GALIEN TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WNDU) - There are all kinds of reasons why all kinds of homes in Berrien County fall into property tax foreclosure.
“This is as convoluted and sad as you can really come across, I think, and you know, I think our job is to try to help those who can't help themselves,” Berrien County Treasurer Bret Witkowski said.
Now a good deed done in Berrien County has settled a long-standing deed dispute.
A woman we’ll call Joy came to see the treasurer two weeks ago to try and save her home in Galien Township from foreclosure. When the treasurer looked up the property, he found that Joy wasn’t considered the owner.
“The contract was fulfilled. It was paid in full and then the house ended up out of her name,” Witkowski said.
After consultation with Berrien County Sheriff Paul Bailey, the case was assigned to Crime Prevention Coordinator Kelly Laesch.
“They, I think, took advantage. This 91-year-old [seller] and this caregiver manipulated the situation, and Joy was under stress and trauma and couldn't pull herself out, and I think they knew that,” Laesch said.
Laesch’s investigation found that the seller was moving to an assisted living facility and didn’t want the home in question to go to the state, so the seller signed the home over to her personal caretaker and simply denied that it had been bought and paid for by Joy.
“And one thing that rose red flags with me interviewing them is that the elderly female [seller] kept saying, 'How did she have receipts? I didn't give her any. How did she have receipts?' You know, and she kept bringing it back up and I said, 'Well, she kept record at her bank. She would pull it out same month, same time and it was that amount for nine years, and so the bank has record of it,' and so both of them said, ‘Well, isn't that sneaky?’ I'm like, 'Sneaky? She’s paying her payments,'” Laesch said.
The whole saga became known as Joy looked for a way to avoid delinquent tax foreclosure.
We’re told she is now on a payment plan.
It’s hoped that sharing the story will remind the public to watch out for people who might be vulnerable to such wrongdoing.
Berrien County Adult Protective Services can be reached at 855-444-3911.
Furthermore, Legal Aid of Western Michigan provides free legal advice and representation in a broad range of areas including consumer cases, family matters, housing problems, and government benefits at 1-888-783-8190.
Laesch says criminal charges in the case are possible but not likely given the age of the chief suspect.