Slain man's family struggles to keep house

Denis Caceres is comforted by family friend Ivonne

Denis Caceres is comforted by family friend Ivonne Perix as he leaves Riverhead Criminal Court after Ralph Guerrier was sentenced to 25 years to life for killing Denis' father, Geremias Caceres. (Nov. 15, 2011) (Credit: James Carbone)

The gray, two-story house on 10th Avenue in Huntington Station has been home to both dreams and nightmares for the Caceres family, and now they may be in danger of losing it entirely -- another effect of the family patriarch's murder more than two years ago.

Geremias Caceres, 39, was shot to death in the street in front of the house during a botched robbery as his son Denis, then 17, watched. Three men were convicted of the crime, but the family struggled financially after they lost Caceres' income. Denis had to leave Nassau Community College until two groups of people moved by his plight raised money to send him back.

Holding on to the house Geremias bought for his family in 2006 has proved more difficult. After spending 20 months working with IndyMac Mortgage Services on a home loan modification, the bank last month turned the family down, leaving them unsure of what steps to take to save the house, family members said.

"It's the only thing we have from my dad," Denis Caceres said of the house. "He always wanted my family to have a stable place. This was his dream."

Despite the denial, two days after Newsday contacted the bank, it said for the first time that it would continue to work with the family.

"We are sympathetic to Ms. Caceres' circumstances . . . but we have been unable to develop a workable solution as of yet," OneWest Bank, IndyMac's corporate parent, based in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "We are moving forward with the next set of options for a potential modification and will work diligently to ensure that we explore all available avenues in order to keep Ms. Caceres in her home."

The fact that his father was killed in front of the home matters little to the family. Denis said he and his brother, Brandon, 9, have lived almost entirely in this house since emigrating from El Salvador in 2005. "We have a lot of other memories, really good memories," he said.

Before the murder, Geremias Caceres supported the family by working as a landscaper. His wife, Blanca, 43, had been laid off as a machine operator, but she returned to work two years ago. With the loss of Geremias' income at the depth of the recession, the house soon landed in foreclosure.

Blanca Caceres enlisted a family friend who works as a home loan consultant, Jairo Mejia, to help negotiate a loan modification. The family owes about $350,000, but after the real estate market plummeted, he said it is now worth about $180,000. At the start of the loan modification process, Mejia said the bank told the family not to make payments of about $3,700 a month until it was resolved.

"We sent them proof of every single penny coming into the house," Mejia said.

The bank asked for Geremias' death certificate. When it asked for proof he was shot to death, the family sent Newsday stories about the killing. The family sent proof that Blanca Caceres was the administrator of her husband's estate and that the deed to the house was in her name.

But after more than a year and a half, the bank told Caceres that because she was not listed as the estate's executor, the modification was denied, Mejia said.

Administrators and executors have virtually the same authority, said Islandia estate attorney Richard Weinblatt and Amityville real estate attorney Bruce Kennedy, neither of whom are involved with this case.

The difference in terminology comes from whether there was a will. A will appoints an executor to handle an estate, Weinblatt said. Without one, he said the law appoints the next of kin as administrator.

It makes no difference for the bank, said Kennedy.

"There would be absolutely no legal basis for refusing to deal with her," Kennedy said. Because Geremias Caceres died without a will, attorneys say the children are entitled to a share of his estate, but Kennedy said that's of no concern to the bank. If anything, he said it seems she's taking the right steps.

"She has a fiduciary duty [to her children] to do the right thing," he said.

And the bank didn't need to wait 20 months to raise that issue, Mejia said. That's time Blanca Caceres could have used to seek other ways to save the house, he said.

The bank's practices have been the subject of harsh criticism. In one foreclosure case in 2009, state Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey Arlen Spinner called its behavior "harsh, repugnant, shocking and repulsive." Spinner erased an East Patchogue couple's debt to the bank.

For Blanca Caceres, the house is her link to the man she has called "my first boyfriend, my first love."

"This house is important to me, because it was Geremias' dream," she said. Keeping the house is "a way of keeping his dream going."

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