William Wayland said he was a lawyer. The middle-aged man from Rockville regularly visited the grandmother in District Heights, carrying stacks of paper he said were proof he was fighting the banks to help keep her home.
Then that friend learned her own home was in foreclosure and alerted Duckett, who started opening her mail and seeing foreclosure notices. Wayland, she says, stopped visiting and answering calls.
In October, Duckett received an eviction notice. Her home of nearly two decades had been sold, the letter said. She should have already left.
Wayland, it turns out, is not a registered lawyer in Maryland. He has been banned by regulators since 2014 from providing mortgage assistance in the state, and he is on probation after pleading guilty in 2018 to eight mortgage assistance relief violations in Montgomery County.
One of those victims said her house was also docketed for foreclosure after she followed Wayland’s instructions. Wayland then offered to buy the house, she said, for hundreds of thousands of dollars less than what she had paid.
In Prince George’s County, one of the jurisdictions hardest hit by the foreclosure crisis, predatory financial schemes have decreased in recent years, experts say. But they remain common, especially in communities where financial instability is high and financial literacy is low.
“These fraudsters are always seeking opportunities to prey on vulnerable populations,” said Jedd Bellman, an assistant commissioner in Maryland’s Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, which barred Wayland from operating in Maryland five years ago and recently received a complaint about his activity in Prince George’s. “The harm they inflict is significant.”
Wayland hung up on a Washington Post reporter when reached on his cellphone, and he did not respond to multiple additional requests for comment.
Because he received a suspended sentence in 2018, he would face at least three years in prison if he is found to have violated any laws while on probation. Duckett’s lawyer, who is representing her pro bono, has filed a complaint with the Prince George’s County state’s attorney, and police are investigating.
But for Duckett, there is little recourse. The house she paid for by working two full-time jobs for most of her life is gone. She moved into her son’s house on Wednesday; for now, her adult daughter and teenage granddaughter are living with the daughter’s ex.
The 15-year-old is so nervous that she has twice fainted at school, her uncle says. Duckett is so distraught that her children do not like to leave her alone.
“This has been devastating on my family,” she said in early November, surrounded by half-packed boxes in her dining room. “Nobody seems to understand. I’m tired of talking about it because, to me, nothing is being done.”
A paper trail
Duckett, 64, bought the one-story brick house in 2001 for $107,000, through a program she said encouraged Prince George’s school employees to purchase fixer-uppers. She says she used savings to finish the basement, add a deck, repair the gutters and buy new appliances.
In nearly 30 years as an aide to special-needs students, her salary slowly climbed to about $42,000 a year. Second, and sometimes third, jobs helped pay her $1,200-a-month mortgage and other bills. She and her son say she loved to work, often rising at 5 a.m. and returning home at midnight, and never wanted to be beholden to anyone.
After she was laid off from a job training center in 2017, Duckett asked a friend, Yolanda Honesty, about a loan modification, hoping to shrink her monthly payment to $900 or $1,000.
Honesty was already a client of Wayland’s. She says he told her she would get $200 off her fees for each new customer she brought him. In March 2017, the two women drove to Wayland’s office in Gaithersburg. Duckett remembers official-looking plaques on the wall and said Wayland, 52, told her he had never lost a case. She wrote him checks for $2,000 to launch her application.
What she did not know was that Wayland was under investigation by the office of Maryland Attorney General Brian E. Frosh (D) for taking upfront fees for mortgage relief services — which has been illegal in the United States since 2010.
Over the next year, even as Duckett wrote checks to him, Wayland was charged and pleaded guilty in Montgomery County. He paid $9,800 in restitution to four victims, Frosh’s spokeswoman said.
The case stemmed, according to court records, from a 2014 investigation by the Office of the Commissioner of Financial Regulation, which ordered Wayland to pay $62,000 to 17 clients he charged for loan modifications they never received.
The records do not indicate why Wayland told some of his customers to stop making mortgage payments, or how many lost their homes. But Duckett said it is partly because she was not paying her mortgage that she had money available for Wayland’s fees.
He gave her paperwork with the letterhead of Tucker Law Group, a now-shuttered firm whose principal, Charles Tucker, said he worked with Wayland during the foreclosure crisis but had not collaborated with him since 2015. Also listed on the receipts was Friendly Mortgage and Financial Solutions LLC, a financial consulting group created in 2016, according to state records. Tucker is listed as the registered agent.
Tucker said it appears that Wayland used his firm’s stationery to pose as a lawyer. He said he had never seen, nor signed, the records for Friendly Mortgage. The company left the Gaithersburg address in January, said an employee who works in the law office that took over the space.
'I feel stupid'
On paper, Nafiseh Roomina should have been more financially savvy than Duckett. She worked on Wall Street and has a master’s degree in economics. She also owned a $1.1 million brownstone in Potomac. Wayland offered to help her lower her mortgage payment after the two met at the gym.
Roomina, one of the victims in the 2018 case to which Wayland pleaded guilty, says she paid him $2,500 in 2011. Years passed, and her mortgage payment remained the same, she says; Wayland told her he was working on it. In 2015, she authorized him to communicate directly with her bank. The same year — at his request, she says — she stopped making mortgage payments.
Like Duckett, Roomina says she learned her house was in foreclosure proceedings when Wayland stopped answering her calls and she resumed opening her mail. She called PNC and was told Wayland had not filed paperwork for a loan modification, or communicated with the bank at all.
She said she went to his office — at the time, he was working in Potomac — and demanded to see him. While she was waiting, she recalled, she heard a colleague of Wayland’s talking on the phone, offering to buy someone’s house.
She asked Wayland whether he was in the real estate business. She said he offered to buy her home for $725,000. She walked out, and ended up selling the house to a young couple for $875,000, so she could avoid foreclosure and pay off what she owed.
“Telling people about it, I feel stupid,” said Roomina, 58, who now lives in a rental apartment in Potomac. “But you’re in this vulnerable position, where you feel like you have no option but to keep working with him.”
Wayland paid her about $1,500 in restitution. She estimates she lost $300,000.
“I can’t believe he’s not in jail,” she said.
'Everybody believed in this man'
The week before she moved into her son’s house, Duckett alternated between quiet tears and angry outbursts, incredulous she was being evicted.
From March 2017 through August 2019, she paid Wayland more than $7,000 for the loan modification he said he completed, plus fees for two bankruptcies he told her he would file.
Then Honesty, a home day-care operator who estimates she paid Wayland nearly $20,000, found out from a client that her house was listed for foreclosure.
She told Duckett, who began sending worried messages to Wayland. He responded increasingly infrequently, often just texting, “Call me.”
“I truly don’t like what I’m feeling, praying I’m not losing my house,” Duckett texted on Sept. 4. “. . . What kind a lawyer don’t answer & keep mail box full for a period of time, please let me know something.”
By that time, Duckett’s home had been docketed for foreclosure for more than a year. The house was sold April 30, and a Prince George’s judge granted possession of the house to U.S. Bank National Association on Oct. 1, court records show.
U.S. Bank spokesman Evan Lapiska said Select Portfolio Servicing, a Salt Lake City-based company owned by Credit Suisse, is the mortgage servicer for the property. Select Portfolio Services did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Duckett and her lawyer, Wala Blegay, met Tuesday with Prince George’s police, who are launching an investigation, said spokeswoman Jennifer Donelan.
Blegay said her goal is to get Duckett some of her money back — and to help her understand why she can’t regain ownership of the house, even if she was the victim of a crime.
“When you started acting in September, your house was gone,” Blegay said gently last week, sitting across from Duckett in the dimly lit dining room.
“I know. But I didn’t know,” Duckett replied. “. . . It still seems like you should have somebody on your side — when you don’t know, and something like this happens to you.”
Honesty, 50, was able to keep her house in Temple Hills after hiring an attorney and filing for bankruptcy. When she learned that Duckett would not have the same option, she said, she felt so guilty that she had trouble eating.
She remembers visiting Wayland’s office in Gaithersburg one day to find a line of customers snaking out the door. “Everybody believed in this man,” she said.
Wayland’s wife answered the door at the couple’s home in the Potomac Woods neighborhood of Rockville on Monday and said he no longer lives there. He moved out this fall, she said, adding that their marriage had been troubled for years.
When she threatened to leave him last spring, she said, he stopped making mortgage payments on the house.
It was docketed for foreclosure in May.