In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Wholly Owned Subsidiary

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The Mentises now question how they could have been so trusting.
And they cannot get help from the Arizona Department of Real Estate because, contrary to their assumption, the "equity agreement" they signed was not a real estate transaction and Whitney Benson was not a licensed real estate broker.

Despite what the Mentises claim they were told, they did not buy real estate--instead, they paid $105,000 for the right to occupy two units. In addition, they agreed to pay $490 monthly for maintenance fees.

"I think they're just stuck," says Charlie Downs, a Real Estate Department spokesman who asked an agency lawyer to quickly review the Mentises' "equity agreement."

This isn't the first such agreement the department has seen, Downs says, and complaints are increasing.

But because the agency has no jurisdiction over "contract disputes," it can only suggest people hire an attorney for possible recourse. Of course, an attorney should review the agreement before anyone signs away his life savings, Downs says.

Paula and Tom Mentis now agree they should have hired an attorney before signing the agreement, but that was not in their nature--they had never consulted a lawyer in their lives and saw no need to consult one this time.

After all, a minister had asked them to sign the dotted line.

Agnes and Herb Reincke thought carefully before spending $64,000 on a "garden home" at Paradise Valley Estates in 1987.

What finally convinced them to buy their place was the promise of a nursing home. Their health was already failing, and they figured if one of them had to be institutionalized, the other would be close by, free to walk over from the "garden home" to the nursing facility several times a day. They settled in, but the nursing home was never built. Now they are trapped, they say, and can't recover their equity.

Agnes and Herb are chronically ill. They know one of them will probably be ready for a nursing home soon, and they can't bear the thought of being separated.

"We thought," Herb says, "that we could live a life enjoying our final years, but since we moved in, that hasn't been possible."

"I'm sure our children would take us in, but we don't want to burden them," says Agnes, a tiny woman who suffers from severe osteoporosis.

"All of the managers have been ministers," says Herb. "Ordained ministers, and they lied. That is the saddest thing of all, to be misled by ministers."

"The whole thing," he concludes, "was a fraud. It was a fraud from the beginning and it's a fraud now.

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Terry Greene Sterling