Home building charity for wounded veterans questioned in lawsuit

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by Kevin Reece / KHOU 11 News

KREM.com

Posted on March 19, 2014 at 7:44 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 19 at 8:00 AM

HOUSTON -- Helping a Hero in West Houston is a popular charity: 100 homes built or in the works in 22 different states, but a lawsuit is publicizing an important clause in the housing contracts. And it’s a clause one Houston-area family says it didn’t know was there until their badly wounded veteran died.

We first told Hunter LeVine's story four years ago. The Woodlands native was blinded by a roadside bomb in Iraq. Also suffering from a traumatic brain injury and PTSD he vowed to continue living as independently as possible.

Then in December of 2011, Helping a Hero awarded him a new home in Tomball. Built through donations all Hunter had to do was take out a $50,000 mortgage and the home was his. It is the standard shared expense agreement the charity uses for all of its projects so the veterans have a financial stake in the property as well. The total value of Hunter’s new home was listed as $168,000.

But last June on a trip to Florida, Hunter died suddenly. He suffered a heart attack in his sleep. He was just 25 years old.

"Hunter was very proud of this house. It made him feel safe,” said his father Beau LeVine.

A short time later Beau LeVine says he received notice that the charity had plans for the house. They were moving to exercise a clause in the contract that the LeVines said they didn’t even know was in the paperwork.

"It was almost like the decision was made moments after his death that she just wanted to get her house back,” said LeVine.

A provision in the contract says that if the Veteran dies within 10 years of taking ownership that the charity can repurchase the house by repaying the Veteran's estate his original $50,000 investment.

Clause 2.9 reads, “Death of Veteran. If the Veteran dies within the 10 year period, the property may be purchases from his estate by HAH according to the Buyout Provisions of this agreement.” The Buyout Provision lists a maximum purchase sum of $62,500.

The organization would then reportedly offer it to another veteran under the same terms. Hunter was single. He didn’t have any dependents leave the house to in a will.

But Hunter’s father, and now an attorney he has hired, point out that Hunter was blind. And Beau LeVine claims he was not present when Hunter was asked to sign the agreement in question.

"A blind man signs a document, wasn't explained the document and now they're trying to enforce it. Clearly the law in the state of Texas isn't going to hold that,” said attorney Chad Pinkerton.

"Well he's seeing it now. But he didn't see it at the time. He didn't see it at the time of the closing. He's just seeing it in litigation,” Pinkerton said of LeVine’s father who had power of attorney for his son.

But Meredith Iler with Helping a Hero will claim otherwise in court. Tuesday she refused to respond to specific questions and allegations. She would only offer the following statement while promising to answer specific allegations after a court hearing on the case next Monday.

“We look forward to getting as many wounded warriors into homes so that we can provide them a safe place and a stable place to rebuild their life for their future,” said Iler.

“We’re very confident that the evidence will be presented to the court and that the truth will come out.”

"This was the last remnant of my son, “said Beau LeVine. “My wife and I would have liked to live in the house - the only reminder we had of him."

Pinkerton also claims the home was never equipped with the disability-assistance devices promised by Helping a Hero. And Pinkerton says there are additional concerns about the charity’s finances. He says the organization has rebuffed repeated attempts to open up its financial records for inspection. Allegations about how open the charity is, or isn’t, with its finances are expected to be part of next week’s court hearing as well.

"We're gonna litigate it. We're gonna litigate this. We're going to take it all the way,” added Pinkerton.

The document in question is one that all of the veterans in the Helping a Hero program sign. The idea from the charity's side is that a wounded veteran, not his surviving parents, should live there.

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