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