By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
The Atencios said that allegation was false--especially in light of the fact that they had already made the first payment, according to the agreement.
"It would have been foolish for Julian or me to tell Neri Corral or any other bank employee that we were not going to pay any more money on the repayment agreement and then give her our check for $547," Delores said.
In July 1991, the couple sued. The Atencios' attorney, Ed Vance, claimed the bank couldn't legally take the money, because officials knew it was from social security checks. Federal law typically exempts social security payments from levies, garnishments or from satisfying a contract.
The next month, the federal Office of Thrift Supervision seized Great American Bank, which had lost $173 million the previous year. The Resolution Trust Corporation took over the bank's operations--as well as the lawsuit. The RTC's court battles often involve millions of dollars and wealthy, white-collar criminals. But this concerned two senior citizens and a few hundred dollars. Still, the agency--which hasn't been known for diligently pursuing sticky-fingered S&L executives--was determined to fight the elderly Atencios.
RTC attorneys bumped the suit from Maricopa County Superior Court to a federal district court. They were slow to respond to the Atencios' complaint, then missed several deadlines to turn over information for the case. The case dragged on, outliving Julian Atencio, who died of pancreatic cancer in May 1992. Delores Atencio's health was also deteriorating. Vance claims that an attorney with the Phoenix law firm representing the RTC told him that the RTC "could litigate this case forever." Vance included those comments in subsequent court filings that charged the RTC with deliberately stalling.
"This case is much simpler than ones in which the RTC is suing to recover millions of dollars from bank officers or borrowers who wrongfully misappropriated money and caused the insolvency of a bank," Vance charged. "Though the RTC does have a seemingly unlimited supply of taxpayers' bailout money . . . those resources should not be misused here to deny justice to an elderly widow living on social security disability income."
The RTC has yet to respond to Vance's allegations in any of its court filings. But RTC spokesman Mike Fulwider tells New Times that the RTC hopes "to resolve this case as quickly as possible. . . . Our intention is not to drag out any case in court."
Still, the case has yet to go to trial.
And Delores Atencio died of a heart attack in February.