Stolen Property? 

An unscrupulous mortgage-collection firm sold Jim Hultman's Berkeley home out from under him, leaving behind a feud and an eyesore.

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What Bogely does know is that the whole thing has become a headache for everyone on the block. "It's been a real blight on the neighborhood, especially on us neighbors," he says. "The graffiti is a real nuisance, and so is having a chain-link fence up around it." Bogely adds that he has seen vagrants sleeping under the back deck and the hedges. "I just want it to be over with, but I just don't know if it will happen."

Neither, apparently, do the principal players. Hultman is still deciding whether to proceed with a lawsuit against Fairbanks/SPS. Lawyers are typically shocked when they hear his story, he says: "First they don't believe it. Then, when they see exactly what happened, they [still] can't believe that this happened. And then we are being advised, 'You have a case that you can win hands down, but it's going to cost you a half-million dollars in legal fees to win it, so you might want to cut your losses and run.'"

Indeed, Fairbanks/SPS has a slew of lawyers dedicated to mitigating such claims. Mike Dillon can attest to this — he's spent the last four years fighting the company in court, and has yet to see a dime.

Fairbanks tried to foreclose on Dillon's Manchester, New Hampshire home in 2003, claiming he was behind with payments. Like Hultman, Dillon was incredulous. "I think I just knew that something was wrong," he says. "There was no good reason for them to be foreclosing on me."

Dillon also knew that the terms of the Curry v. Fairbanks settlement would be of little help to him, so he went the solo route. After realizing just how difficult it would be to wrest his home back from Fairbanks, he quit his job as a Boston-area set builder to work full-time on his own case. "Ultimately it was sheer tenacity, talking to law firm after law firm after law firm," he says. "I have met with at least one hundred fifty of them by now."

For Dillon, the case has been an exercise in self-education. "This is all stuff that as a homeowner I shouldn't need to know. I shouldn't need to know what the Pooling and Servicing Agreement is," he says, referring to the lengthy pact between a mortgage company and its servicer. "I should just be able to make my monthly statements and to have them recorded properly every month, and not have to deal with this."

In 2005, after Dillon had been fighting Fairbanks and SPS in court for two years, the courts granted him a permanent injunction against the company. The ruling, which prevented SPS from taking any further action to foreclose on Dillon's house, was the first ever for a Fairbanks/SPS client who did not file for bankruptcy.

In June, Dillon took the next step. He and his attorney filed a racketeering and corruption suit to the tune of $13.5 million against Fairbanks/SPS and five other companies connected to his mortgage. But the case has taken a heavy toll. "I only sleep around four hours per night," he says. "If I'm not thinking about it, I'm talking about it. If I'm not talking about it, I'm researching it. It becomes your entire life. And then depression and anxiety set in, and you are halfway to losing the battle. ... It's no wonder that people give up. It just turns out that I haven't."

Hultman also says he hasn't given up on fighting the foreclosure. In the meantime, he has turned his wrath on the Toews brothers, more or less declaring war on their reputation. "If I have to spend every dime I have to ruin the Toews' name, I will," he says.

Among his plans are to report the brothers to the Internal Revenue Service. He is also contemplating taking them to court for various transgressions for which he holds them accountable. The mystery spray painter has taken a similar tack. In early August, two identical jet-black stencils appeared on the driveway concrete and on the stairs, just in front of the chain-link fence: LOREN & JEFF TOEWS FROM PRO FOOTBALL PLAYERS TO PRO CRIMINALS. Loren Toews doesn't appear much concerned, although he does seem surprised by Hultman's spite. Personally, he says, he harbors no hard feelings. Toews wouldn't go so far as to call the Ward Street standoff a headache. It is "more of a pebble in our shoe," he says.

Indeed, the Toewses have no shortage of property to manage while they wait things out. Nor do they appear to be hurting for cash. Property records show the brothers, both individually and through their company Jayan Elle LLC, have netted an estimated $30 million through real estate transactions since the mid-1990s. Given the failed negotiations, and Hultman's declaration of war on their name, they can likely afford to do battle.

Of course, as businessmen, they'd rather just remove the pebble and get on with it. Loren Toews says he's confident they will sell Hultman's old house. "We are going forward with it and put it on the market," he says. "I don't know when, but at some point in the near future."

As for the graffiti, the overgrown hedges, and the fence? "We are going to renovate the property," he assures. "It needs a little tidying up."

Neighbor Byrne is certain that the neighborhood will again rally to thwart a third-party sale if the brothers put the house up for sale. But such opposition won't deter the Toewses. They have strategies, Loren says, intended to prevent neighbors from interfering with the sale this time around. "I won't say what," he says. "But we have some plans."

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