A typo by banking giant Wells Fargo resulted in a more than two-year legal battle that came to a tragic conclusion in December when Larry Delassus’ heart stopped in a Los Angeles area courtroom and he died, a new LA Weekly report reveals.
Delassus, a disabled Navy veteran, didn’t do anything wrong to warrant the legal action Wells Fargo took against him—as LA Weekly noted, he didn’t even owe a penny in taxes. Instead, he was the victim of a typographical error that the big bank made and then would not correct even after it discovered the mistake.
The legal saga began in January 2009 when he received a letter from Wells Fargo indicating that he had “delinquent taxes for the property located at 320 Hermosa Beach Avenue 105.” At the time, Delassus was actually six months ahead on his taxes for the Hermosa Beach, Calif., property. It wasn’t until the following year, after the bank doubled Delassus’ mortgage and threatened him with foreclosure, that attorney Anthony Trujillo figured out the error.
As it turns out, the “parcel number” in the original letter was off by two numbers. The letter was meant for someone else.
According to LA Weekly, “In court documents later, Wells Fargo attorney Robert Bailey of Anglin Flewelling Rasmussen Campbell & Trytten LLP admitted the bank’s mistake: ‘Wells Fargo paid the amount it determined was owed to the County Assessor: approximately $10,500. This was a mistake. The $10,500 was the tax amount owed on a neighboring property, not Plaintiff’s.’”
Unfortunately for Delassus, who by then was far behind on his wrongly increased mortgage payments, that ended up making little difference. Wells Fargo went after him anyway.
As Daily Kos stated, “Two digits of a property parcel number inverted. Yet it caused a man to lose his house and ultimately his life.”
In a series of painfully tragic events, Wells Fargo relied on its typographical error to double Delassus’ mortgage — from $1,237.69 to $2,429.13 — as its way of recouping the $13,361.90 in taxes Delassus didn’t owe. Delassus, a retiree living on a $1,655 check, couldn’t meet the mysteriously increased mortgage. He stopped paying, and soon was far behind on his mortgage.
Delassus and his attorney did not discover until May 2010 that a mis-entered number had dragged Delassus into this spiral. As court documents obtained by L.A. Weekly show, after admitting its error, Wells Fargo foreclosed on Delassus anyway and sold his condo.
Delassus had to move to a tiny apartment in an assisted-living home in Carson.
Friends say he didn’t die of heart disease that day in court, as the coroner found. He was, they believe, killed by a system so inhumane that it could not undo a devastating piece of red tape the system itself created.
...His friends and neighbors believe his war with Wells Fargo killed Larry Delassus. Says Trujillo, “The stress just completely messed him up. Once you get in that state, this world is tough on you.”
—Posted by Tracy Bloom.