Couple Who Lost Farm To Taxes Sues County

GILBERTSVILLE PROPERTY

Couple Who Lost Farm

To Taxes Sues County

With a protest sign between his knees, Bob Force records this morning's county board meeting in Cooperstown. At right is Marie Ajello. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)
With a protest sign between his knees, Bob Force records this morning’s county board meeting in Cooperstown. At right is Marie Ajello. (Jim Kevlin/AllOTSEGO.com)

By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com

county-logoCOOPERSTOWN – The gavel fell in August 2014, but ripples from that Otsego County tax-delinquency auction are still being felt.

A Long Island couple who that day lost their farm in Gilbertsville – their intended retirement home – are now suing the County of Otsego and the county Treasurer’s Office in federal court for what may be more than $15 million in damages.

Clerk of the Board Carol McGovern read the notice into the record at this morning’s county board meeting.

Bob and Donna Force’s suit appears to be seeking $5 million on each of three counts, plus the $298,000 value of the property, plus $600 a month for the past 24 months from Christopher Paraskevopoulos, Gilbertsville, who bought the property and has been renting it out.

Filed in federal court in New York City, the Forces’ suit says their Fifth Amendment rights were violated by the taking.  That amendment says a citizen cannot be “deprived … of property, without due process of law.”

Asked about the suit, County Attorney Ellen Coccoma pointed out this is the third court proceeding brought against the county, the first two – in state courts –  defended successfully.  “The plan is to vigorously defend it, and we will be successful,” she said.

Reached in Mineola, L.I., the Forces’ lawyer, Meir Moza, said the county had asked for a 30-day extension to allow it to prepare its defense, but he expects the case to move forward in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District after that.  He said he took the case because he believes the county treated the Forces, who he described as “a war veteran and his ailing wife,” with “recklessness and disregard.”

In addition to the county itself and the Treasurer’s Office, the suit names the county board, board Chair Kathy Clark and Treasurer Dan Crowell.

Force was at this morning’s meeting, recording the proceedings.  A sign resting against his knees read, “I Served My Country; Otsego County Stole My Farm.”

He also declined to talk, but distributed a statement tracing the history of the dispute and recalling, “The property was a place of many happy memories as our family spent many weekends there with friends and family and raising our daughter.”

Also attending was Marie Ajello, who lost her Town of Richfield home in that sale, and has appeared at every county board meeting since to ask for her property back.

Owners of both properties had suffered personal setbacks when they went into arrears.  Mrs. Ajello’s husband had died, and Force was recovering from knee-replacement surgery.

The Forces also took out an ad in the Dec. 1 Pennysaver urging others who lost their property through “aggressive foreclosure action” so contact Judy Pepenalla at savetheforcefarm@gmail.com

The county “has been using aggressive foreclosure procedures to fill their budget gap,” the ad says.  “Projected revenue for the 2017 budget alone includes $200,000 for sale of properties at auction.  Officials apparently have become dependent on this revenue.”

 

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9 thoughts on “Couple Who Lost Farm To Taxes Sues County

  1. Terrylee

    damn shame a county can take the property of a land-owner for the taxes owed… this is happening too many times in this country….

  2. maria madison

    The board members, the treasurer, and their lawyer should hang their heads in shame. This has become a peeing contest. I hope they win their lawsuit! Maria Aijello deserves her property back also. Do the right thing!!!!

  3. Sheil

    The people who lost their property had 3 years to pay their taxes. That’s is the same for all property owners.
    A knee replacement does not take 3 years to recover from that surgery. I know many people who server our Country and pay their taxes. I understand these people live down state bet they have to pay their taxes their also.

  4. Timothy Schorer

    Sheil needs to understand that it wasn’t about his service and it wasn’t brought up until after they shafted him by refusing to take payment when they tried to pay them!
    People need to understand the entire situation before commenting, the county violated the law that they wrote regarding tax payments, this involves more than just serving our country!

  5. Timothy Schorer

    To add to that, Sheil obviously doesn’t know that he has six surgeries since 2010, two of which were failed knee replacements, not just one single surgery, all while trying to care for his wife who suffers with MS, but hey, he was only serving in the military reserves while dealing with it, but obviously some people just don’t care about others or their hardships!

  6. Ronald Hernandez

    All you people who no nothing of what this family went through fighting a corrupt town, county and state government with all key players conspiring to seize private property by falsifying documents and using the power of Govt for there own personal gain. Maybe you should dig a little deeper and get all the facts before judging someone and there particular circumstances.

  7. Judy Pepenella

    Sheil, I am not sure how much you know of the actual laws in Otsego County OR the facts regarding the Force Farm, but under normal circumstances your statement would be correct. All of the following statements are documented facts, not hearsay or assumptions. For those who do not know the County’s fiscal year is July 1 through June 30th.
    *The County stated that the Forces owed 2010 taxes. The Board & Treasurer’s office had been presented copies of their own receipts on ‘several’ occasions proving all 3 parcels were paid for on time. The Board and Treasurers office repeatedly stated the Forces did not pay for one of the parcels and later stated during a Board meeting that they owed the school taxes (both were incorrect statements).
    *The Forces DID try to pay their 2011 taxes ON TIME in June of 2012. The County refused to apply their payment to the 2011 tax bill. Instead the County applied their payment to the 2012 taxes, which were not due until July 1st-the beginning of the 2012 fiscal year.
    *In January of 2013 the County started the foreclosure proceedings for the properties, a year and 5 months PRIOR to the actual final payment due date for the 2013 tax year. Remember the 2010 taxes were paid in full. The 2011 was unpaid (due to the incompetence of the Treasurer’s office and the 2012 taxes were paid. Therefore, if the Forces did NOT pay their 2013 taxes on time the County could have started proceeding after July 1 of 2014.
    *There are two County Resolutions that protect the landowners and gives them a chance to redeem their properties even if they are late in payment. County Resolution #26 of 1981 and Resolution #234 of 1985 both states any parcel of land acquired by the County for delinquent taxes may be redeemed by its former owner by paying to the Treasurer the total amount of the taxes including interest, penalties and other costs. The Treasurer refused to do so stating that it was unfair to those attending the auction.
    *Lets not forget that Judge Burns stated in court that he wanted this case to be settled the same way they settle things in Family Court – just pay the back due monies and avoid any additional court issues. The County Attorney and the Treasurer refused to do so.
    *You are correct, the Forces do live down state, where Robert. a Navy veteran and recently retired from active duty with the Air National Guard, worked full time. Your remark “I understand these people live down state bet they have to pay their taxes their also” is rude and arrogant. The County, due to their incompetence, refused to accept ON TIME tax payments and started foreclosure proceedings a year and 5 months prior to their own County laws of 3 years in arrears.
    I hope the above basic facts will help you to understand what has really occurred with the Force’s property.

  8. Anonymous

    All beaucratic B.S, grubbing hard working people’s money like thieves in the night. I hope they win the full amount PLUS all fees!!

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