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Great-grandmother, predatory loan victim fights to stay in home

From Susan Candiotti and Ross Levitt, CNN
  • Mary Lee Ward, 82, expected to be evicted from her Brooklyn home Friday
  • She got a temporary reprieve after a meeting with the building's owner
  • She says that she lost her home after being a victim of predatory lending
  • Ward on her fight not to be forced out: "It will be hard, but justice is going to be done"

New York (CNN) -- A Brooklyn great-grandmother got a reprieve -- for now -- on Friday, the same day that she was expecting to be evicted from her home since 1969 after getting caught up in a predatory lending scheme.

Dozens of Mary Lee Ward's supporters gathered Friday outside her home, chanting and spurring passersby with signs like "Honk if you're with us" and "We stand with Ms. Ward." They rejoiced when state Assemblywoman Annette Robinson took the bullhorn, following a meeting involving Ward, her lawyers and the building's owner.

"We spoke to the Marshal. The Marshal will not be taking any action today," Robinson said to cheers.

Ward, 82, said she ran into trouble in the mid-1990s when she refinanced the mortgage on her residence in order to raise cash to fight for custody of her great-granddaughter. She was hoping to pocket $10,000 -- but told CNN that she "almost passed out" when she got a check instead for $1,467.51

Uncertain what to do, the granddaughter of slaves said she went to the local district attorney's office. But she wasn't able to get the loan -- from a company that folded, though some of its key officers later regrouped and are now back in business -- rescinded, and her home eventually fell into foreclosure.

After an extensive legal battle, Ward's residence was sold in a foreclosure auction three years ago. That and the fact the new owner wanted her out led to Friday's planned eviction.

But Ward doesn't want to leave.

"I have no intention of leaving," she said. "Now, if they break in and take me, I won't resist."

Around mid-morning Friday, Robinson intervened, setting up a meeting with Ward's representatives and the building's new owner, Shaheem Chowdhury.

No agreement was reached -- and Ward could still be ordered out, if there is no deal in the coming weeks. Still, Chowdhury told CNN that he hopes there will be an accord that will satisfy all sides. He said that he's considering a deal from Ward's lawyers that would hand the property over to a nonprofit organization and allow the great-grandmother to stay in her home.

"I had a meeting with them, and we tried to work out together as much as we can," Chowdhury said. "This is the first day I am talking to her."

Despite aggressive law enforcement efforts, stricter government regulations and tighter borrowing standards, mortgage fraud "remains elevated" and rose 12% from 2009 to 2010, the FBI said earlier this month. New York is in the top 10 in a list of states, led by Florida, where such fraud is most prevalent, according to the FBI report.

Ward said she knows her fight to stay in her home -- like those of many others who have fallen victim to predatory lenders -- won't be easy, but she vowed to soldier on.

"It will be hard, but justice is going to be done," she predicted. "They try to take away our dignity, but they'll never take away my dignity."