Bank agrees to re­work ail­ing 9/11 cop’s mort­gage af­ter News ex­posé

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY GRA­HAM RAYMAN

Former NYPD De­tec­tive Ge­orge Ben­der and wife Kristie get to stay in their As­to­ria, Queens, home af­ter bank had a change of heart.

A re­tired NYPD de­tec­tive stricken with de­bil­i­tat­ing 9/ 11-re­lated anx­i­ety, will be able to stay in the home he faced los­ing to a bank, the Daily News has learned.

Ge­orge Ben­der la­bored at Ground Zero, the city morgue and Fresh Kills land­fill in the wake of the 9/11 at­tacks and was di­ag­nosed with se­vere post-trau­matic stress dis­or­der as a re­sult. In early Septem­ber, Wells Fargo was three days from fore­clos­ing and auc­tion­ing off the lit­tle As­to­ria home he shares with his wife, Kristie, and their two grown kids.

A Daily News ar­ti­cle spurred Wells Fargo to de­lay the sale, and on Fri­day the bank agreed to mod­ify and ex­tend the Ben­ders' mort­gage to make it af­ford­able for them.

The fam­ily was over the moon Satur­day and ex­pressed grat­i­tude to Wells Fargo, their lawyer Alice Ni­chol­son, Big Ap­ple Car pres­i­dent Diana Cle­mente and the Stephen Siller Tun­nel to Tow­ers Foun­da­tion.

“I was al­most in tears,” Ge­orge Ben­der, 49, told The News. “I thought my fam­ily was go­ing to be on the street. They said the (Daily News) ar­ti­cle brought it to their at­ten­tion.”

The Ben­ders will now pay about $2,600 a month for their mort­gage, and the length of the loan was ex­tended from 30 to 40 years.

“We're so ex­cited,” Kristie Ben­der, 47, said. “We would have had to pay that much for an apart­ment, but in­stead we get to keep our home. It's the best out­come we could have pos­si­bly ex­pected. I was so used to go­ing to bed wor­ry­ing about it. Now we can re­lax.”

When the Ben­ders bought their home for $500,000 in 2007, Ge­orge was earn­ing about $90,000 in­clud­ing over­time and the ini­tial monthly pay­ment of $3,169 was man­age­able. They didn't re­al­ize it at the time, but things were chang­ing in ways that would rad­i­cally al­ter their lives just a few years later.

The bank re­duced the monthly pay­ment amount to $1,898 in 2009, but the Ben­ders' fi­nances con­tin­ued to slide.

The fam­ily lived on Ben­der's reg­u­lar po­lice pen­sion of $3,800 a month, which was not enough to pay the mort­gage and their liv­ing ex­penses. As a re­sult, the Ben­ders now owe about $166,000 in missed pay­ments that go back over a pe­riod of years. The debt ac­crued while the cou­ple spent five years fight­ing to qual­ify for So­cial Se­cu­rity dis­abil­ity ben­e­fits of $2,500 a month, which they fi­nally re­ceived in 2015.

John Hodge, the chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer of the Tun­nels to Tow­ers Foun­da­tion, per­formed yeo­man-like work in aid­ing the Ben­ders in their in­ter­ac­tions with the bank.

“It was my honor to help out this hero of 9/11. It is ex­tremely grat­i­fy­ing to know that both he and his fam­ily are go­ing to be able to stay in the home that they love so much. To me, it was the least we could do,” Hodge said.

"Hats off to Wells Fargo for not be­ing an­other cold cor­po­ra­tion that only cares about the num­bers. From the first time we spoke they un­der­stood the im­por­tance of tak­ing care of this NYPD of­fi­cer.”

The cou­ple's lawyer echoed Hodge's sen­ti­ment.

“What came to me was the Wells Fargo ad­ver­tise­ment 'To­gether we'll go far,' and this shows that we can,” Ni­chol­son said. “But there are a lot of peo­ple like Ge­orge Ben­der who make real con­tri­bu­tions to so­ci­ety who find them­selves in this sit­u­a­tion. We can do bet­ter for them.”

And Cle­mente, who vol­un­teered her time to help the Ben­ders af­ter The News' ar­ti­cle came out, called it “a won­der­ful jour­ney.” She now plans to raise money to get the Ben­ders' house fixed up.

Ben­der made 500 ar­rests dur­ing his dec­o­rated ca­reer, much of them out of the 63rd Precinct in Brook­lyn. He lost one of his best friends, Fire­fighter Ed­ward (Teddy) White III on 9/11 and spent weeks look­ing for re­mains in the de­bris and then at the city morgue help­ing to iden­tify vic­tims and no­ti­fy­ing fam­i­lies.

His PTSD de­vel­oped slowly and then erupted in 2009, man­i­fest­ing it­self in panic at­tacks and a fear of leav­ing the house. He re­tired in 2010.

Former Finest Ge­orge Ben­der (left with wife Kristie) sifted 9/11 de­bris at Fresh Kills land­fill and de­vel­oped PTSD. The bank was set to fore­close on his Queens home, but has agreed to re­work the loan.

John Hodge

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