Veteran group founder ousted in rift over donated home

Elliott Wolfe, Founder of the Santa Clarita Veteran Services Collaborative prepares donated bread for veterans at the Santa Clarita Veteran Center. Dan Watson/The Signal

What began as a simple plan to donate a dream home to a deserving veteran became mired in red tape and legal details, escalating into infighting among members of the veterans’ group spearheading the effort and culminating in the ouster Wednesday of the group’s founder.

Elliott Wolfe and his wife, Judith, founded the Veterans Services Collaborative, and in October, announced they were accepting applications from local veterans who, if they met certain criteria, could receive the full title of a family residence in Canyon Country, thanks to a contribution made by an anonymous donor.

Simple — or so it seemed at the time.

“This lovely lady donated a home to us, instructing us to give it to a vet,” Elliott Wolfe said Wednesday, shortly after the other members voted to oust him from the board. “She had certain restrictions, such as the vet had to get a $110,000 loan so he would have skin in the game and not simply turn the house around.”

In order to qualify, veterans were to meet the criteria set by the collaborative’s board of directors. 

The criteria included: an honorable discharge document; employment or proof of a military-related injury that results in 100% disability; a good credit score; and the veteran must be able to qualify for a $110,000 VA loan, which includes escrow fees, taxes and insurance.

The chosen vet would be required to live there for at least five years and have 10% of the house value vested in the deal, Wolfe added.

Enter veteran Ernesto “Ernie” Trevizo, who was chosen by the collaborative’s board from a list of 43 vets who applied for the house. The list was whittled down to 10, then to five and then to Trevizo.

“We gave him the home on Dec. 3,” Wolfe said, meaning the board notified Trevizo he had the home.

Before he was given the keys, however, Trevizo would have to meet with a trust attorney, and sign some papers that would safeguard against the house ending up in probate court should something happen to the new homeowner.

When the signing failed to happen and followup calls were made to see it through, those efforts were seen by the Trevizo family as confrontational.

Resentment grew.  

“This has gotten real bad,” said Trevizo’s father-in-law, Raul Lara.

“My son-in-law doesn’t even want to speak about it now,” he said. “It caused a lot of strain on the family.”

Lara, a veteran who served in Operation Desert Storm, said his son-in-law, who served in Iraq, suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“They (the collaborative) tried to attach so many conditions to the home that, at the end of the day, it feels like we’re just renting a house from them,” Lara said, citing “so much heartache” within the family.

This week was supposed to be the week that the escrow papers for the house were signed by Wolfe in order to transfer ownership of the house to Trevizo.

“I went to sign the escrow papers and (the papers) didn’t have the restrictions,” Wolfe said.

When Wolfe refused to endorse the transfer, members of the collaborative board met and voted to replace him with another board member. 

Although several phone messages were left for collaborative board member and spokesman Jeff Stabile — also a veteran — to confirm the board’s actions, a person close to the board from the outset of the house deal said he received word from a board member confirming Wolfe’s ouster.

Board member Jonathan Ahmadi, who is now vice president of the collaborative, also confirmed the board selected a new president. A news release detailing changes made to the board is expected to be released by the collaborative on Thursday.

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On Twitter: @jamesarthurholt

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