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Abraham Krieger Noted in LI Herald, “Bellmore-Merrick Business Owner Still Waiting to Rebuild a Year After Sandy”

Media Source: LIHerald.com

Abraham_B_KriegerNearly a year after Hurricane Sandy pummeled Bellmore-Merrick with a 10-foot storm surge that sent floodwaters surging across the community’s southern peninsulas, the Dakota Design Center, on the north side of Merrick Road, beside the Meadowbrook Parkway, remains a dormant shell, soot-covered throughout its 10,000-square-foot interior and boarded up with plywood.

Its owner, Patricia Salcedo, of Bellmore, spent 10 months battling with her insurance company over the money she needs to rebuild. When her settlement finally came, she did what she thought she was supposed to do, and was advised to do by accountants and attorneys: She signed the check over to her mortgage company, with the understanding that it would write her a new check to rebuild.

In Salcedo’s case, however, her mortgage company, Vfc Partners in Waco, Texas, an affiliate of the FirstCity Financial Corporation, applied her settlement to the principal balance of her mortgage, leaving her without funds to rebuild her design showroom, she said. Capital One, which previously held Salcedo’s mortgage, sold it to Vfc in Sandy’s wake, she said.

Insurance settlement checks for more than $20,000 are typically made out to both the home or business owner and the mortgage company, and both must endorse them before funds can be disbursed to contractors doing repairs. Many mortgage companies want to oversee reconstruction, to ensure that their investments in homes and businesses are protected. A mortgage company typically releases funds in installments as work is completed, to prevent a home or business owner from taking the money and not doing the repairs, or doing a poor repair job, leaving the mortgage company with a bad investment that cannot be sold.

Three months ago, Salcedo began receiving calls from Vfc, asking whether her insurance settlement had come through. At first she was leery of the calls. “I thought it was a fraudulent thing,” she said.

When she realized that it was indeed her mortgage company calling, she felt obliged to respond to its requests for information about her progress in obtaining an insurance settlement. When her settlement –– more than a half-million dollars –– finally came through, she immediately sent the check to the mortgage company and waited for preliminary funds to be disbursed, she said. Salcedo never heard back. Weeks passed. Then a letter arrived, informing her that her settlement had been applied to the principal.“This is insane,” Salcedo said.

Now she is working with an attorney, Abraham Kreiger of Meyer, Suozzi, English & Klein P.C., and asking State Sen. Charles Fuschillo Jr. to help her recover her insurance settlement. “We’re trying to figure out how we’re going to fight back,” she said.

Dealing with her insurance company became a full-time job for Salcedo. When her settlement came through, her hopes rose. Seeing it applied to the principal was devastating. “I never expected this to happen,” she said.

The Herald first profiled the Dakota Design Center’s plight in a story titled “First a flood, then a fire” (Nov. 29-Dec. 5, 2012). In six hours last Oct. 29, Hurricane Sandy flooded the center, which housed Salcedo’s design firm, P.S. Micaza Interiors. Then a fire, most likely electrical, gutted the building’s interior.

In addition to housing P.S. Micaza, the design center served as a one-stop shopping center for high-end furnishings. Salcedo moved it to Republic Lighting, in Bellmore, after Sandy, where it remains in a 3,000-square-foot space.

When the Herald interviewed Salcedo last year, she was overseeing construction at Republic Lighting, which is owned by Rich Adler, a friend of hers. It was virtually empty then, with 2x4s, drywall and electrical wiring scattered about. Now the space is full of furnishings, fabric samples, granite blocks and paintings.

P.S. Micaza carries on, Salcedo said, adding that she will not feel whole again, however, until she is back in the Dakota Design Center. She works side by side with her events and marketing coordinator, Randi Satnick, of Merrick, and designers Danielle Guagliano, of Mastic, and Marily Hernandez, of Valley Stream.Salcedo and her team spent months after Sandy helping South Shore residents whose homes were destroyed to rebuild. So, Satnick said, they understand the pain storm victims are feeling. She said she remembers her own fear and frustration in the dark days after Sandy. “It was so hazy,” she recalled.Now, Satnick said, she feels only sorrow that the design center remains in shambles. “Since the Dakota Design Center building sits at the entrance and exit to Merrick, many of us pass it daily,” she said. “It’s a sad reminder of the devastation Sandy caused. The fact that it’s still in disrepair, despite Patricia’s best efforts, is an unfortunate commentary on the system that is in place to supposedly help those who need to rebuild.”

But there are bright spots. Salcedo gave Hernandez her first job after she recently graduated from the New York Institute of Technology, where she studied interior design. Hernandez said she immediately felt welcome at P.S. Micaza, despite the fact that it’s now in a corner space at Republic Lighting.

“This is like a second home for me,” she said.

Fuschillo sent a letter last Wednesday to the state’s deputy secretary for financial services, George Haggerty, on behalf of Salcedo, telling him about her situation.

Vfc Partners could not be reached for comment.