If someone had asked West Norriton resident Ronald Dziewit if he ever anticipated being in a three-hour armed standoff with police, he would have certainly said "no." Yet that's exactly after a six-year foreclosure battle came to a head on the morning of Oct. 4.
"I wanted the American Dream," said Dziewit, in a recent interview with Norristown Patch. The interview was organized by and Dan Amato, concerned local citizens and bloggers who support Dziewit's cause. Miller and Amato invited Norristown Patch to attend a meeting with Dziewit and several neighbors helping the former Marine to tell his story.
The 20-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps barricaded himself in his former home after Montgomery County Sheriff's deputies attempted to serve him with eviction papers, leading to a tense standoff with police before Dziewit surrendered peacefully three hours later.
"I didn't want things to escalate the way they did, but I was hoping that I'd be able to get my voice out there so people could be aware of what's happening to Americans and veterans," said Dziewit, who viewed the standoff as a last ditch effort to remain in his home on Clearview Avenue.
Indeed, his voice was heard, as neighbors and even total strangers began to rally behind Dziewit, hoping to help uncover how the simple purchase of a home could lead a man down such a desperate path.
"I tried to do the honorable thing," said Dziewit, holding a large stack of financial documents and correspondence. "I was proud and I didn't want to ask for handouts. All I wanted was a help up and when I finally got back on feet, I got knocked down. Every time I got up, I got knocked down again."
The troubles began in 2005 – two years after Dziewit purchased the 1400-square-foot home for $142,000 through a Department of Veterans Affairs-insured mortgage with Wells Fargo. According to Dziewit, he had lost his job and went through a three-month period where his sole source of income was his military pension. After falling behind a few months on his mortgage, he was able to secure gainful employment, but at half the salary he had previously made.
"I was sending payments of half or more, but Wells Fargo sent each check back," said Dziewit. "They said they wanted the entire payment."
Behind on a few payments, Dziewit said he repeatedly attempted to work something out with Wells Fargo and the Department of Veterans Affairs, but found no luck in rectifying the situation. Records show that Dziewit then hired a specialty firm in an attempt to work out a forbearance with Wells Fargo, and that the firm instructed Dziewit to refrain from making any payments until a settlement was reached.
The forbearance agreement that was struck between the firm and Wells Fargo ultimately fell through when Dziewit was unable to submit the required payment.
"They asked for $3,500 plus one month's rent, but I was only able to come up with $3,300 total," said Dziewit. "They [Wells Fargo] wouldn't accept my payment and the forbearance fell apart."
"I asked. I tried. I begged," added Dziewit.
From the point of the failed forbearance agreement, the mortgage then became submerged in a black hole of red-tape, conflicting documents and strange details.
The Department of Veterans Affairs purchased the home from Wells Fargo at sheriff's sale for $1,534 in the summer of 2007. Ocwen Loan Servicing, LLC – a contractor that managed foreclosed properties for the VA – filed eviction papers in January of 2008, but it is still unclear how Dziewit was able to stay in the home for an additional three-and-a-half years.
Dziewit says he was made aware of the 2008 eviction notice, but he also received two other notices to evict from two other companies.
"This house was foreclosed on three times and it was different people, different mortgage companies, different brokers, different lawyers," said Dziewit. "I'm getting all these lawyers saying that they own this, but I have that and... I was so confused. I had no idea where to go."
In total, Dziewit produced documents from four separate attorneys, three separate banks and three separate property management companies – all claiming to have the rights to the home.
Mired in confusion, Dziewit repeatedly attempted to contact several congressional representatives and senators, but he stated that he received the run-around and that his pleas had fallen on deaf ears.
"I contacted a lot of our elected officials and they just passed the buck," said Dziewit, as he pointed to numerous pages of correspondence featuring congressional seals. "I was not betrayed by my country. I was betrayed the leaders of my country – by the elected officials, by the bureaucrats, by the president on down."
Despite his efforts, Dziewit's former home now stands vacant – still flying his American flag. His brother, Rich, has taken him into his home while he plans his next move, and two of his former neighbors have volunteered to take care of his two dogs until he has found a new place to live.
When asked to look back on his actions during the morning of Oct. 4, Dziewit was remorseful for the worry he had caused.
"I want to apologize to my family and friends," said Dziewit. "I didn't want anyone to get hurt and I wasn't going to hurt anybody out there. I apologize for anything I did out there – scaring them or anything like that – but this shouldn't happen to a dog."
Still, the former Marine has no regrets.
"Do I regret taking that last stand? Honestly, no," said Dziewit. "Someone has to stand up for veterans and letters, faxes, and notes aren't doing anything."
"They say actions speak louder than words," added Dziewit. "I'm a Marine,and I had to take action."
Norristown Patch will continue to follow Ronald Dziewit's story. To hear the retired Marine's plight in his own words, see the emotional video interview posted in our video section.