The letter arrived in April last year, a mishmash of strange numbers and words. This at first did not alarm Rose. Most letters are that way for her — frustrating puzzles she can’t solve. Rose, who can scarcely read or write, calls herself a “lead kid.” Her childhood home, where lead paint chips blanketed her bedsheets like snowflakes, “affected me really bad,” she says. “In everything I do.”
She says she can’t work a professional job. She can’t live alone. And, she says, she surely couldn’t understand this letter.
So on that April day, the 20-year-old says she asked her mom to give it a look. Her mother glanced at the words, then back at her daughter. “What does this mean all of your payments were sold to a third party?” her mother recalls saying.
The distraught woman said the letter, written by her insurance company, referred to Rose’s lead checks. The family had settled a lead-paint lawsuit against one Baltimore slumlord in 2007, granting Rose a monthly check of nearly $1,000, with yearly increases. Those payments were guaranteed for 35 years.
“It’s been sold?” Rose asked, memories soon flashing.
She remembered a nice, white man. He had called her one day on the telephone months after she’d squeaked through high school with a “one-point something” grade-point average. His name was Brendan, though she said he never mentioned his last name. He told her she could make some fast money. He told her he worked for a local company named Access Funding. He talked to her as a friend.
Rose, who court records say suffers from “irreversible brain damage,” didn’t have a lot of friends. She didn’t trust many people. Growing up off North Avenue in West Baltimore, she said she’s seen people killed.
But Brendan was different. He bought her a fancy meal at Longhorn Steakhouse, she said, and guaranteed a vacation for the family. He seemed like a gentleman, someone she said she could trust .
One day soon after, a notary arrived at her house and slid her a 12-page “purchase” agreement. Rose was alone. But she wasn’t worried. She said she spoke to a lawyer named Charles E. Smith on the phone about the contract. She felt confident in what it stated. She was selling some checks in the distant future for some quick money, right?
The reality, however, was substantially different. Rose sold everything to Access Funding — 420 monthly lead checks between 2017 and 2052. They amounted to a total of nearly $574,000 and had a present value of roughly $338,000.
In return, Access Funding paid her less than $63,000.
It's bad enough that a generation of poor black kids grew up in the Baltimore projects with lead paint and brain damage. It's bad enough that these were the poorest parts of a city crushed by crime and poverty. No, we have people whose job it is to talk people like Rose out of hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution in order to profit off of such horrendous misery, and the fact is it's all perfectly legal.
Because you can't be just poor and black and screwed for the rest of your life because of lead paint chips, you have to be preyed upon as well.
America is beyond awful sometimes.