Occupy MN: Malcolm LeFever and Cheryl Downey ask Wells Fargo to not foreclose [UPDATE]

Cheryl Downey and Malcolm LeFever want Wells Fargo to let them occupy their home of nearly 20 years.
Cheryl Downey and Malcolm LeFever want Wells Fargo to let them occupy their home of nearly 20 years.

On Friday afternoon, protesters from local labor organizations will join with Occupy MN activists to march from Peavey Plaza to the Wells Fargo Center. The march has been dubbed the "Don't Foreclose on the American Dream" rally.

Two of the marchers, Malcolm LeFever and his wife Cheryl Downey, have a more personal message for Wells Fargo: "Don't foreclose on OUR American dream." They just received a foreclosure notice last Friday.

LeFever says he's been asking for a loan remodification for over a year now and just got the runaround. Now he hopes the demonstration will earn him some face time with someone at Wells Fargo.

"We have the ability to pay. It's so odd to encounter a situation where they want us to go into foreclosure," he says.

Update: Wells Fargo responds.

The embattled Downey-LeFever house during the 2003 holiday season.
The embattled Downey-LeFever house during the 2003 holiday season.

LeFever and Downey moved into their Richfield home nearly two decades ago, and raised their 17-year-old daughter Kira, along with an assortment of pets. Over the years they built an entire second story on the house, and added a few modest improvements with an eye toward retirement -- new hardwood floors, granite counter tops, energy-efficient windows.

Then in 2008, LeFever suddenly lost his $48,000-a-year job when a hospice in Mendota Heights closed its doors. There was no severance and no warning. Although Downey's employment at another hospice remained steady, LeFever began picking up part-time gigs at a smattering of local hospitals, never pulling in half what he did in his old position.

The couple first fell behind on their mortgage payments in 2010. At that time, LeFever says he began the loan remodification process, submitting pay stubs, a letter of hardship and other forms of documentation to get the ball rolling. But resubmitting paperwork several times, long telephone conversations with someone in San Antonio, and never meeting with anyone from Wells Fargo in person, LeFever says things began to look bleak.

"You have all this hope in the beginning that your're going to be able to accomplish something," he sighs. "The reality is you confront the bank and they're not interested in doing this at all."

The official foreclosure notice.
The official foreclosure notice.

LeFever says that his employment is now steady enough that his family could afford to pay a reduced mortgage rate, but the bank stopped accepting his checks. The backpayment has grown to $20,000. Meanwhile, the house is worth $60,000 less than Lefever's current mortgage. The bad credit score botched their daughter's school loans, and she deferred her freshman year to work. Her father says she's already completed half her credits in post-secondary high school work and was set to graduate the University of Minnesota  at 19.

"I had a really good GPA, I was really young and I just completely dropped out," says Kira ruefully. "My entire life I thought the barriers to success are how good you are."

Jordan Ash, a researcher with Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, reviewed LeFever's case and says his set of circumstances is hardly unusual.

"He's been working with them for a very long time," he says. "They've got an income to make the payments. It's just that Wells Fargo won't work with them."

After nearly a year and a half since LeFever says he requested a modification, last Friday, his wife received a knock at their door, an apology and a notice of sheriff's sale. The auction takes place at 10 a.m. on November 22nd.

Kira Downey in the Student Co-op.
Kira Downey in the Student Co-op.

Kira heard about Occupy MN and convinced her parents to march to Wells Fargo with demonstrators on Friday. Part of the thinking is that the group could accomplish something similar to a story out of California: After marching to the headquarters of Fannie Mae to speak about her foreclosed home, Rose Gudiel was arrested. Hours after she was released, she received a call notifying her that her modification had been approved. Some are calling her the "Rosa Parks" of the foreclosure crisis.

Update: In an email this morning, a spokesperson from Wells Fargo wrote,

Since 2010, we have worked with Mr. LeFever to try and find an option that will enable him to remain in his home. Unfortunately none of the options were viable. In order to continue efforts to search for options that may help Mr. LeFever stay in his home updated documentation is required for consideration and approval.

Sometimes a customer's circumstances change at the last minute enabling him or her to qualify for an appropriate resolution.

LeFever says he wants their story out there, but isn't optimistic that Wells Fargo will talk to him on Friday. Still, his daughter says she already sees the Occupy MN effect since he started speaking out.

"Both my parents changed," she says. "They can really start to get rid of that degradation and that shame that gets piled on you when you owe money."

While the couple tries to get an audience at Wells Fargo, marchers from Occupy MN, Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, and other labor and community organizations will be following up on the list of demands they delivered to Wells Fargo Minnesota CEO David Kvamme. In it they ask for face-to-face mediation on foreclosures -- the kind that LeFever and Downey are hoping to force on Friday.

Watch the letter delivery below and read the whole list of demands here:

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