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Creativity helps keep roof over your head

By Scott Barancik,Times Staff Writer
Published March 3, 2007


Thousands of bay area homeowners are fighting foreclosure suits. Most will be swiftly expelled, their lender stuck with a house it never wanted.

There are exceptions. Palm Harbor resident Sandra Mann-Stack hasn't paid her monthly mortgage since 1998, the year Homeside Lending Inc. sued her and husband Peter Stack for default.

Over time, the couple has thwarted at least 10 scheduled auctions, twice by filing for bankruptcy protection the day before. They've gone through at least four judges and watched the amount due climb from $30,000 to $122,000.

Stack, 54, says the case should have ended when his now ex-wife cut a check for the entire balance in 2001. He claims Homeside's lawyers refused to process the check unless Mann-Stack, 61, paid some fabricated legal fees. U.S. District Court Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich didn't buy it. "Plaintiffs are not the victims of fraud, but the perpetrators of fraud," she wrote last year.

Between them, the couple have lost a medical practice, raided a retirement account and shorted the IRS. But Mann-Stack still has her house.

Linda Sue Spears took a page from the Stack playbook in November when she filed a pre-emptive bankruptcy petition one day before auction.

Spears, 51, stood to lose a nine-bedroom, 2.3-acre waterfront estate in Clearwater, a property once owned by Lisa Marie Presley and later by actor Kirstie Alley. Spears bought it for $4.3-million in 2005. But she apparently lacked the Stacks' doggedness. Her bankruptcy was tossed out because she failed to file some key forms. Auction has been reset for March 13.

How she ended up in such a mess isn't clear. The divorced cosmetologist, who did not respond to interview requests, bought not one but four bay area houses worth $8.3-million in 2004-05. Three are in foreclosure.

Spears cohort Jerry Marino shed some light. During an interview last fall, he said she was part of a group of speculators who'd formed a trust and put him in charge. That still doesn't explain why Spears would risk financial ruin by obtaining millions in mortgages under her own name, rather than as part of a corporation or partnership.

If only Spears had friends like Josephine Vitale's.

Vitale didn't seem so enviable last summer. Her flamboyant bid to build a multi-use project called Tampa Bay 1 was kaput. Her million-dollar home along Tampa's Bayshore Boulevard was scheduled for auction - a casualty, Vitale claimed, of a soured affair with the New York developer who allegedly gave it to her, ex-boss William Haines.

But at the last minute, a group of investors assembled by friend and philanthropist Joseph Capitano Sr. came to the rescue with a $1.875-million buyout offer.

Though Vitale, 55, still lives in the house, Realtor friend Toni Everett lists it for sale at $2.6-milllion.

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[Last modified March 2, 2007, 22:17:01]

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