Nonprofit under fire for mortgage counseling donations - CBS46 News

Nonprofit under fire for mortgage counseling donations

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TUCKER, GA (CBS46) -

Concerned citizens contacted CBS Atlanta News to talk about thousands of dollars they paid to a nonprofit based in Tucker, DeKalb County. 

Simone Thomas said she was contacted by someone at the National African American Relationships Institute, or NAARI, and was told they could help lower her mortgage payment.

"I went through them for a mortgage modification and I paid $1,500," Thomas said. "And, since, I haven't heard anything, and it was a constant back and forth. I constantly call and get no answers."

Thomas wrote two checks for a total of $1,500.

"They said it was for the purpose of starting the mortgage modification. I felt like they forced me into paying that because in the end I was told they could help save money by writing the donation off on my taxes," Thomas said. "But, after I researched some more I realized I should've never paid anything to them up front and I saw that the Department of Banking and Finance issued a cease and desist order against NAARI."

According to the information released by the Department of Banking and Finance, a letter was issued to the nonprofit on December of last year. The letter stated that the company, "Engaged in residential mortgage brokering/lending activities without a license or under an applicable exemption in violation of O.C.G.A. 7-1-1002."

The letter goes on to state that, "Pursuant to Georgia law, it is prohibited for any person to directly or indirectly solicit, process, place, or negotiate mortgage loans for others, or offer to solicit, process, place, or negotiate mortgage loans for others without a mortgage license pursuant to an exemption from licensure."

Thomas wanted to know two things. 

"Why did they ask me to donate money for loan modification if they aren't allowed to do it," asked Thomas. "And where has my money gone?"

We took those tough questions to Derek Harris. Harris told CBS Atlanta News that the cease and desist order was issued because they were doing mortgages without a license. But he continued to explain that now they are no longer in the mortgage business, so they are not violating the order.

"We are a counseling agency, we've been a counseling agency since 2002," Harris said. "We counsel the homeowners on how to keep their property. We don't negotiate them, the bank negotiates them, we have no negotiating. The bank gives a number, we don't negotiate anything, we are not the bank."

While we were talking to Harris a woman in the waiting room, Sarah Simmons, said she paid $2,000 to NAARI last year and was having similar issues getting help.

"These are all the times that I have called, and we have received nothing, and we are here to get our money back," Simmons said. 

Harris said that people can get counsel for free in regards to their mortgage and that people pay whatever they want to pay or donate to the nonprofit, but that no one is told what to give.

Thomas said that is not true.

"I was told I need to pay $1,500 to get the application started," Thomas said.

While Harris told CBS Atlanta News on multiple occasions during our interview on Tuesday that they only counseled people and did not negotiate with the banks, his very own customers and other staff members contradicted his statements.

"They have already done it," Carolyn Mitchell said. "They assisted me in getting my loan modification on my home."

"We put together the program. We talk with the mortgage company," said Lawrence Spear, a NAARI Counselor. "Just now, we were on the phone with the mortgage company, with another property that she is having problems with, because they are broke. We call repetitiously, we listen to them cry, we beg with them and we stand with them."

Thomas said what the nonprofit is doing doesn't make sense.

"I want to know what my $1,500 got me," Thomas said. "I was solicited for a loan modification, and told they would get my payments lowered. I want my money back. I plan to file criminal charges. And if I don't get my money out, I at least want to let other people know not to do what I did."

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