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Water bill holders left high and dry

By   /   Thursday, June 12th, 2008  /   Comments Off on Water bill holders left high and dry

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Nicole Sell wants answers, and so does Jerry Namba.

Sell rents a condo in Morro Bay, and when the city shut off her water service, the name on the overdue notice was Cameron Financial Group – a name she’d never heard.

After paying the bill to turn the water back on, Sell tried to reach Cameron Financial through its Web site and telephone numbers. They were all down. She typed “Cameron Financial Group” and “bankruptcy” into a online search engine and confirmed her hunch: The San Luis Obispo-based company declared Chapter 7 bankruptcy Feb. 19.

That set off a string of questions for Sell: Would she see her deposit again? Would she and her husband, with a new baby, be evicted on short notice?

Sell called Namba, the court-appointed trustee overseeing the liquidation of Cameron Financial’s assets in bankruptcy court. The call raised a question for him: If Cameron Financial’s name was on the condo’s water bill, why wasn’t the property listed among the company’s assets in bankruptcy court?

For Namba, the early answer is that the condo was transferred from the company to its principal officers before Cameron Financial filed for bankruptcy; he’s investigating the timing. In the meantime, Sell has found few answers and wants to move, an effort made more difficult by tight rental markets.

“We planned on staying until we could afford to buy a house, but with the situation now, we don’t like this big question mark lingering over our heads,” Sell said. “I don’t want a note on my door that says, ‘You’ve got 72 hours to get out.’”

Doing business under the name 1st Choice Mortgage, Cameron Financial declared assets of about $950,000 and more than $28 million in debts after it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy Feb. 19. Chapter 7 is known as a “straight” bankruptcy because it usually entails liquidating the company.
Cameron Financial is a prime example of a company caught up and crushed in the subprime mortgage crisis. It offered subprime loans to customers with “bruised credit” and so-called jumbo loans of up to $2 million for buying or repairing homes, according to its former Web site.

The list of companies to whom Cameron Financial owed seven-figure debts reads like a roster for the losing team in the subprime game: Bear Stearns was owed $2.1 million, Countrywide Financial $2.7 million, Deutsche Bank $8.2 million, DLJ Mortgage Capital $2.4 million, Indymac Bank $2.6 million, Impac $2.4 million and Terwin Advisors $4.2 million.

In Morro Bay, Sell and other tenants called Namba, who began investigating who owns properties connected to Cameron Financial. The trustee’s office said it’s too early to tell whether there was anything improper about the Morro Bay condo transfer or whether it would seek to reverse the transaction.

“It just depends on the timing of things and whether it’s worth pursuing that way, or just going after the money,” said Caesar Namba, who is assisting his brother, court-appointed trustee Jerry Namba, in the case. The trustee’s office didn’t say how many properties it’s examining, but said one is as far away as Oakland.

Bonnie Johnson, Morro Bay’s utility billing clerk, said the city shut off water to seven accounts billed to either Cameron Financial Group or Cameron Realty Group. At least three other accounts in those names also were disconnected, Johnson said, but tenants stepped in to pay the bills and reconnect service.

Johnson couldn’t say how long it had been since Cameron Financial had paid its water bills. The city’s policy is to shut off service after 45 days without payment. Johnson said the city’s collections department would decide whether to pursue a claim in bankruptcy court.

The discovery of new assets would be good news to Cameron Financial’s creditors because Namba recently moved to abandon about two-thirds of the company’s assets.
About $622,000 of Cameron Financial’s assets were in the form of a judgment from a lawsuit the firm had won in Sacramento County. The amount was reduced to $25,000 in a settlement.

But Namba on June 9 moved to abandon even that sum because it appeared unlikely the defendant would pay, according to court documents.
Sandra McBeth, Cameron Financial Group attorney, said she could not comment beyond documents already filed in the case. The firm’s Web site has been taken down and its phone numbers disconnected.

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