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'The Con': New docuseries details late 2000s housing crash & how an Akron woman's death exposed the system

Addie Polk's 2008 death by suicide led to the unraveling of a system that set homeowners up to fail.

AKRON, Ohio — Boarded up, foreclosed homes that left Ohio looking like a war zone. That was our state during the late 2000s mortgage crisis.

One of its victims? 90-year-old widow Addie Polk.

"The actual phone call was kind of like a blur," Gregory Harrison, pastor at Antioch Baptist Church in Akron, remembers. "It was kind of like, 'Wait a minute, slow down. Are we talking about the same person?'"

In 2008, Polk shot herself twice in the chest. It happened as sheriff's deputies came to her Akron home with eviction papers. She died less than six months later.

"She [was] the pillar of faith," Harrison recalled. "She was the deaconess of her church...and the light."

Credit: Polk family
Addie Polk

Since that time, Akron transplant Eric Vaughn and producer Patrick Lovell spent eight years creating a five-part documentary series called "The Con," which shares Polk's story and profiles those blamed for the housing crash.

"You should never profit off of predatory in criminal behavior," Vaughn says. "By being able to get everybody from government all the way down to the simplest person trying to get into a home to believe, 'Oh, you can just refinance it in a couple of years because your house is going to be worth this much more'...All of these extraordinarily damaging things that occurred because there was a central lie about the market."

Even though Addie's home was paid off, in 2001 she was persuaded to get a $46,000 loan on a house that was worth less than half that. Three years later, she allegedly refinanced, and got another loan for $45,620 as well as an $11,380 line of credit.

The situation led some to believe Polk was the victim of one of those so-called "liar loans," where banks forge documents to put borrowers into loans they can't afford or give loans based of fake appraisals. Furthermore, Pastor Harrison shows how the signature on Polk's will is different from the one on the mortgage, and deputies notes suggest she'd called them after receiving previous foreclosure notices to say it was a mistake.

Credit: "The Con" docuseries

Polk's story reflects what happened to hundreds of thousands of home owners, and eventually led to the collapse of the housing market.

"If we had caught this thing when it was first starting out in these vulnerable communities, we could have saved the entire world from an awful lot of economic duress," Vaughn says. "But, we didn't."

Despite the fact banks were making huge profits by foreclosing on homes and buying them back for way less than they sold it for, no high-level banking executive went to prison, except right here in Ohio: A joint venture between Summit County's mortgage task force and former Ohio Attorney General Marc Dann's organized crime unit brought the first of more than a dozen prosecutions for racketeering and money laundering.

Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS
Marc Dann in 2007.

"If people went around Ohio taking people's homes with a gun instead of with a computer program, we would have had a massive manhunt and rounded everybody up and put them in jail," Dann explained. "That was the ability to make a little contribution to that."

After Addie's death, her mortgage company decided to forgive her loan. Shortly thereafter, the city of Akron tore down her home.