WASHINGTON – California Rep. Laura Richardson claimed Friday that her Sacramento home was sold into foreclosure without her knowledge and contrary to an agreement with her lender.
She said she is like any other American suffering in the mortgage crisis and wants to testify to Congress about her experience as lawmakers craft a foreclosure-prevention bill.
In a lengthy interview Friday night with The Associated Press, the Southern California Democrat struck back against several days of negative publicity over reports she defaulted on her mortgage, allowing the house to be sold at auction.
Richardson, who won her seat in a special election last August, acknowledged turmoil in her life in the months after incumbent Rep. Juanita Millender-McDonald's death in April opened up her Los Angeles-area House seat.
Richardson used her money to finance her campaign and fell behind in mortgage payments. But now, Richardson said, she has renegotiated her loan and promised to fully pay it off, along with $9,000 in delinquent property taxes.
She insisted she's not getting special terms because she's a congresswoman.
"I'm Laura Richardson. I'm an American, I'm a single woman who had four employment changes in less than four months," Richardson said. "I had to figure out just like every other American how I could restructure the obligations that I had with the income I had."
Richardson bought the 1,600-square-foot home in Sacramento's desirable Curtis Park neighborhood for $535,500 in January 2007. It was sold at auction earlier this month to a Sacramento mortgage lender who paid $388,000, according to the Sacramento County Recorder's Office.
A default notice sent to Richardson in March put her unpaid balance at $578,384.
Richardson provided the AP with an April letter, which appears to be from Washington Mutual Home Loans, telling her there was a hold on foreclosure sales on her property until June 4. She also provided an e-mail dated Thursday, which she said was from Washington Mutual, that appeared to acknowledge an agreement "to facilitate the recission of foreclosure sale" but gave no financial details.
A Washington Mutual spokeswoman, Sara Gaugl, told the AP earlier Friday that the company had "not received consent from Ms. Richardson that would allow us to discuss her loan situation." Washington Mutual did not respond to a later request for comment on Richardson's claims.
Not long after getting to Congress, Richardson voted in favor of a mortgage debt forgiveness bill which subsequently became law. She was absent earlier this month for votes on a foreclosure prevention bill, which she said was because of her father's funeral. The House is expected to bring the package back up in June once agreement is reached in the Senate.
Congressional ethics rules don't prevent lawmakers from voting on legislation that might affect them economically. Rather than shy away from voting on mortgage-related bills, Richardson said her experiences could help her craft legislation to make sure others don't experience what she did. For example, she sees a need to add steps to inform property owners before their property can be sold.
"We have to ensure that lenders and lendees have the tools with proper timing to resolve this," she said.