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Afghan Massacre Suspect Had Foreclosure Problems at Home

Pioneering Vet clinic in Taliban country

Afghan youth: not worried about foreclosure (photo: Helmandblog/flickr)

Being the Americans that we are, we have focused on Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and his mental state rather than the 16 Afghan civilians he killed, all of whom had names too. But indulge me for a moment to address one aspect of Bales’ mental state. It turns out that he had a mortgage problem. And as such, he probably was a victim of a violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

The housing finance setbacks that confronted Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing at least 16 civilians in Afghanistan, are one part of his story that many U.S. troops would recognize.

Bales and his wife owned a home in Washington state she was trying to sell for less than its mortgage and another that sits empty with a “Do Not Occupy” sign from the city on the door. At one point, the couple owed more than $500,000 on the homes […]

The couple borrowed $506,250 on the two residential properties in October 2006, public records show — $178,500 on a house in Auburn and $327,750 on a home in Lake Tapps. Today, the two houses have a combined assessed value of $358,100, or 29 percent less than the initial loan amounts, county records in Washington state show.

Karilyn Bales had listed the Lake Tapps home, where the family lives, as a “short sale,” for less than the mortgage balance, according to Phillip Rodocker, the real-estate agent who listed the house.

Robert Bales, who was deployed to Afghanistan in December, had departed for the third of his three deployments to Iraq in August 2009 just as the house the couple rented out in Auburn was about to be auctioned at the entrance to the King County, Washington, administration building.

Bank of America, in case you were wondering. [cont’d]

I have no idea how a staff sergeant and his family gets approved for $500,000 in loans, but of course that was the height of the housing bubble, when anyone with a pulse got welcomed. The timing of the foreclosure auction in August 2009 isn’t totally clear – when did the foreclosure proceedings start? Was Bales on deployment at that time? King County canceled the auction but they have the property held vacant and banned for occupancy.

There’s a definite possibility, if not a probability, that one of these houses went into foreclosure while Bales served overseas. That would violate the SCRA, which is supposed to be punishable not only by fines but a jail sentence. Banks have bent over backward to compensate those victims of SCRA violations, but it’s doubtful that they’ve caught everyone.

Bales had other financial issues. He apparently worked as a stockbroker before the military, and an Ohio couple accused him of fraud totaling $1.3 million. He enlisted shortly after the September 11 attacks. So this may be a unique case of house flipping and financial double dealing. The details are not a clear-cut case of predatory behavior on some unsuspecting infrantryman.

But needless to say, financial worries cause a certain amount of battlefield stress. Financial companies continue to prey on servicemembers, and when the problems hit home, often the families have to cope without the service member present. This can lead to stress on marriages, depression and anxiety. Not everyone will snap like Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. It’s no excuse for his actions. But it’s part of the 21st century realities of modern combat: you have to deal with financial institutions ripping you off while you serve.

And your government will fail to provide any deterrent to such actions for those who committed the crime.

UPDATE: Obviously this does not cover all of Bales’ problems, which include traumatic brain injuries. I’m just raising the issue about financial stress and SCRA to make a larger point.

CommunityThe Bullpen

Afghan Massacre Suspect Had Foreclosure Problems at Home

Being the Americans that we are, we have focused on Staff Sergeant Robert Bales and his mental state rather than the 16 Afghan civilians he killed, all of whom had names too. But indulge me for a moment to address one aspect of Bales’ mental state. It turns out that he had a mortgage problem. And as such, he probably was a victim of a violation of the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act.

The housing finance setbacks that confronted Army Staff Sergeant Robert Bales, the soldier accused of killing at least 16 civilians in Afghanistan, are one part of his story that many U.S. troops would recognize.

Bales and his wife owned a home in Washington state she was trying to sell for less than its mortgage and another that sits empty with a “Do Not Occupy” sign from the city on the door. At one point, the couple owed more than $500,000 on the homes […]

The couple borrowed $506,250 on the two residential properties in October 2006, public records show — $178,500 on a house in Auburn and $327,750 on a home in Lake Tapps. Today, the two houses have a combined assessed value of $358,100, or 29 percent less than the initial loan amounts, county records in Washington state show.

Karilyn Bales had listed the Lake Tapps home, where the family lives, as a “short sale,” for less than the mortgage balance, according to Phillip Rodocker, the real-estate agent who listed the house.

Robert Bales, who was deployed to Afghanistan in December, had departed for the third of his three deployments to Iraq in August 2009 just as the house the couple rented out in Auburn was about to be auctioned at the entrance to the King County, Washington, administration building.

Bank of America, in case you were wondering.

I have no idea how a staff sergeant and his family gets approved for $500,000 in loans, but of course that was the height of the housing bubble, when anyone with a pulse got welcomed. The timing of the foreclosure auction in August 2009 isn’t totally clear – when did the foreclosure proceedings start? Was Bales on deployment at that time? King County canceled the auction but they have the property held vacant and banned for occupancy.

There’s a definite possibility, if not a probability, that one of these houses went into foreclosure while Bales served overseas. That would violate the SCRA, which is supposed to be punishable not only by fines but a jail sentence. Banks have bent over backward to compensate those victims of SCRA violations, but it’s doubtful that they’ve caught everyone.

Bales had other financial issues. He apparently worked as a stockbroker before the military, and an Ohio couple accused him of fraud totaling $1.3 million. He enlisted shortly after the September 11 attacks. So this may be a unique case of house flipping and financial double dealing. The details are not a clear-cut case of predatory behavior on some unsuspecting infrantryman.

But needless to say, financial worries cause a certain amount of battlefield stress. Financial companies continue to prey on servicemembers, and when the problems hit home, often the families have to cope without the service member present. This can lead to stress on marriages, depression and anxiety. Not everyone will snap like Staff Sergeant Robert Bales. It’s no excuse for his actions. But it’s part of the 21st century realities of modern combat: you have to deal with financial institutions ripping you off while you serve.

And your government will fail to provide any deterrent to such actions for those who committed the crime.

UPDATE: Obviously this does not cover all of Bales’ problems, which include traumatic brain injuries. I’m just raising the issue about financial stress and SCRA to make a larger point.

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David Dayen

David Dayen