American Equity Mortgage, the local lender with the catchy marketing campaign, has ceased operations, and a court-ordered receiver is now in the process of trying to find new revenue streams to pay off creditors.
The company, which grew to popularity in the 1990s with its “eight-seven-eight-ninety-nine ninety-nine” sales spiel on TV and in radio ads, actually shut down at the end of 2017. Its assets were sold to Horsham, Pa.-based Finance of America Mortgage, and its headquarters building at 11933 Westline Industrial Drive in Maryland Heights was sold to Easterseals, a nonprofit organization that serves adults and children with disabilities.
“The business of mortgages has changed in so many ways since the internet and it changed the way people shopped for mortgages,” said Mike Becker, the bankruptcy lawyer at Waltrip & Schmidt who is acting as receiver for the company, operating under the legal name NFGM Inc. “It appears American Equity Mortgage didn’t make the investments needed to adapt to that changing environment.”
Court documents show the company owed more than 40 creditors about $1.2 million. Creditors included CitiMortgage (owed $479,954), Dell Financial Services ($129,701) and Double Positive ($78,610), among others.
In somewhat of an oddity, NFGM requested the receivership in June. In most cases, creditors seek receivership.
CitiMortgage filed a motion this month seeking that the receivership be vacated.
“Receivership has been established as a creditor’s remedy in equity for more than 100 years,” CitiMortgage said in the filing. “A debtor that wishes to obtain protection from its creditors has a straightforward remedy under federal law: a voluntary petition under Chapter 7 of the federal Bankruptcy Code. That, of course, requires the debtor to make detailed disclosures under oath about its finances.
“It is understandable that NFGM would attempt to avoid this sort of scrutiny of its finances and transactions, but the (Missouri Commercial Receivership Act) does not permit the relief that NFGM requests,” CitiMortgage said in its filing.
Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner attorney Brian Walsh, who is representing CitiMortgage, did not return requests for comment. A hearing has yet to be scheduled for the motion.
Becker, who said he was in the final days of unearthing creditors of NFGM, said he was unsure what would happen if the court granted CitiMortgage’s request.
“There’s not a lot of case law on it,” he said. “It appears to be a jump ball. But I don’t have the slightest idea (what would happen). It’s really uncharted territory.”
Husband and wife Ray Vinson and Deanna Daughhetee founded American Equity Mortgage in 1992. Vinson was the frontman, whose twangy voice would become legendary on local radio airwaves. Daughhetee, known for her solid, conservative business sense, ran the financial side of the company. In 2003, a Post-Dispatch profile described her as the “financial whiz behind the company’s rapid growth.”
In 2004, Daughhetee filed for divorce and painted Vinson as a hotheaded and hard-drinking spouse who once broke glass and threw furniture into the swimming pool of their Scottsdale, Ariz., home after she locked him out. Vinson, who said he quit drinking and went to rehab, denied most of Daughhetee’s claims.
By the time the couple’s highly-publicized divorce was finalized in 2006, Daughhetee was awarded the lion’s share of American Equity Mortgage, married her bodyguard Joe Adams and was driving a car with vanity license plates that once read “BYE RAY.”
Vinson quickly returned to the airwaves with his distinctive voice as owner of a new venture, Vinson Mortgage, which has seen its share of litigation in the years since being founded in 2007. The phone number for his latest venture also includes the numbers “ninety-nine ninety-nine.”