Alan Miller | Tip reveals scheme to scoop up cash left after foreclosures

This post was originally published on this site

Like so many good story ideas, the one that led to today’s front-page report about unscrupulous people who prey upon those whose homes are in foreclosure came from a tip.

Someone saw something fishy amid a very convoluted legal process and said something to a reporter.

The resulting article shows how these people were able to persuade homeowners involved in foreclosure — individuals who were vulnerable, desperate and no doubt at one of the low points of their lives — to sign over rights to their property.

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What the homeowners didn’t know is that they were signing away their right to whatever money was left after their homes were sold at a sheriff’s auction. In some cases, the remainder was tens of thousands of dollars.

In the past three years alone, a central Ohio real estate agent collected nearly $1 million through the process of persuading people to give up their rights in exchange for a few thousand dollars.

The reporting involved three people — real-estate reporter Jim Weiker, court reporter John Futty and researcher Julie Fulton — and it took months, between other assignments, to untangle and pull on the legal strings that led to the stories in this package, which continues on Monday.

Much of the reporting was the tedious process of finding and reviewing court documents and other public records.

The biggest challenge, Weiker said, was tracking down the former homeowners who unknowingly gave up thousands of dollars. As might be expected in such cases, most of them no longer have permanent addresses. Some had moved away from here, and others were living with relatives.

“I was flabbergasted,” said one of those who lost money. “I’ve never heard of anything so crooked.”

Judge Stephen L. McIntosh, the Franklin County Common Pleas Court’s administrative judge, told The Dispatch that he doesn’t know whether the real-estate agent’s actions rose to the level of criminal fraud, but “it’s clearly unethical.”

Court officials who are becoming aware of the practice are making changes: Franklin County judges are now holding hearings when someone seeks to obtain property rights from an owner in foreclosure.

A related article will appear in Monday’s Dispatch, and we will continue to follow the story as authorities address this issue.

Online commenting update

I wrote a few weeks ago that we were changing the process of policing online comments on Dispatch.com. That has resulted in far fewer unacceptable comments showing up on the website.

It also has resulted in about half a dozen obstinate commenters being put on notice that if they can’t control their words and behavior, they will be permanently banned from commenting on our site. Yes, we can and will do that when necessary.

We encourage thoughtful commentary and lively debate, but we won’t tolerate bad language and personal attacks.

Voters guide

It’s time again to begin assembling the Dispatch Voters Guide, which will be available when early voting begins in October.

The guide is free — for candidates and voters — and contains information gathered by the Dispatch staff and provided by candidates.

We use contact information that candidates provide to boards of elections, typically email addresses, to reach out to candidates and ask them to fill out the Voters Guide form. So one of the beauties of this guide is that voters get to hear from candidates in their own words.

However, we have found that some candidates don’t provide boards of elections with good contact information, which makes it difficult for us to reach them.

So, if you’re a candidate for public office in central Ohio and you don’t receive an email from The Dispatch in the next week or so asking you to participate in the Voters Guide, please send an email to Victor Black of the Dispatch staff at [email protected] so that he can give you a link to the form.

We typically find that some candidates don’t participate, which is unfortunate because it leaves voters without information they need to make good decisions.

We’ll share more information about the Voters Guide when it launches in October.

Alan D. Miller is editor of The Dispatch.

[email protected]

@dispatcheditor