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Bible Way Church given more time to make payments; DA investigating fraud allegations

on May 4, 2011

Pastor Sydney Keys has been granted more time to continue paying the mortgage on the building that housed Bible Way Community Church until late last March, when he and several parishioners were forcibly evicted and the building foreclosed upon.

The mortgage holder, Torrey Pines Bank of San Diego, has not yet sold the building, according to Richmond city council member Corky Booze, in order to give Keys the chance to find a third party to rent the space and make the $6,800 mortgage payments he fell behind on a year ago.

Bible Way Community Church has been without a home since its eviction on March 17 of this year. The eviction followed two days of civil disobedience in which Keys, his family and members of the church refused to leave the building until they were arrested by Contra Costa County Sheriff’s deputies.

For just over a month since, Keys has been guest speaking at various churches in the East Bay, and delivered the Easter sermon at Miracle Temple in Richmond.  Keys said that losing the building has caused him to lose track of some church members, while others continue to follow him as he participates in other church services.

“This has been devastating,” Keys said.

City and state leaders have gotten involved in Keys’ struggle to keep Bible Way Community Church in its building, where it has served Richmond’s Iron Triangle Community for 9 years.

County Supervisor John Gioia and Councilmember Corky Booze are among the politicians who participated in a meeting between city leaders and representatives from Torrey Pines Bank in an effort to find a solution that would allow the church to continue its work in Richmond.  Mayor Gayle McLaughlin also wrote a letter in support of the church shortly before the eviction, praising such programs as their preschool and free childcare services for teenage mothers.

Keys has alleged that he was issued a predatory loan and that his wife’s signature was forged on income statements, causing them to be given a loan with much higher monthly payments than what the church could afford. “We could have paid $3,500 without any help, and we were led to believe the payments would be around $4,000,” he said. Keys said he has secured an attorney to continue negotiations with the bank.

Meanwhile, the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office has opened an investigation to address Keys’s allegations of criminal behavior.

Deputy District Attorney Ken McCormick is the lead attorney responsible for real estate fraud prosecution, and said that he was also asked by Supervisor Gioia to look into the matter. “They’re contacting us during the 11th hour.  The layperson out there thinks the DA can wave a magic wand and stop evictions.  We can’t stop an eviction.  We don’t have that power, it’s a court order,” McCormick said.

Because the District Attorney’s office deals only with criminal matters, McCormick said that they could not halt the foreclosure and did not have any power to compel the bank to back down. The office’s involvement in this particular case will be to investigate the accusations of forged signatures and falsified documents that could have resulted in a predatory loan, he said.

McCormick stressed, however, that even if it were discovered someone had forged a signature, it would not release the church from its debt or mean that church members would be allowed back into their building.

“Mrs. Keys says that her signature is probably forged, but we don’t even have a suspect. Lets assume we do get a suspect. Does that solve the problem? No.  It just means that someone has committed a crime,” McCormick said.

Torrey Pines Bank denied any wrongdoing in a press release last month, and said that bank officials had given Keys over a year to pay the mortgage.  The bank could not be reached for further comment.

Keys said he would continue to fight the foreclosure and solicit the help of leaders and community members to get the building back, which has been guarded by private security officers since the eviction.

“We just want to get back into our building and get a better mortgage,” Keys said. “But they’re just hardballing all around.”

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