PLUMAS LAKES - A Plumas Lakes man has won a major judgement in a mortgage modification fraud case dating back to 2010.
A Superior Court jury in Yuba County awarded Phillip Linza $513,902 in damages and $15.7 million in punitive damages against PHH Mortgage Corporation.
It began when Linza was struggling to pay his mortgage in 2010 in the middle of the mortgage crisis. He thought he was on the road to saving his home when his loan provider PHH Mortgage agreed to a loan modification, taking his payment from $2,100 a month to just over $1,500 a month.
"I made the payments for months," Linza said. "Then I get a letter in the mail that says, 'oops, we made a mistake, your payments aren't $1,530, they're $2,300.'"
A few weeks later, the company sent Linza another letter.
"They jacked it up, never explained why. They sent another letter demanding $7,000, never explained why," said United Law Center attorney Andre Chernay, who helped represent Linza.
Linza testified he tried repeatedly to reach someone with the company who would help him straighten things out, but got nowhere. When, in desperation, Linza threatened to sue PHH Mortgage, the company did respond.
Linza said he was told, "'We're a multi-billion dollar company. Stand in line because we've got a busload of attorneys that are on retainers.'"
The ruling Thursday is being called one of the largest of it's kind in California and a message to the banking industry.
"It's a classic case of David v. Goliath," according to Jon Oldenburg, Managing Attorney and partner at United Law Center. "No one thought the banks could be beaten. This award is a huge step in the right direction to help us continue to punish the banks for violations against millions of California homeowners."
Linza said the entire issue could have been avoided if PHH Mortgage had simply owned up to their mistake and honored their agreement. He said the verdict sends a broad message.
"You people have been taking advantage of enough people and the country's tired of it. I mean, society's tired of it," Linza said.
The case is expected to be appealed.
No one from PHH Mortgage was available for comment late Friday.