Henri Adier worked his entire career at Morristown High School, teaching French to suburban New Jersey kids, living the sort of American dream tale most of us are familiar with: he escaped the Nazis before and during World War II—first escaping Poland, then Belgium, then France—with a few family treasures, then landed in the New World, worked like hell, and collected rare coins in his free time.
But after Adier’s death in 2012 his Morristown home was looted; this time the perpetrators were not the Nazis, but a third party hired by Wells Fargo Bank, according to a complaint filed in July in the Superior Court of New Jersey by his children, David Adier and Anne Adier-Vivino. Gone is the silver Kiddush cup and Seder plate his family rescued from their Paris apartment under cover of the night. So are family photos and Henri Adier’s journal detailing his escape, along with the lion-faced brass knocker right off the family’s front door.
“That knocker?” said David Adier. “To us, it represents home. I don’t think it’s worth anything to anyone else but they took it, and replaced the matching lock with a three-dollar lock from Home Depot. Someone with the keys to that lock came in and emptied out the house.”
The timeline, he said, is this: His father was current on the mortgage at the time of his father’s death. And since David Adier is a small-business owner, he had scrambled to figure out the estate, and he and his sister let two months go by without a payment.
“Wells Fargo wouldn’t talk to me because I’m not on the mortgage,” he said. “They asked for the death certificate. Two weeks later, they’ve got it, but now they want the paperwork from the court appointing me as executor. By the time I got through that paperwork and sent it to them, it was March of 2013, and that was when they started the conversation.” That details of that conversation centered on how David Adier could catch up with the mortgage and ready the home for renters to generate mortgage-paying income. It was also the first time they allowed him to have a key to the locks they’d changed, granting him access to the house.
Meanwhile, two months after David Adier’s father died, Hurricane Sandy hit, destroying David’s business and nearly his home, as well. In November, according to the complaint, even though Wells Fargo had not started foreclosure proceedings, and even though David was in contact with the bank, Henri’s daughter found stickers from a company called LPS affixed to the home’s front door, stating that she had to call and alert them if the house was not abandoned in order to avoid having them change the locks. She did so “on or about November 6, 2012,” according to the complaint, and LPS assured her the house would not be touched.
But it was. Repeatedly, and by many hands. A neighbor called on November 27, telling David that a workman was on the property; when he called police, the man, identified as Irving Torres in the complaint, showed them a work order from Wells Fargo giving him permission to change the lock.
As originally reported by Ben Horowitz of NJ.com, the house was soon ransacked for the first time: jewelry boxes opened, contents of drawers strewn about the home, the appliances plastered with blue stickers noting the date (November 29).
According to David Adier, the police declared this a civil matter between the Adiers and Wells Fargo. By the time the siblings were given permission to enter their childhood home, neighbors had notified them of people entering it repeatedly over the months. Each time, the Adier children called the police; each time, the police confirmed it had been broken into or entered. At least once, officers found three people on site who said they were hired by Wells Fargo.
“The banks hire third-party companies to do the dirty work,” says David Adier. “They send the work order, and the company often hires a contractor or even a day-laborer. The police told me it’s not uncommon for these to be told the house is abandoned, and they take whatever seems interesting.”
Gone: That silver Kiddush cup. The Seder plate. Framed photos of Henri and their mother Rita’s wedding (maybe the frames looked valuable?). So is the journal Henri Adier had been keeping which detailed not only his family’s escape during WWII, but also his time living in the French countryside where he worked on a landing strip for German soldiers who had no idea he was undercover, as well as his move to the Bronx and to Brooklyn before finding his way home.
Calls to the LPS in Boulder, CO, were either referred to a communications department that didn’t return calls or, in the case of LPS vice president Scott Gilbert, who is listed on its website as responsible for managing subcontractors, repeatedly disconnected.
Also missing is Mr. Adier’s extensive coin collection, including many gold coins, collected on the advice of his father-in-law. “Grandpa Jack always said, ‘Buy gold. You can always use gold. Never trust the banks,’” said David.
“Little did he know,” he adds.