May 27, 2018 / By Nicholas Nehamas
Angelyn Gutierrez, a Miami teenager with severe cerebral palsy, will be able to keep living in the home where she’s spent most of her life.
Her family’s private mortgage lender had foreclosed on the Kendall home, saying Angelyn’s parents stopped making monthly payments. The parents claimed they were misled into taking out a high-interest, short-term loan for $148,000 that they could not afford to pay back.
Now, the lender, Benworth Capital, and Angelyn’s court-appointed financial guardian have reached a deal letting the family stay and dropping the foreclosure action. Angelyn, 15, is an honor roll student who used the home’s pool and spacious backyard to exercise. She uses a motorized wheelchair to move around and a computer to speak. She eats through a feeding tube inserted into her abdomen. The Miami Herald reported on her family’s ordeal last year.
“Angelyn can now swim in her pool and continue to enjoy the comforts of her home no longer threatened by the risks of foreclosure,” attorney Peter Cohen wrote in a letter to the Miami Herald. Cohen serves as the overseer of Angelyn’s special needs trust, a fund set up to provide for her life-long care. She’s lived in the home since she was 6.
Benworth agreed to settle for $240,000. The firm’s CEO, Bernie Navarro, was recently named chairman of the Miami Dade College board of trustees.
While Angelyn will stay in the home, her parents will no longer manage her financial affairs.
In a separate case in family court, a judge removed Aida and Flavio Gutierrez as guardians of their daughter’s property and as co-trustees of her trust.
The trust had been seeded a decade ago with a nearly $520,000 medical malpractice settlement. The funds came from the New Jersey doctor who delivered Angelyn, allegedly leaving her with cerebral palsy. The deal seemed to give Angelyn long-term financial security. But poor financial planning saw her nest egg dwindle, according to Cohen.
“While they may have been good caregivers to their daughter, operating under difficult circumstances, the parents were extremely poor stewards of their daughter’s property,” Cohen said. The parents were not parties to the settlement.
In a brief interview, Aida Gutierrez disputed Cohen’s characterization of her and her husband as inadequate financial managers. She declined further comment through a relative.
“I never approved this settlement,” she said.
Paul Scanziani, an attorney for Angelyn’s parents, said he believed Benworth could have reduced the principal even further. At one point, Benworth was seeking a payment of roughly $300,000 to drop the foreclosure, citing missed payments, interest and attorney fees.
“They were not willing to forgive the remaining amount,” Scanziani said. “In my opinion, they should have done more.”
As part of the settlement, Benworth agreed to issue a new, two-year loan with a roughly $1,600 monthly payment. When that loan comes due, Cohen said, her trust will be able to secure a conventional 30-year mortgage from a bank, allowing the family to pay off Benworth and stay in the home. Ultimately, the money will be paid back by Angelyn’s special needs trust, which earns income from an annuity. The parents receive disability payments on behalf of Angelyn and will be expected to contribute, Cohen said.
“I feel happy that Angelyn will have a roof over her head for the rest of her life,” said Navarro, Benworth’s CEO. The company could still pursue legal action against the parents over the original loan but Navarro said he has no interest in doing so.
The terms of the settlement also called for Benworth to distribute a news release announcing the saga’s resolution. A draft of the press release was shared with Miami-Dade Judge Celeste Muir, who oversees Angelyn’s guardianship, in the hopes that she would agree to participate. Muir declined.