By Carlos Avalos
Barbara Bratton is well known in her hometown of Ontario, where generations of her family have lived and thrived. The Brattons are known as being honest, caring, compassionate, and God-worshiping people, the type those who know them are proud to call their neighbors and friends. Horrible injustice was visited upon Barbara Bratton, despite her character and honesty.
Barbara Bratton moved into a house on Locust Avenue in Ontario in 1974 and would spend nearly 35 years there. In 2005 Barbara was approached by Fast Track Financial, a now-defunct mortgage broker. She was deceived into an illegal, fraudulent predatory loan, not unlike what happened to millions of people in the first decade of the present millennium. Because she trusted others as those who knew her trusted her, Mrs. Bratton’s paperwork, interest rates, and loan terms were illegally switched around and altered after she walked out of the Fast Track office. Within a short period, Barbara knew something was not right with her loan modification and she started doing her own research into what was going on with her new loan.
Because of this loan on her property, Barbara was put into financial distress, and the chance of losing her Locust property was becoming a possibility. Barbara’s mortgage payments increased tremendously, but she still found a way to make the predatory payments. During this time, Barbara constantly requested loan modifications but was denied. The lender told Barbara that at the time there was no loan modification that suited her. Knowing Bratton’s mortgage payments were causing financial problems, the lender offered Barbara an offer of buying the Locust property as a short sale.
Finally, in 2007, after years of asking for a loan modification, Barbara was informed by the lender a loan modification program for her was available, but for her to qualify she must be behind or miss at least three months of mortgage payments.
At that moment, Barbara acknowledges, she should have recognized something was not right. But being a woman of faith and seeing the best in flawed human character, Barbara missed her first mortgage payment on her Locust property in 33 years. Even after two years of inflated mortgage payments, this was the first time Barbara missed a mortgage payment, via a request from the people who were supposed to be helping her with saving her house.
Barbara was deceived into believing that after she missed three mortgage payments she would be put on a new seven-month payment plan and after she completed the seven month payment plan on her Locust property she would get the loan modification that she had been requesting with better terms, a lower interest rate and an affordable payment. Barbara made her first six payments in late 2007 and early 2008. Coincidentally or strategically, depending on who you ask, before Barbara was able to make the seventh and final payment that would get her the loan modification in her favor, she learned her home was sold at foreclosure. This was the very thing that Barbara was trying to avoid. She would have done anything to keep her house. While she was paying ridiculously high mortgage payments, she listened to the people who were leading her down a sinister path.
The Department of Justice calls this illegal tactic dual tracking. The lender gave her false hope that she could keep her house for six to seven months with a payment plan, and then she was blindsided and her home of 34 years was sold, despite every hoop she had threaded her way through and every hurdle she had vaulted.
Recognizing something fraudulent occurred, Barbara started the uphill battle of getting to the bottom of her home situation. After the first illegal foreclosure in 2008, Barbara became a tenant in her own home. Her Locust property was now technically owned by the bank. The foreclosure of Barbara’s home sent the Bratton family into overdrive in an effort to keep their home.
In 2008 Barbara’s brother-in-law, a retired federal agent, was talking directly to officers with the bank that owned the property with hopes he could buy the property from the bank. In February 2009, after much effort toward pre-qualification, the Brattons were told that it was too late to purchase the Locust property because it had already been sold to Rosela Guevara. After the first wrongful foreclosure in 2008, Barbara kept uncovering more and more evidence of fraud. Barbara issued several quiet title and wrongful foreclosure civil lawsuits against the lenders, loan services, and Rosela Guevara. But at every step of the way, Bratton found herself shut out, and the judges within the San Bernardino County court system did not take her allegations of foreclosure fraud seriously, even in the face of mounting discrepancies within Bratton’s mortgage history file and unmistakable evidence of fraud on the foreclosure of the Bratton property on Locust Avenue.
Barbara’s brother-in-law showed the bank that he had all the required paperwork and resources available to buy the home. It was at that time that the Brattons first learned – through a survey of county records – the name of Rosela Guevara, who was listed as the owner of the Bratton home on an officially recorded deed. There was confusion with this, but the Brattons kept pushing forward. Barbara’s brother-in-law was actually pre-approved and qualified to re-purchase the Locust property from the bank at fifty thousand dollars above what it would eventually be purchased from the bank for in 2012.
It was not until after Barbara initiated an FBI investigation in late 2009, in which she showed the federal agents clear evidence of fraud by the lenders, that the mistake of Rosela Guevara’s name on the Locust property deed was fixed. According to the Bratton family, Rosela Guevara was strategically placed on the deed by the bank in essence to strongarm Barbara out of her home. In 2011 San Bernardino County Superior Court Judge Barry Plotkin ordered the deed to be corrected. Rosela Guevara failed to follow through with the court order.
Fast forward to 2017: At a criminal trial, the lender and servicer for the Locust Property testified that somehow they made a mistake and wrongfully deeded the property to Rosela Guevara.
A key consideration in this sordid narrative is that Barbara’s brother-in-law, who was pre-approved to purchase the property in 2008, was denied because the house was already documented as having been sold to Rosela Guevara. In 2011 Rosela Guevara lost a quiet title civil lawsuit against U.S Bank. Only then did the lender, through Select Portfolio Services, start contacting Barbara, demanding a lump sum payment of over one hundred thousand dollars. In response, Barbara requested that U.S. Bank validate this debt that institution claimed she owed. Her request was denied and she was never given validation or confirmation of her rightful property debt. Curiously, however, U.S. Bank in 2011 did initiate a quiet title suit against Rosela Guevara for the Locust property that had been “mistakenly” deeded to her. In 2017, Rosela Guevara’s husband testified he and his wife immediately tried fixing this error upon hearing about it. But more than three years later, the deed was still in Rosela Guevara’s name. To make the correction, all the Guevaras had to do was drive from Montclair to San Bernardino to redress the mistake, action that would have taken a few hours rather than a few years. Why were LSI and LPS, lender processing service companies, paying the property taxes for three years on the Locust property and sending the bill to Rosela Guevara? The answer to that question is at the heart of the fraud that was perpetrated against Bratton.
Barbara requested and expected to make payments for the one hundred-thousand-dollar payment that was needed to get back on track with her home. She expected this from the lender or the servicer, Select Portfolio, because this problem was created by that company’s foreclosure mistakes in 2008.
In 2013, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, rather than moving forward in investigating the circumstance which had been brought to its attention by the FBI and the Bratton Family, instead assumed the recorded document that listed Rosela Guevara as the actual owner of the property to be valid and filed criminal charges against Barbara Bratton. Those charges included forgery, offering a false document for filing, engaging in an aggravated white collar offense and damage to property. Adding insult to injury, Bratton was charged with burglary for entering her own home.
Despite the district attorney’s office’s obligation to investigate the basis for the charges it files before those charges are filed, it proceeded with the case against Bratton, even after the falsified nature of the documents naming Guevara as the house’s title holder was revealed to prosecutors.
Just prior to four years into that prosecution, Bratton, through her attorneys, made further discoveries with regard to the level of fraud and deceit engaged in by the lending institution, the foreclosure company and other real estate professionals. The melange of actions all parties had engaged in – including two foreclosure proceedings against Bratton and unlawful detainer proceedings and quiet title actions initiated by Bratton – had become tangled. One thing learned was that there were multiple levels of fraud perpetrated by others that had kept Barbara Bratton from regaining access and title to her house. When she balked at paying the exorbitant amount of money Select Portfolio Services was demanding, that company initiated a second foreclosure sale. The name that appeared as the owner of the Locust property on the deed? This time it was not Rosela Guevara, but rather her husband, Salvadore Guevara. Once again Barbara lost her unlawful detainer proceeding and quiet title actions after the second foreclosure sale, in the same way she had lost it previously, based upon a fraudulent title document which both Guevaras now acknowledge had been phonied up.
But the towering financial power of U.S. Bank blinded the court to the obvious, and corrupted the district attorney’s office’s function. Bratton assumed the information her attorneys unearthed and provided to the district attorney’s office would result in the dropping of all of the charges. It did not. The matter went to trial. Bratton sought to place before the court how she had been fighting for her home and uncovering corruption in the mortgage lending market. The heart of the case against Bratton were the two counts of mortgage fraud with the intent to defraud. During her criminal trial, Select Portfolio Services admitted and testified to the fact that the company was previously sued by the Department of Justice for unlawful lending practices. A representative of Select Portfolio Services also admitted and testified that the company did not once send Barbara Bratton any monthly statements. This demonstrated, essentially, that there was a conspiracy from day one to deceive Barbara Bratton and she never really had any chance of getting her house back in her name.
The record shows that after Barbara refused to pay the large amount of money that was requested by Select Portfolio Services, the company initiated a second foreclosure sale. Also presented to the court was that Salvadore Guevara’s name appeared as the owner of the Locust property and was recorded on the deed. But the court, inexplicably, failed to understand the implication of that anomaly. Judge William Jefferson Powell IV, relying upon misrepresentations and incomplete information set before him by the district attorney’s office, refused to take judicial notice of Barbara’s Lis Pendens that had given notice to Salvatore Guevara that ownership of the property he was attempting to purchase was in legal dispute.
In April of 2013 Barbara Bratton had received information from the office of the California Secretary of State that the trustee deed upon sale in her foreclosure sale could not be authenticated and that the notary used on the operative foreclosure sale document, Brenda Perez, had her licensed revoked. This was the closure that Barbara Bratton knew in her heart existed. She marshaled that evidence. Barbara thought that the California Secretary of State trumped any county office or official, so in April of 2013 she without malice or deviant intention filed new Locust property deeds. On the day she filed those deeds, Barbara received confirmation that she had received an unlawful detainer/eviction judgment in her favor. Barbara also received confirmation before filing the new Locust deeds that in the same month of April 2013, LSI founder Lorraine Brown, who had processed all of Barbara’s documents and whose company was constantly used to record documents in San Bernardino County, had admitted under oath to conducting real estate fraud nationwide. She was sentenced in federal prison for the crimes she committed.
The felony case prosecuted against Barbara Bratton was fundamentally predicated on the foreclosure sale deed and the falsified documents the San Bernardino County prosecutor admitted into evidence, even though the office of the California Secretary of State determined key documents were fraudulent and could not be authenticated.
In the end, did Barbara get her home back? Did everything for her and her family return to normal? Sadly, not. In actuality, things just got worse for her. The jury in Barbara’s criminal trial was barred from hearing evidence that confirmed and validated foreclosure fraud. The jury was also barred from hearing and seeing the official California Secretary of State letter confirming the fraud on the Trustee Deed Upon Sale (the foreclosure sale deed) to the Locust property, which directly proved her allegations that it was she who was the victim of property theft rather than a perpetrator.
A further miscarriage of justice occurred when prosecutors made use of a document she had filed, which, they alleged, showed she had attempted to place herself outside the jurisdiction of the court. During the criminal investigation that was conducted into Barbara Bratton’s actions, investigators came across documentation in which she was labeled and soon charged as a “sovereign citizen.” Self-described sovereign citizens take the position that they’re answerable only to their particular interpretation of the common law and are not subject to any government statutes or proceedings. Records, documents, bills paid, and a variety of other evidence is out there that will show that this is not the case when it comes to Barbara Bratton. She was living very much within the rubric of an average, indeed exemplary, American citizen. She was charged with this because when she filed the two corrective deeds on her own, she used a template she found online that had some obscure wording that the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office twisted to label her as a sovereign citizen.
On April 14, 2017 Barbara Bratton was found guilty on six counts of real estate fraud. She has been in custody ever since. The events which precipitated her situation are hardly new, rare or unheard of. What happened to her happened to millions of people throughout the United States and very nearly caused a financial collapse. Banks, lender services, people, and government workers have been caught redhanded falsifying documents, backdating documents, forging or falsifying documents. San Bernardino County has some of the highest foreclosure rates in the country. Not all of those foreclosures were on the up and up. Some were bogus from the start, perpetrated by unscrupulous operators, who moved against property owners who were struggling but not in arrears and, by mixing a few good and earnest property owners in with many who were unable to meet or were plain skipping out on their mortgage payments, blurred the distinction between what was legitimate and what was made up. The functionaries in the system, the ones who should have been standing guard to make sure that those who were being foreclosed upon were indeed unforgivably behind in their payments, allowed illegitimate foreclosures to proceed, either through distraction, inattention, indolence or maybe even venality because they were themselves being cut in on the spoils. Few of those people responsible for these horrendous crimes have been put in jail. At the second and most crucial level – that of the courts and the justice system – a further failure occurred. Even though she had clear cut evidence to exonerate her, Barbara Bratton was ignored by the people who are supposed to be seeking justice and protecting her, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office. A victim was victimized further. Those who engaged in the original victimizing have been rewarded, and are free to keep their ill-gotten gains.
It is believed by some that Barbara was going to blow the whistle and blow it loudly on the corruption within the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, led by Michael Ramos, and that is why she was put in jail. The California State Bar recently implemented a new ethics rule. Under rule 5-110 “Special Responsibilities of a Prosecutor,” when a prosecutor knows of clear and convincing evidence establishing that a wrongful conviction occurred, the prosecutor must seek to remedy the conviction. This new provision is similar to the American Bar Association Model Rule 3.8 which states in order to ensure public trust in the justice system and to protect the rights of defendants, prosecutors should be held to high ethical standards.
Will the California Bar Association live up to the standard it has set for itself? Will the miscarriage of justice and the unethical and shoddy work of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office be examined and exposed at a level where some salutary outcome will prevail? How many other innocent Barbara Brattons are sitting in our jails?
By Carlos Avalos