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Suppenbach had a $60,000 mortgage hanging over him. Then in 2006, he joined the class of plaintiffs in a multistate lawsuit against the company that supposedly held his title, Ameriquest Mortgage. The nation's largest subprime lender settled claims of predatory lending by agreeing to pay $295 million in restitution and changing its lending practices. A year later, Suppenbach got a collection notice for the same loan from Citibank, whose parent company, Citigroup, had acquired much of Ameriquest in 2007. During last year's bank bailout, Citigroup's arrangement with the government ensured that about $20 billion in federal dollars would be directly invested in the company, in addition to $306 billion to help back loans and securities.
"They were selling them back and forth. It didn't matter that they defrauded me and I won in court. They got rewarded for it."
When it comes to not knowing exactly who owns his mortgage, Suppenbach has a lot of company. In many cases, even the banks aren't sure. (Last year, researchers at the University of Iowa found that out of 1,733 foreclosures begun in 2006, 40 percent of the foreclosing creditors showed no proof of ownership on the note or security investment in the property.) If a bank has to contest a payment's legitimacy — for example, if payment is presented in the form of a bonded promissory note from a self-proclaimed banker — then not being able to show proof of ownership could actually help the homeowner, or at least let the homeowner delay getting kicked into the street.
After Hardin's 2009 incarceration, the Americans Republic Party Web site posted a list of other private banks. As of February, the only links were to a man named Charles Elliot in Henderson, Arkansas (who did not return The Pitch's calls), and J.W. Patterson, president and founder of Shadow Mountain Bank in Ash Fork, Arizona.
The latter is probably the only financial institution in the country whose Web site includes links to prove it's a real bank, along with clip art of doves carrying roses in their teeth and a teddy bear that somersaults and dances over the P.O. Box number.
Patterson says the Treasury Department is just catching up.
"I've been doing this since the '80s," he says.
Patterson says he has written bonds for thousands of people, including members of the Montana Freemen — the group that spent 81 days in a standoff with the FBI in 1996, defending land they claimed was their own, separate from the United States. (They were also known for passing counterfeit checks and money orders.) Today, the group's most famous former member is Scott Roeder, admitted killer of Kansas abortion provider George Tiller.
Patterson won't say how many clients request his help in a given day, just that Shadow Mountain has a budget of $500 a week for ink.
In Kansas City, at least one family considers Hardin an angel.
In March 2009, KCTV Channel 5 aired video of a 44-year-old named Denelle Ginder-Brown, who was near tears.
All around the country, people had been losing their homes. Ginder-Brown, who worked as a cashier, lived in a house on East 93rd Street near Indiana Avenue with her husband, 63-year-old James Brown, and their two children. They had lived there for 15 years and had a deal with the owner: They would make the monthly mortgage payments and eventually the house would be theirs. In 2004, the owner died and willed the house to them. They kept writing checks to Capitol Federal and never missed a payment.