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August 22, 2014

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Home, but for how long?

79-year-old put her trust in man accused of mortgage fraud, only to find she no longer owns her house

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Steve Marcus

Norma Hayward cuddles Sammy, owned by one of her daughters, in her Las Vegas home. Hayward’s daughter, Patti Reed, found that her mother’s house might have been in jeopardy three years ago. Now, Hayward, 79, faces foreclosure, and the man who arranged financing for her is charged in federal court with fraud.

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  • Hayward remembers the call she made to Steven Grimm regarding the unusual destination of her mortgage payments.
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  • Hayward on the outcome she would desire, if given a choice.
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  • Hayward describes how she felt when she found out about the scam.
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  • Norma Hayward's daughter recalls how she brought up the scam to her mother.
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The federal court docket for today shows that one Steven Grimm is scheduled to answer additional federal charges in connection with alleged mortgage fraud. If convicted, he could face life in prison.

A name that’s not on the docket is Norma Hayward’s.

She’s a 79-year-old mother of five who once ran keno cards at the Tropicana and taught people how to make pottery.

Steven Grimm told her she reminded him of his mother.

And then, Hayward said, he went on to swindle her out of the title to her home of 34 years.

Unless Hayward can afford to buy back her house by September — and that’s going to cost her $203,000 — she’s going to be kicked out.

It’s not a grand home: a single-story, white cinder block house in a modest neighborhood near Decatur Boulevard and Vegas Drive.

“The house is old and it’s not worth a whole lot but it was mine and I worked hard,” Hayward said. “That’s why it’s been so traumatic, to fight for all those things and to wind up losing it.”

The story, as Hayward tells it, starts 10 years ago, after Grimm brokered a home equity loan for Hayward and then offered to refinance it to lower the monthly payments. Her payments did not go down, however.

Grimm called it a mix-up, and asked Hayward to make payments directly to him. Then, as she was handing over monthly checks to Grimm, she began receiving delinquency notices from the loan company.

When Hayward questioned Grimm about the late notices, she said, he reassured her that her home was safe.

One day Grimm told Hayward he needed her to sign a document, but his office assistant said they’d run out of the proper forms. Hayward agreed to put her signature on a blank sheet of paper.

Hayward thinks Grimm used that signature to deed her house to Steven Klares, a straw buyer, and the son of Grimm’s office assistant, without her knowledge or consent. After that, the house changed ownership at least three more times — always without Hayward’s knowledge.

Hayward’s daughter, Patti Reed, learned that her mother’s house was in jeopardy three years ago. Hayward was hospitalized after a mild stroke, and Reed began looking into helping her mother sell the home so she could settle into a lower-maintenance condo.

She consulted a friend in real estate, who called back with a startling question: “Patti, does your mom own her house?”

County records showed she didn’t.

“My heart just went to my stomach, and I just got the sickest feeling,” Reed said.

Once Reed broke the news to her mom, Hayward began to recall a series of suspect dealings with Grimm. Among them: signing her name on the blank sheet of paper and receiving a slew of letters addressed to people and companies she’d never heard of. They included Loquin LLC, one of 69 shell companies the U.S. attorney alleges Grimm used to conduct his illegal transactions.

In March, officers from the Federal Mortgage Fraud Task Force arrested Grimm and his wife, Eve Mazzarella, in connection with Operation Malicious Mortgage, which has logged more than 400 arrests nationwide in the past four months. The case against Grimm and Mazzarella is the largest filed in Nevada.

In June 2007 Mazzarella was featured in the National Association of Realtors’ magazine as one of “30 young rising stars” in real estate in its annual “30 under 30” listing.

The couple are scheduled to appear in federal court in downtown Las Vegas to answer additional charges of conspiracy, bank fraud and money laundering for allegedly bilking banks of more than $17 million.

According to court documents, Grimm said Hayward knowingly sold him her home with an oral agreement that she could live there for life in exchange for rent of just less than $600 a month, a contention Hayward vehemently disputes.

Grimm’s attorney, federal public defender William Carrico, said his client would not comment on the case.

Hayward admits to a lack of sophistication when it comes to real estate, but she said she was raised to trust people, and she had confidence in the smooth-talking Grimm.

Hayward’s home is one of more than 200 properties Grimm allegedly sold and resold at inflated prices so that he could pay off old loans and collect the proceeds of new ones. More than half of those are in foreclosure, causing the millions of dollars in losses at the center of the federal case against him.

Grimm isn’t charged with crimes against individuals such as Norma Hayward, although a spokeswoman for the U.S. attorney’s office said the federal investigation continues.

“I’m a little more skeptical today,” Hayward said. “After this deal, I question everything.”

Hayward, who lives on Social Security, said confronting the loss of her home is one of the toughest experiences of her life, even worse than having cancer in both eyes and shattering a knee last year.

Hayward’s attorney, Eric Dobberstein, said he has no hope of winning damages in a lawsuit against Grimm, who’s been put out of business, and he’s made little progress in working out a deal with Greenpoint Mortgage, the company that has said it will foreclose on Hayward’s home in August. A spokeswoman for Greenpoint confirmed the company had been negotiating with Dobberstein, but wouldn’t give more specific information.

However, Dobberstein said Greenpoint won’t accept anything short of $203,000 to let Hayward remain in her home, and he’s advised Hayward to start packing her bags.

But Hayward won’t hear of it. “We’re going to get the house back,” she said. “Some way we’ll work out something because I am 79 years old and I do not want to move or go anywhere else. This is where I have to stay.”

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