Lake City Couple Suing Ameriquest in Jacksonville Federal Court; They Say Mortgage Company Employees Use Unfair Tactics in Lending

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Byline: STEVE PATTERSON

When he refinanced his home in Lake City, George Barber says, Ameriquest Mortgage Co. told him he couldn't qualify unless they counted the extra cash he made running a lawn service company.

There was one problem.

"I don't have a lawn service company," said Barber, who said he worked as a corrections officer until he was disabled by multiple sclerosis. "I went along with it because of being able to get a loan."

Barber, his wife and two others are suing Ameriquest, the country's No. 1 mortgage lender for people with bad credit, in Jacksonville's federal court.

They say company employees used unfair tactics to lend money, from misleading borrowers about their payments to faking income to get loans approved. The suit is designed to be a class action, potentially affecting thousands of Floridians.

As the country's largest mortgage business specializing in customers with weak credit, Ameriquest wrote $83 billion worth of loans in 2004, and last year reportedly wanted to top $100 billion.

But the company also has had a series of legal problems, with dozens of states having some form of legal or consumer protection investigation under way.

The Los Angeles Times reported Saturday that a $325 million settlement involving 49 states and the District of Columbia could be announced today.

Ameriquest's lawyers have called the accusations in the lawsuit pending in Jacksonville "a series of half-truths" that distort the company's agreements with customers. The lawyers asked unsuccessfully to have the case dismissed. …