By JIM KEVLIN • Special to www.AllOTSEGO.com
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.”