I hope that it gets corrected. Mine never did. I spent thousands out of my personal accounts (after the contractor took all my loan money from escrow) having drywall rehung, buying fixtures that were never really purchased, reinstalling doors and windows and doing finish work. I personally worked on it almost every spare minute outside my regular job for 5 months so we could use the house. It would be great to see someone win in that situation. Best wishes to you and your family. --68

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  11. I am very saddened by what has happened to the families that were in business with Sun Trust Bank. I think this is a perfect example of why government shouldn't be bailing out these large corporations; generally speaking, if a company is not profitable or at least self-sustaining, it should be allowed to fail. I know I'm preaching to the choir here, but if you can't stay in business it's probably the manner in which you run your company. The very thought of bailing these sharks out with tax dollars, while millions of Americans are paying inflated interest rates is enough to make my blood boil. however, my prayers are with you and your family Cat. God bless you!

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    ReplyDelete

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