When Isabel Simoes went with her
husband, Laurenio, on a family visit in Portugal in the fall of 2000, she
had no idea it would be the beginning of a nightmare that would hang over
her family and their Mississauga home for the next 18 months.
After the smoke finally cleared, a title insurance company was out of pocket
$851,000 in claims it had paid, and Isabel Simoes found herself saddled with
an $11,000 legal bill from the lawyers for her mortgage company.
During the Simoes' visit to Portugal, Laurenio Simoes died suddenly, leaving
Isabel with a home she could no longer afford. Laurenio, 63, was the sole
breadwinner, and with mortgage payments of $4,000 a month, Isabel was forced
to put the property at 2016 Mississauga Rd. on the market.
Just before Christmas, the family's real estate agent got a call from a
prospective purchaser. He gave his name as Dante Lettieri and asked if his
bank could send over an appraiser to evaluate the house for mortgage
purposes. Permission was given, the appraisal was done.
Nothing more was heard from Lettieri until the Simoes' family lawyer tried
to transfer the title of the property to Isabel following her husband's
death. On checking at the Brampton Land Registry Office, he discovered that
in January, 2001, a deed to the property was registered transferring
ownership to Dante Lettieri. The deed appeared to have been signed in
January by Isabel Simoes and her husband Laurenio, who had died in Portugal
four months earlier.
The purchaser declared the purchase price as $400,000 and paid land transfer
tax on that amount.
The Simoes family had never heard of Dante Lettieri, and knew nothing about
the fraudulent transfer or the fact that a forged discharge of the Maple
Trust mortgage on their house had been registered.
Several weeks later, a man who called himself Dante Lettieri met with a
Toronto lawyer in Rome, Italy, to sign new mortgage documents in favour of
Three days later, Home Trust wrote a $350,000 cheque to Lettieri as proceeds
of the new first mortgage. The valuation was presumably based on the
$400,000 declared purchase price, and the appraisal done in December.
As evidence of his identity, the person using the name Dante Lettieri
presented an Ontario driver's licence in his name with his photograph on it.
While all this was going on, the real Dante Lettieri, unaware that his
identity had been stolen, was going about his daily life from his home on
Lauder Ave. in Toronto. Cheques were made out in his name from mortgage
proceeds on the Simoes' house and another property at 84 Old Mill Rd., in
Etobicoke, where the same fraud was carried out. The real Dante Lettieri
never saw the cheques.
Even before the first payment was due on its mortgage, Home Trust was told
by the Simoes family lawyer that the deed to Lettieri and the mortgage were
forgeries. Maple Trust was also told that their mortgage had been
Despite some initial disbelief, both mortgage lenders were astounded at the
news of the fraud, and instructed their own lawyers to move into high gear
to correct the situation.
Howard Reininger and Paul Mazza of Turkstra, Mazza went to work for Maple
Trust. Richard Horodyski of Gowlings in Hamilton not only represented Home
Trust, but, according to Isabel's son Larry, was also very helpful to his
Larry Simoes is in the insurance business. Since the family could not afford
a lawyer, he began to do some research to determine what protection and
remedies the family had following the fraud.
At the time all this was happening, Larry read one of my Title Page articles
about title fraud and learned how the Durrani family in Scarborough was
coping with a similar fraud. (The article, What if your house was sold out
from under you? appeared Jan. 11, 2001, and is archived at
Stewart Title, who had insured the Home Trust mortgage, opened a file on
this fraud. A small team of adjusters and investigators went to work, and
the real Dante Lettieri was tracked down in Toronto. He was initially named
as a defendant in a lawsuit by one of the lenders, but was released after he
signed a sworn statement denying any knowledge of the situation.
As well, he bore no resemblance to the photograph on the driver's licence of
The investigations were completed in a few months, and Stewart Title stepped
up to the plate for Home Trust the company that loaned "Lettieri" the
Wayne Lipton, vice-president of Stewart Title, told me last week that he
signed a cheque for $351,000 to Home Trust, whose mortgage was protected
against fraud by a Stewart Title policy. (Although the mortgagee was insured
with Stewart Title, the owners were not.)
Stewart Title also paid Home Trust $500,000 on another mortgage fraud
perpetrated at the same time by a person using Lettieri's name. Police are
still looking for him.
With the Home Trust mortgage paid out and discharged by Stewart, Maple Trust
went to court and obtained an order cancelling the fraudulent discharge and
restoring the validity of its mortgage, but not the title of Isabel Simoes.
With Lettieri still shown on title as owner, Maple Trust commenced what
Larry Simoes calls a "friendly power of sale" in which the Simoes family
allowed the mortgagee to show and eventually sell the property on the
understanding that any surplus would be paid to Isabel.
When the house was sold, Isabel quietly moved out, and Maple Trust got its
money from the sale proceeds. There was a surplus of $52,000, but Maple
Trust's lawyers deducted their $11,000 legal fee before they paid Isabel the
"The Land Titles Act protects the banks and trust companies for their own
mistakes, while the land owners suffer," Larry Simoes said.
"The lawyers become rich, the banks get their money back from someone, while
the land owners hopefully get their deed and their lives back.
"Meanwhile, the fraudsters get away with millions of dollars and if they get
caught, they go to jail for only a few years. It just does not seem right."
Bob Aaron is a leading Toronto real
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