AG's Martinsburg office to open soon



CHARLESTON -- West Virginia Attorney General Darrell McGraw's office has announced the opening of a new Martinsburg consumer protection office in April.

The office will be located at 269 Aikins Center near the Valley College of Technology, according to the AG's office.

"Establishing a Martinsburg branch will allow local, personalized access to consumer protection resources for residents in the Eastern Panhandle, making it easier for them to get direct help from consumer advocates," the office said in its monthly newsletter. "As part of the AGO's commitment to reach out to citizens throughout the state – not only those with access to the State Capitol – the Martinsburg office will offer help with all consumer issues, including: Project: Save Our Homes; debt collection and payday lending issues; preneed funeral contracts; ID theft and privacy; fraudulent or deceptive business practices; credit card and financial issues; and more."

Last week, Chief Deputy Attorney General Fran Hughes said money from the recently signed mortgage settlement will be used to fund the office.

"That's where most of the mortgage problems are," Hughes said. "We'll have a lawyer from legal services in the office. We're using some of the mortgage settlement money for that because there are so many mortgage issues over there, and they need a satellite office.

"We're hoping by April 1 to have the office up and running. Mortgage money is paying for this. We haven't configured the whole office yet, but we plan on rotating staff there. We'll have paralegals, a secretary, a lawyer or two. One person working with us from Legal Aid will be operating out of that office. We'll have different lawyers there from our Consumer Protection Division. We're not going to hire one person and leave him or her there."

In February, McGraw and 48 other state attorneys general signed the mortgage foreclosure agreement with five major banks and established Project: Save Our Homes to assist consumers.

To coordinate that assistance throughout the state, McGraw's office is working with Legal Aid of West Virginia and is also referring cases to another free, non-profit legal service, Mountain State Justice, for additional mortgage and foreclosure options beyond the settlement.

Hughes also said last week that West Virginia residents who were affected by the recent multistate mortgage settlement might see more than $2,000.

Of the $25 billion settlement, West Virginia is set to receive about $33 million of that money. Of that, an immediate estimated payment of $2,000 will go to each state homeowner who lost his or her home to foreclosure between Jan. 1, 2008 and Dec. 31, 2011.

Also, more than $18 million will go to loan modifications and benefits to state homeowners currently in default or foreclosure. And more than $5 million will go to free refinancing for "underwater" homeowners -- that is, those who are still current on their payments but are struggling. Another $6 million will go to foreclosure and mortgage assistance and prevention programs in the state.

Hughes said $1 million of the money will go for Legal Aid West Virginia to do home mortgage modifications.

"We have what we call a SWAT team of people going directly into the communities for this," she said. "We're going into community centers, bringing equipment and helping you do a modification there on the spot. We're going to help people get all of this stuff ready to try to expedite a response to the modification request."

Hughes said that, depending on circumstances, the AGs office hopes to give affected homeowners a little bonus in addition to the $2,000 promised in the settlement.

"We hope to give the rest back to people who have lost their homes, to supplement the $2,000," Hughes said. "As of right now, we haven't been given the final tally of exactly how much money the state will get. But we're planning to supplement the homeowners. We're hoping to, anyway."

Hughes said the efforts on this project right now are focusing on Kanawha, Putnam and other large counties as well as the eastern Panhandle.

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