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Grassroots Effort Helps New York Mother Avoid Foreclosure

StoryOctober 20, 2008
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Jocelyne Voltaire, a resident of Queens Village, New York, saw her home go up for auction after a mortgage company foreclosed. She had made a fifty percent down payment twenty years ago, but recently saw her mortgage payments skyrocket under a predatory loan scam. Her mortgage is controlled by the company Litton Mortgage, an affiliate of the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs. Voltaire had fallen behind on her payments in part because she no longer had the support of her son, a former Marine who served in the Iraq war. She was told her of son’s death just weeks after being informed of the foreclosure. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Last week, the corporate media was abuzz with talk of “Joe the Plumber”, the Ohio man invoked by Senator John McCain to criticize Senator Obama’s tax policy. Well, Joe Wurzelbacher was said to embody the plight of millions of average Americans, because he sought to buy his own small business but worried Obama’s tax plan would hold him back. It turns out that probably Obama’s tax plan would have benefited him more than McCain’s.

But here in New York, another story unfolded that went almost entirely ignored despite also touching on problems many Americans face. Jocelyne Voltaire, a resident of Queens Village, New York, saw her home go up for auction — almost — after a mortgage company foreclosed on it. She had made a 50 percent down payment twenty years ago but recently saw her mortgage payments skyrocket under a predatory loan scam. Her mortgage is controlled by a company called Litton Mortgage, an affiliate of the Wall Street giant Goldman Sachs.

Voltaire had fallen behind on her payments in part because she no longer had the support of her son, a former Marine who served in the Iraq war. She was told her of son’s death just weeks after being informed of the foreclosure.

Jocelyne Voltaire’s home was set to go on the auction block on Friday, but a grassroots campaign led by the peace group CODEPINK helped prevent the sale. Within hours of an emergency appeal, CODEPINK raised more than $10,000 to make a payment on Jocelyne Voltaire’s home. The auction has been avoided for now, but Jocelyne still faces a crippling mortgage.

Jocelyne Voltaire is here in our firehouse studio, just days after nearly losing her home. We’re also joined by two other guests. Medea Benjamin, founder of CODEPINK, who helped organize the campaign, raced up to New York to hold a news conference with Jocelyne on Friday. She joins us from San Francisco. And we’re joined on the phone by Bruce Marks of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, NACA. He speaks to us from Boston.

Jocelyne Voltaire, your home was going up for auction on Friday.


AMY GOODMAN: How did it happen?

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: First of all, I did not receive any notice. The bank never contact me. It’s by a friend, by a couple of friends, they called me, and they said they saw my house is on auction from 17. But that date was the 9th. It was October 9. So they bring the paper to show me. It was on the Newsday that time. So that’s the time, you know, I start to find out, you know, to see what I can do. But the mortgage company doesn’t give me much time to do anything, because, first, they don’t send me no paper. They don’t send me notice. They don’t send me — they don’t let me know. They don’t give me a call. You know, Litton Mortgage.

AMY GOODMAN: Affiliated with Goldman Sachs.


AMY GOODMAN: When we brought the story out on Friday, playing the piece that was produced by American News Project —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- you were holding a photograph of your son.


AMY GOODMAN: Tell us about your son.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: OK. My son is my fifth son. I was married when I was eighteen. And he’s my love and my everything in my life. So, my son never go to public school, because I always try to protect him so much, because of the violence at the public school. My son always goes to Catholic school. After Catholic school, my son go to the high school and college. He finished college. He was at a good job at a Wall Street at the Citibank, as a manager at the Citibank.

Somehow, they brainwashed my son. They make him — they said they’re going to give him $100,000, they’re going to give him a beautiful home, he’s going to travel all kind of country, all kind of place. So my son decided to go. But I was explaining to him, I say, “You have everything. Why are you going there for?” I said —-

AMY GOODMAN: This -— go to Iraq.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: Yes — no, to Kuwait first.


JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: So he served four years in Kuwait. Then they put him on reserve. Then, after that, he spent four more years in Iraq. Totally is ten years. Then two more years, and he was on the special duty.

AMY GOODMAN: Special duty?

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: Yes, that’s what he was telling me on the phone.

AMY GOODMAN: And where was he when he died?

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: He — they give me a different story. They give me two different stories. First, it was the Australia consulate, Australia was calling me, and they explained to me, say, “Are you Jocelyne Voltaire?” I say, “Yes.” “And you are a mother of Robert Force Cyprien?” I say, “Yes.” And “We have a bad news for you.” I say, “He’s dead?” And they say, “Yes.” Then I — my brother was there. I pass my brother the phone, because I cannot — I don’t feel like listening to him.

Then Washington, D.C. called me after that, and they say, “Your son — you’re Jocelyne Voltaire?” “Yes.” “Your son — we’ll confirm your son is dead.” I explained to Washington, D.C., I said, “Are you sure, sir?” He said, “Yes.” So, they say, “Don’t worry. If there’s anything we can do, we’re going to make sure you get the body.”

First, you know, Australia was asking me to cremate him. I say, “No, we don’t believe in that.”

AMY GOODMAN: To cremate.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: Yes. I say, “Send the body over here, and because he born here and all his family here, all his friends here.” So they say, “OK.” Then, Pentagon called me and said, “Mrs. Voltaire, we’re going to send your son’s body here, but we have to make sure we check every bones to know how he died. Also we’re going to send the autopsy file.”

AMY GOODMAN: How did they tell you he died?

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: They was telling me at the beginning that — Australia was telling me he died — you know, like he died in Iraq, you know, like some — on duty. Next, next, next story they tell me is a gentleman who called me, and he say, “I believe your son killed himself.”

AMY GOODMAN: Committed suicide.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: Yes, but only three-story building, you know, new building he just bought for his girlfriend in Australia. Three short story building — that’s not true. I don’t believe it, because my son is very, very strong. He will never kill himself. And he’s so happy, too. If you see all the pictures that lady send for me, he was so happy. His birthday was October 7, and he died on January 9, 2008. It’s not true. And still, I was waiting for the body to come.

AMY GOODMAN: And it did never come.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: And they asking me, you know, the consular of Australia asking me $15,000 to send the body. And I say, “How come?” They say, after, they reimburse me the money. Then, I wait for —- you know, I make arrangement with all my family to get $15,000 together to send the body, and I went to the funeral home to make arrangement everything. And after that, the funeral home make lot of phone call. And when they make lot of phone call, you know, for them to send the body now, they raise the money for $25,000. I cannot afford it. And that’s the time the consular from the consulate from Australia give me another call, say to me, “You don’t have the $25,000 to send?” I say, “Sir, I’m trying hard to get it, but, you know, I don’t get it.” He say, “You don’t have to bother. We’ll give you only two days, and we will decide what we’re going to do with the body.” That’s it. That’s -—

AMY GOODMAN: And they never sent the body?

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: No. Then, after that, I kept calling. They don’t respond. I sent a fax. All those papers, they was faxed to me. I faxed them back. I sign. Nothing, no. Until now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’re dealing with your son’s death —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- what the US government told you was a suicide —-


AMY GOODMAN: —- Iraq war vet.


AMY GOODMAN: And you’re being foreclosed on.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: He was — first, you know, I was refinanced my house to send my son at school, OK, to send my son at college, because I was want him to finish. My son used to support me with my bill, because I have two small young kids. One is ten years, one is sixteen. So, because of my — I become so sick, and I don’t have no income — I’ve been working all my life, spend all my life doing two jobs, and I spent twenty years working at one job, at [inaudible] nursing home, 11:00 to 7:00 at night. And plus, I’ve been going to another job, 9:00 to night and afternoon. I only have only two hours sleep or hour and a half sleep, going to another job at night. So, only when I’m off on the day off I get some sleep. So I don’t have no income. I become so ill. I’ve been paying union dues every month. I don’t get no income, no coverage.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go to Medea Benjamin, who is sitting in the studio in San Francisco. Medea, you were here in New York on Friday. Explain what happened, how you raised the money.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, I saw the video clip that the American News Project put out about Jocelyne’s case. I was sitting in the CODEPINK house in Washington, D.C., and thought, oh, my god, we can’t let this woman lose her home, jumped in a car with other CODEPINK colleagues. We got to Jocelyne’s house at 11:00 at night on Thursday night. We talked to her and her brother until 1:00 in the morning. And we said we’re going to come with you to the courthouse, where the house was supposed to be auctioned off at 11:00. At 8:30 in the morning, we put out an alert to our CODEPINK list, and by an hour later, we had $10,000. An hour and a half later, we had $15,000. We raised $30,000 and just in time to stop the house from going on the auction block, in fact, literally ten minutes before it was going to be sold.

And now, we’re committed to working with Jocelyne, and not only Jocelyne — now, we’ve gotten a lot of calls from other people who are facing this situation. She is part of a crisis of people trying to keep their homes, and we feel that we not only have to help individuals like Jocelyne, but we have to force Congress to come back in session and put a moratorium on foreclosures and reform the bankruptcy laws so that people like Jocelyne can stay in their homes.

AMY GOODMAN: Bruce Marks, we don’t have much time, but as you hear Jocelyne Voltaire’s story, can you put this in a bigger context? You’ve been working to help people who are facing these mortgage foreclosures for years now.

BRUCE MARKS: Yes. I mean, what’s going on with Jocelyne is happening to literally tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands and millions of homeowners around the country. And when you looked at Litton and their CEO, Larry Litton, they have to be held personally responsible, because Litton is one of the worst out there. They’re not willing to restructure mortgages to make them affordable. They’re not willing to do a moratorium on foreclosures. And so, we’ve got to — we shouldn’t be taking out of our hard-earned pockets $10,000 for Jocelyne. She should be able to stay in her house. She’s a hard-working person going through a devastating loss, and it’s personal.

And that’s why — the one player out there who can overnight change everything for at-risk homeowners is Fannie Mae. And that’s why we’re going — next week we’re going to go to the homes of the Fannie Mae executives around this country and shut down Fannie Mae, because if Fannie Mae does a moratorium on foreclosure, if Fannie Mae stops the interest rate increases, and if Fannie Mae restructures mortgages to reduce the interest rate to make these mortgages affordable, that will overnight — that will immediately impact virtually every at-risk homeowner around the country, because they set the national standard. And that’s Paulson. Paulson makes that decision. And as we all know, he’s with Goldman Sachs. He was with them; he’s still with them. He’s got to make the decision to make these mortgages affordable.

AMY GOODMAN: And Litton’s relationship with Goldman Sachs?

BRUCE MARKS: I’m sorry?

AMY GOODMAN: Litton’s relationship with Goldman Sachs?

BRUCE MARKS: Oh, they — the biggest investor in Litton who has really bailed them out is Goldman Sachs. And the fact of the matter is, and they have this CEO, Larry Litton, who says he’s doing the right thing, but it’s a lie. And we have to hold them personally responsible. But Fannie Mae, if we can get Fannie Mae to change their practices, owned by the American taxpayer, so, in essence, the American taxpayers are foreclosing on themselves. And that’s what we have to do.

AMY GOODMAN: Medea Benjamin, if people want to get more information on how to help individually in cases like Jocelyne’s, where do they go online?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Please go to our website, codepinkalert.org, or a new site we just created called healmainstreet.org. And you can support Jocelyne, others like her, and find out other ways to get involved to pressure not only the Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, like Bruce is talking about, but also force Congress to do something about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Jocelyne Voltaire, thank you very much for being with us.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: Yes. Thank you. Thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: We will continue to follow your case.

JOCELYNE VOLTAIRE: Yes. Thank you. I will appreciate it.

AMY GOODMAN: That does it for our broadcast. I want to thank Bruce Marks, Medea Benjamin and Jocelyne Voltaire, who now goes back to her home in Queens Village here in New York.

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