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Abandoned convenience store packed with rotting meat, cheese may pose health risk – Glens Falls Post

SOUTH GLENS FALLS  A convenience store that was abruptly abandoned three months ago may now be a health hazard.

A South Glens Falls health committee is evaluating the building, a large convenience store and Sunoco gas station at the corner of routes 9 and 32.

Inside, there’s an elaborate deli — with rotting meat and cheese.

From a side window, it’s easy to see stacks of molding hot dog rolls and bread.

And then there’s the gas tanks. According to an inspection certificate, there are six underground tanks on the premises, all abandoned with gas inside.

It’s not clear why the store was abandoned. The owner is believed to be out of the country. Rumors abound, but the only certainty is that village officials and business partners have not been able to reach him — and he hasn’t called them.

The store was locked, but not thoroughly, and police said people stole cigarettes by climbing in an unlocked window. There are still piles of cigarette boxes in the store, but the cash register is open and empty.

Officers locked the windows.

After two months without payment, the power was shut off. And that’s when things started to fall apart.

The loss of refrigeration accelerated the bacteria growing in the cheese and meat of the large deli counter, which may attract vermin.

Village officials also turned off the water after reports of a leak, possibly from a pipe that froze after the power was turned off.

Mayor Joe Orlow called for a health investigation, saying, “We have a responsibility to protect the neighborhood.”

Now, village attorney Mike Muller is waiting for the health report. If the building is officially deemed a health hazard, he will write a letter asking the mortgage-holder to take care of the problem.

“Honestly, I’ve had more successes than failures,” he said. “If they favorably respond to the letter, they’re going to want to take over the property.”

That means they might hire a crew to clean out the food and secure the building.

Orlow wants the bank to also sell the store to a new owner. He’s already had inquiries from one business owner, who wants to remain anonymous, he said.

“She owns a couple businesses in Moreau and the village of South Glens Falls. She has a good track record, so she’d be a definite asset,” Orlow said. “If they could reach someone with the power to negotiate …”

But with the owner incommunicado, Muller said a sale will not happen for a long time — probably years.

“Every mortgage foreclosure is going to be a long, enduring process,” he said.

The village has essentially no power to intervene, he added. Even if the bank were to stop paying taxes on the property, the county would reimburse any delinquent bills, which means only the county would have the authority to foreclose for tax purposes.

“But the bank’s looking out for its security,” Muller said. “You know the bank is going to write a check for that.”

While that means the gas station and convenience store will likely be closed for a long time, there’s a new one coming to the village this year. Cumberland Farms is opening just a short distance down the road, at 107 Main St.

The store will be next to McDonald’s and close to two other stores with gas stations. There’s a Speedway and a Stewart’s Shops within sight of the new Cumberland Farms location.

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Opioid abuse leading to increased heroin use in country, and locally

The text message to Mark Bridges, coroner of Newton County, told a story that has become increasingly familiar in Southwest Missouri.

“Mercy ICU just phoned in the brain death of a 42-year-old female. Was homeless, found in a garage. IV meth user. Only family out of state wants nothing to do with it.”

Bridges and coroners like him are on the front lines of an expanding medical crisis involving opioids — pain-relieving medications — that is transitioning from prescription drugs to heroin, as well as leading to increased use of meth and other drugs.

“Drug overdoses and prescription drug overdoses are definitely at epidemic levels,” Bridges said. “It is everything that is prescribed for pain, like hydrocodone and oxycontin. And there’s meth and other drugs, too.”

Bridges estimates there were five or so deaths related in some way to drug overdoses in Newton County in 2014. That number increased to about two per month in 2015.

In Southwest Missouri, heroin also has been confiscated in drug-related arrests, and a methadone clinic in Joplin that treats heroin users has seen an uptick in clients.

The problem has caught the attention of politicians and law enforcement.

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., recently held a hearing in Jefferson City in an effort to bring attention to the increasing use of opioids and heroin.

That’s because the use of heroin is tied to the abuse of prescription painkillers. When a bottle of prescription painkillers cannot be obtained, a bag of heroin can be purchased at less cost. In the end, the user gets the same relief.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 75 percent of new heroin users first became hooked on prescription opiates.

U.S. Rep. Billy Long, R-Mo., also said he recently informally surveyed other members of the House and found that all of them are convinced their district, too, is having problems with opioid and heroin abuse.

“With an average of 51 deaths a day due to addiction to painkillers, America is in a full-blown opioid abuse epidemic,” he said.

According to Long, between 2005 and 2014, emergency room visits for opioid overuse in Missouri more than doubled.

The federal Drug Enforcement Administration is enlisting health care providers, civic groups and parents of overdose victims in what it calls its “360 Strategy” to combat heroin and prescription drug abuse and related violent crime. St. Louis is one of four communities nationwide targeted by the new DEA program, along with Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and West Memphis, Arkansas.

“These are our families, our friends, our neighbors and our co-workers,” said James Shroba, special agent in charge of the St. Louis DEA office. “We can’t arrest our way out of this problem.”

‘People are dying’

Zack Stephens, 23, of rural Joplin, said he has not used heroin, but he understands how a person who is addicted to prescription painkillers can be tempted.

For the past year, Stephens has battled an addiction to Roxicodone, a powerful painkiller, by seeking help from the counselors at the Joplin Treatment Clinic, 2919 E. Fourth St., operated by Behavioral Health Group.

Stephens used methadone from the center to reclaim his life. It’s the same drug that is used to help heroin addicts who are trying to detoxify and kick the habit.

“I had a bad back. I was given a script for light painkillers,” he said. “That was a good five to six years ago. It was not long after that I started buying really strong painkillers off the street. I was paying $30 a piece. I was spending hundreds of dollars a day — at least a thousand dollars a week. My house was in foreclosure. I almost lost my family.”

Stephens felt powerless because he was afraid of the painful withdrawal he would face to get off the drug.

“It’s so scary. It’s so bad. It’s miserable,” he said. “I’m in good shape now. But the withdrawals lasted about a year. My body ached. I would take 15 to 20 hot showers a night to help with the body aches. You have to want to do it.

“Meth is just a nasty drug, but it’s not hard to get off. Heroin and painkillers are the two worst drugs out there. That’s why they use methadone to treat them. I was not tempted to use heroin, but it does not surprise me that someone would. They are almost the same thing.

“People need to talk about this,” he said. “People’s lives are being ruined by this. People are dying.”

Progression pathway

Jason Bowers, program director at the Joplin Treatment Clinic, which is now in its sixth year, said, “Before it was primarily pills, but now heroin has really come into the area. It’s cheaper to get and you can get a higher dosage.

“That is how the progression happens. You start abusing a pain medication,” he said. “You build up a tolerance. You need more and more. Doctors are becoming more aware of that and prescribing less. That’s when they turn to heroin.

“Ninety percent of the people or better came to heroin through prescriptions,” he said. “This could be a person who has been in a car accident, injured at work or were injured in the tornado. They become addicted and start looking for it on the street. They’ll turn to Xanax or meth to reduce the effect when they cannot get an opiate.”

The withdrawal period, which is severe, can last up to four months or more. Methadone allows them to not be sick and work through the treatment and the counseling.

“After we admit them as a patient, it takes at least a year. We give them medication that first day. It then goes to six days a week with counseling every week, then four days a week and then three days a week to once a month. They have to stay in treatment for at least a year.”

Bowers said the census at the clinic has increased 15 percent over the course of 2015.

“A percentage of those would be heroin patients,” he said. “These are new admissions that already are using heroin.”

‘Life-saving tool’

Getting on top of Missouri’s abuse of prescription painkillers is made more difficult because Missouri is the only state in the union that does not have a prescription drug monitoring program. Such a program would prevent a person from taking a doctor’s prescription for painkillers to more than one pharmacist.

A bill introduced Jan. 20 in the Missouri House of Representatives by Rep. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, would correct that by creating a monitoring program, but it could encounter the same headwinds that previous efforts have faced.

Rehder testified that her daughter became addicted to opioids after cutting her thumb at work and was prescribed painkillers. It wasn’t hard for her daughter to find more painkillers once she ran out, Rehder said, and her next 13 years were spent in and out of rehabilitation programs and prison.

McCaskill held her Jefferson City hearing this month in part to draw attention to Rehder’s bill.

“We get it through the House every year, but the hangup is in the Senate where they are concerned about privacy,” she said. “On the House side, I’m concerned about privacy issues. However, what I think they fail to understand is that a prescription drug monitoring program — a PDMP — is no different than electronic medical records.

“The privacy concern is a red herring,” she said. “This is an additional tool for medical providers to prevent people from going to multiple doctors to get narcotics. Without this program in place, your population is being harmed and it’s harming the populations of other states. They come to Missouri to get narcotics that cannot be traced in Missouri.”

Rehder tells the story of a Tennessee physician who had prescribed a painkiller to a patient. He checked that state’s PDMP and found that his patient had got a narcotic two weeks before from a VA doctor.

“That helped this doctor address this young man’s real problem — an addiction to narcotics,” she said. “That’s when you want to recognize the situation in its early stage. Because if you don’t, it’s a natural progression to go from prescription pills to heroin.”

When that progression starts, she said, “Heroin is the boogieman. Nobody wants to do that. But when their body increasingly needs that euphoric feeling, heroin is not the boogieman anymore. They have to do something to stop the withdrawals.”

Research, she said, shows that PDMPs decrease the number of overdoses.

“This is a lifesaving tool. They’re collecting less information than in your electronic records,” she said. “This is a medical process that we should be ashamed in Missouri that we have held it up.”

‘Intrusion’ of privacy

State Sen. David Sater, R-Cassvile, a pharmacist, has tried and failed to get a similar measure through the Senate.

“We’re going to let Holly Rehder pass it out of the House first. We think we will have a better chance of getting it through the Senate if that happens,” he said. “The people who are opposed to it are afraid the data system would be hacked. It has never been hacked in the other states that have this system.

“This all has to do with the conceal-and-carry database from Missouri that got sent to a federal agency. That left a bad taste in the mouths of a lot legislators.”

Some lawmakers became enraged in 2013 when they learned that Missouri’s database of concealed-weapons permits had been given to federal authorities investigating Social Security disability fraud.

State Sen. Rob Schaaf, R-St. Joseph, said that legislating a PDMP without voter approval is inappropriate.

“This is private medical information: the people of Missouri are not going to want to have everyone with a password to this program have eyes on that,” Schaaf said.

Schaaf, who is a doctor, called a monitoring program a “severe intrusion” of privacy. He said the more he talked to other legislators, the less he found them supporting the program.

State Sen. Eric Schmitt, R-St. Louis County, said that with the prevalence of hacking, he can’t support the idea of collecting private, important medical information.

“Data breaches have become so routine, we are numb to it,” Schmitt said.

Instead of a PDMP, Schmitt said increased treatment programs and drug courts would be a better answer to opioid and heroin addiction.

“People believe this thing is a panacea,” Schmitt said of the PDMP. “It’s not.”

‘Pharmacy hopping’

Tim Mitchell, the owner of three drug stores in Neosho, said he has been advocating for the database for years because “there are individuals trying to get medications by pharmacy hopping and doctor shopping. If they are from out of town and they want to fill a prescription for a narcotic, it immediately throws up a red flag.”

The personal information of customers, he said, will be safe.

“We’re required to protect those records; if someone wanted something, I would have to have a medical release,” he said. “It’s not a privacy issue. It’s bigger than that. We have to be able to have a common platform to communicate about patients. We have to know what people are being prescribed for safety purposes. People are overdosing. We’ve got deaths occurring.”

The opioid problem is so serious in Missouri that six of the state’s leading health care provider organizations recently took a stand on the problem. They urged the adoption of a core set of actions to reduce variation in opioid-prescribing practices to reduce opioid painkiller abuse.

State-specific research released earlier this year found that hospital treatment for commonly prescribed opioid painkillers — where overuse is a primary or contributing factor for inpatient or emergency care — increased 137 percent in Missouri between 2005 and 2015. Additionally, separate research suggested a strong link in opioid abuse and heroin addiction. The research found that as many as three out of four prescription opioid abusers would eventually use heroin as a less expensive source of opioids.

The recommendations are backed by the Missouri Academy of Family Physicians, Missouri Association of Osteopathic Physicians and Surgeons, Missouri College of Emergency Physicians, Missouri Dental Association, Missouri Hospital Association and Missouri State Medical Association.

“Missouri doesn’t have a comprehensive policy to address opioid misuse and abuse,” said Christopher D. Howard, president of hospital operations at SSM Health in St. Louis, and board chairman of the Missouri Hospital Association, in a statement. “There are limited options available to identify inappropriate use of these necessary but powerful painkillers.”

20 grams of heroin

Having a prescription drug monitoring program could become a key element in curbing the proliferation of heroin in Missouri, according to the CDC, because prescription drug abuse is “the strongest risk factor for heroin addiction.”

From about 2000 to 2013, the number of people using heroin rose 150 percent nationwide, according to the CDC.

Last year, the Ozark Drug Enforcement Team, which covers 20 communities in a four-county area in Southwest Missouri, seized 19,000 grams of meth, which was a record, 65,000 grams or 144 pounds of marijuana, and 20 grams of heroin, said Chad Allison, spokesman for the team.

Twenty grams might not seem like a lot, but a one-inch by one-inch square bag holds a quarter of a gram of heroin.

“If you had a gram, you would be distributing,” Allison said.

He added: “This is the way the drug world works in our area. It starts in St. Louis and spreads down the Interstate 44 corridor to Springfield and then to Joplin. Springfield is just now starting to see heroin. We are at the beginning stages of something. Of course, any amount of heroin is alarming.”

Staff writer Crystal Thomas and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Drug abuse statistics

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, Americans are responsible for consuming 80 percent of the entire world’s prescription opioids despite making up less than 5 percent of the global population. Some reports have suggested that 2.1 million Americans abuse these prescriptions, which has led to a 153 percent increase of inpatient hospitalizations for opioid abusing adults over the past two decades. Experts have also found that Americans younger than 30 are responsible for the fastest increasing rate of addiction or abuse.

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Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor and her husband focus of criminal investigation

For much of their marriage, Opa-locka Mayor Myra Taylor and her husband, Bishop John Taylor, have survived cascading legal crises, starting with a bankruptcy filing three decades ago.

In 2004, they were arrested on federal charges of tax fraud, forcing the mayor from office until she was placed on probation and could win back her coveted post.

After her re-election in 2010, her husband and two other family members were arrested on criminal campaign charges, followed by the bishop’s eviction last year from his church by Miami-Dade police amid crushing debts.

But the husband and wife long considered the political leaders of their community are now faced with perhaps their most daunting challenge: evidence they engaged in a kickback scheme in a desperate effort to keep their personal finances from collapse.

The Miami Herald has learned the Taylors are at the center of a federal criminal investigation just as Opa-locka’s government has careened out of control with millions in debts amid the threat of an emergency takeover by the state.

Much of the case centers on a series of backroom meetings in September and a controversial sewer repair project to provide $150,000 back to the bishop — with the mayor pushing the deal behind the scenes to make sure the money was approved, records and interviews show. The middleman: newly hired City Manager Steve Shiver.

The arrangement unraveled weeks later when Shiver refused to back the plan, which drew the attention of the FBI and Miami-Dade ethics commission, according to confidential sources.

The contractor, George Howard, told the Herald he agreed to the deal, but only to recover money he said the city already owed him — and that he had no intention of diverting money to the bishop for what was to be a down payment for a new house of worship in Miami Gardens.

The mayor declined to discuss the sewer pump station project, noting in an email Saturday she would not talk about “vendor relations in the media.” In an interview in October, however, she said she did not take part in any deal with the pump station to enrich her family. “I would not have condoned that at all,” she said. “I’ve never asked anyone for anything.”

The investigation of the couple is the most recent in a string of cases against them for using their influence to prop up personal interests, including the mayor casting votes to funnel thousands to benefit her charity — drawing a public reprimand and fine by the ethics commission in 2011.

The couple was caught diverting tens of thousands of dollars years earlier from a charter school founded by the mayor to benefit the family, including payments for two Mercedes Benzes, and a host of other expenses that led to tax-evasion convictions.

The couple always managed to rebound and protect their family holdings, but for the first time, they are in danger of losing their livelihoods and their legacies.

“The Bishop,” as he’s called, was forced from his New Beginning Embassy of Praise Church at 2398 NW 119th St. in August after failing to pay his $3,500-a-month rent for two years. Just last year, the couple was sued over the institution that has become the family’s cornerstone — the sprawling Vankara Educational Center — in two foreclosure cases to satisfy $1.8 million in debts. In addition, the school at 13331 Alexandria Dr. in Opa-locka still owes more than $100,000 in unpaid water bills.

Their financial troubles, uncovered through court and other public records, show the Taylors have been in dire straits for years, including overdue loans totaling $2.5 million — mostly at double-digit interest rates.

The couple’s misfortune, much like Opa-locka, has reached a breaking point.

Steve Barrett, a former vice mayor and longtime activist, said the Taylors’ problems have shadowed the community at a time it needed leadership. “The sad thing is, you have four other commissioners who know Myra Taylor, but will not publicly say what Myra Taylor is doing is wrong,” he said.

The couple’s alleged last-ditch effort to squeeze badly needed funds from a local sewer project began as Opa-locka’s government was dangerously close to financial collapse in a community where a third of the people live in poverty.

Desperate to reverse course, the commissioners made a surprise choice for city manager in September: Shiver, who had endured his own controversial public career, including a tumultuous term as county manager and a stint as Homestead mayor.

Details of the events that followed, from emails, public records and interviews, show that almost from the start, the couple pressured the new manager to help them with their personal finances even as the city was failing to pay hundreds of vendors.

During a dinner meeting at a Cuban restaurant with the Taylors in September, Shiver saw a hint of what would soon consume his tenure and lead to one of the most compelling public corruption controversies in Miami-Dade in years.

From across the table, the bishop began to pressure him for money, seeking a personal donation for $3,000, according to a statement Shiver made in a complaint to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

The reason: The bishop had just been evicted from his longtime church in late August and needed the cash to help him move to a new house of worship.

Shiver said he was taken aback by the bishop’s request. “He was being foreclosed on and needed money to get moved,” Shiver wrote in his complaint. Ultimately, the city manager said he never turned over the cash, noting it was “just simply not appropriate.” Shiver declined to comment for this story.

At the time, Bishop Taylor, 71, known to walk the corridors of City Hall with a trademark cane, was trying to raise money for the move and a hefty down payment on a new church he was eying in Miami Gardens. With just days to come up with the funds, the bishop returned to Shiver again, this time with a much larger request.

During a dinner at the Ale House in Miami Lakes in October, the Taylors unveiled a plan to allow the bishop to gain access to $150,000 in taxpayer money — the amount needed for the church down payment — but without any public scrutiny, according to testimony under review by investigators.

This plan revolved around a contentious sewer repair contract between the city and a contractor who had yet to be paid in full. The contractor, George Howard, a friend of the bishop’s, had been compensated for most of the job but was still owed hundreds of thousands for extra work he said he performed.

Once Howard was paid, he would then funnel the money to the bishop, under the alleged plan. But there was a hitch: Commissioners had never approved the extra work nor the additional payment, totaling $272,000, a fundamental breach of city procedures.

The mayor offered a solution, telling Shiver that he “should just write a check” from the city coffers, according to Shiver’s federal complaint.

Shiver, 49, said he was troubled by the meeting, especially after examining the pump station records to see if there were documents by the city approving the new work. There were none.

While Shiver said he was fending off the Taylors, he was confronting the city’s crippled finances, which put him at even greater odds with the mayor. Millions in bills were going unpaid. Angry suppliers were showing up at City Hall. County officials were demanding payment for utility fees the city had already collected from residents.

Shiver described scenes at City Hall where clerks would stuff envelopes with checks to vendors “already printed but not delivered because there was no cash in the bank.”

Tom Marko, a former Miami-Dade County budget analyst who was hired by Shiver, said he became aware of the Taylors’ pressure to pay off just one contractor — Howard — while the city was edging toward bankruptcy, owing $8 million. “Every day, it was getting more and more difficult to work there,” Marko said. “The things that were going on there. It was like a shadow government.”

On Oct. 14, the mayor called for a vote to pay Howard, but ended up losing in a 4-1 decision after Shiver declared at the public meeting that the contractor didn’t deserve the money.

Two days later, the Taylors’ purported backroom deal with Howard spilled into the public light. Howard fired off a letter to Shiver — after the two had met privately in September to talk about the pump station deal — in what has now become a focal point of the FBI investigation.

His letter acknowledged that a scheme was under way and went so far as to accuse Shiver of being the mayor’s representative, “Such an act would be blatantly illegal,” Howard wrote in the Oct. 16 letter, copied to the mayor and commissioners.

But multiple sources close to the investigation told the Herald that Shiver had no role in the Taylors’ plan and that he had opposed the deal from the start. Those sources said Howard penned the letter to protect himself in case the purported scheme came to light.

In an interview, Howard distanced himself from the scandal, saying he wrote the letter only to put Shiver on notice that he was not a participant. Howard said he had no intention to divert any money to the Taylors, adding that he only wanted to be paid for work done months earlier. “In my mind, I wanted to get my money and get as far away from this situation as I could,” Howard told the Herald. Asked if he has met with the FBI, Howard declined to comment.

The FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office have long been investigating the Taylors’ financial dealings and their relationships with contractors doing business with the city. But the pump station deal has helped FBI agents build one of the first federal cases in Opa-locka in more than a decade.

For the Taylors, the case provides one of the first serious challenges to their positions as community leaders, partly because of the possibility of federal charges. Residents have threatened recall efforts over the mayor’s inability to stem the city’s bleeding finances.

After the mayor’s successful drive to fire Shiver in November, a large group of residents began talking about circulating a petition to remove the 67-year-old mayor from office. “How can you run your own city sufficiently when you can’t even run your own business?” said Chris Roberts, a neighborhood activist.

During Taylor’s state-of-the-city address Friday night, scores of people gathered at Sherbondy Village community center to hear her speech. Taylor did not talk about her personal ordeals, instead assuring the crowd: “The Opa-locka train of progress is still on track and headed for new heights and new destinations,” she said. “They can’t stop us.”

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Chamber honors Caroline’s best at awards banquet

PRESTON — The Caroline County Chamber of Commerce celebrated its best for 2016 on Thursday, Jan. 28, at its annual awards banquet at Preston Fire Hall.

The event featured a dinner catered by the Chesapeake Culinary Center, which also received Caroline’s Best Nonprofit award. Turnbridge Point Bed and Breakfast in Denton received Entrepreneur of the Year. The chamber presented Caroline Circuit Court Judge Karen Jensen with the Community Service award. Amy Cawley received the Agriculture award. Medifast in Ridgely was named Large Business of the Year, with Shoreline Vinyl Systems receiving Mid-Sized Business of the Year and Rowe Insurance being named Small Business of the Year. Cindy Riddleberger was named Businesswoman of the Year and Brent Fuchs received Businessman of the Year.

Rob Griffith and Steve Konopelski got married and moved to Denton in August 2014, with their sights set on opening a bed and breakfast.

Konopelski had previously transitioned from the Broadway stage to pastry arts, gaining hospitality experience at several notable New York restaurants, hotels and inns, including a lengthy stint under a James Beard Award winning pastry chef. Griffith is a patent attorney with a firm that handles Samsung Telecommunication patents.

Griffith and Konopelski moved to Denton to be closer to family and to pursue a business where their talents could be combined. Through the coordinated efforts from the Town of Denton, Caroline Economic Development Corporation, the Caroline Office of Tourism, Department of Health, and MJH Construction, renovations at 119 Gay St. began in February 2015, with much of the concentration on commercializing the kitchen.

The Bed and Breakfast at Turnbridge Point opened its doors to guests in May 2015 and occupancy during that first summer far exceeded expectations. Turnbridge Point also began offering on- and off-site catering and personal and group baking classes under Chef Steve.

“Due to popular demand, they also began selling pastries at Denton’s Farmer’s Market and holding a monthly brunch so anyone could experience Chef Steve’s culinary delights,” said Joseph Anderson, CEO of Combined Technology Solutions in Ridgely.

In late 2015, Konopelski was selected as one of ten contestants to appear on the “Holiday Baking Championship” on Food Network where he successfully navigated each challenge during the eight episodes, even winning a few, and finished as one of the top three finalists.

“In coordination with the show, Turnbridge Point offered holiday pies and cookies at the Denton Holiday Marketplace, increasing exposure for the already in high-demand brunch, currently sold out through April,” Anderson said. “We are honored to present the 2016 Chamber of Commerce Entrepreneur of the Year Award to Steve Konopelski and Rob Griffith of Turnbridge Point.”

Karen Jensen was appointed as judge of the Circuit Court of Caroline County in 1999 by Gov. Parris Glendening and reappointed in October 2015 by Gov. Larry Hogan.

“During her time on the bench, she has accomplished a great many things that have resulted in better outcomes for those paying their debt to society, their victims and the community,” said Caroline County Commission Chief of Staff Sara Visintainer. “Among the highlights of her time on the bench is her creation of the first Problem Solving Court in Caroline County. This program helps nonviolent offenders with substance abuse, dependency and mental health issues to avoid jail time, while going through an intensive and comprehensive program focused on reducing the likelihood of future crimes and dealing with the underlying issues that caused them to offend.”

Jensen is a founding member of the nonprofit Mid-Shore Pro Bono, which assists low-income residents of Caroline County as well as Talbot, Dorchester, Queen Anne’s and Kent counties with civil legal advice and representation, ranging from foreclosure and family law issues to landlord-tenant, veterans issues and bankruptcy. She is an active member for the advisory committee of Mid-Shore Pro Bono, which now is in its 11th year.

“Judge Jensen also created a family- and child-centered domestic relations case management system, which more effectively helps families resolve conflicts, resulting in better outcomes for children and less burden on the court system,” Visintainer said. “Judge Jensen has received numerous awards honoring her efforts to improving access to justice issues, including the 2015 Daily Record Leadership in Law award, the Lifetime Achievement Award from Mid-Shore Pro Bono, the Caliber Award from Mid-Shore Mental Health Systems and the Mid-Shore Women’s and Girl’s Fund Annual Service Award. She was also named Judge of the Year by the Maryland Access to Justice Commission.”

Jensen has been a Character Counts coach for a sixth-grade class at Lockerman Middle School since 2009, an active volunteer with Rebuilding Together, a committee member of Young Life of Caroline County and Sunday school teacher at Calvary Baptist Church.

“I have worked with Karen on various projects and initiatives for almost 10 years, and I can say that there isn’t anyone who better personifies a commitment to community improvement more than she does, or who does so with greater passion and an unshakeable belief that we can make things better,” Visintainer said.

Established in fall 2004, the Chesapeake Culinary Center is a nonprofit dedicated to the betterment of the community through job-training and economic development.

The Chesapeake Culinary Center has partnered with the Caroline County Board of Education to develop the Caroline Schoolhouse’s Culinary Arts Center in the former Caroline High School building. This structure, circa 1901, sat vacant for more than 20 years, but is in Denton’s Central Business District.

The Town of Denton, working in partnership with the Denton Development Corporation, acquired the building in 2004, and stabilized the structure in 2006. The town has leased the building to the Caroline County Board of Education to provide culinary arts training opportunities to youth and adults throughout the Mid-Shore region.

In addition to serving as the headquarters for the Chesapeake Culinary Center, the multi-use facility is home to the Career and Technology Center’s culinary arts classes, the Shore Gourmet Market and a Community Kitchen Incubator, designed to assist agriculturally based start-up businesses.

The Caroline Schoolhouse’s Culinary Arts Center offers a broad range of programs suited for all different levels of interest in the culinary arts, including the Board of Education Culinary Arts Program where students from Caroline County can take credit courses to prepare them for higher education or entry-level careers.

There also are after school and summer programs where students learn basic culinary skills and become familiar with the various restaurant positions, including hosting, hotline, serving and bussing. Students are also taught the business components of restaurant management, such as inventory and costing.

The center also offers adult continuing-education classes through a partnership with Social Services and the Workforce Investment Board, for those in need of a job skill or looking to explore the culinary field.

Caroline County resident Amy Cawley is the Farm to Food Bank coordinator for the Maryland Food Bank for the Eastern Shore. This program engages a network of farms across the state in a partnership to provide hungry Marylanders with local produce.

“Since June of 2011, Amy has worked tirelessly with farmers, volunteers, and pre-release inmates to procure 4.6 million pounds of farm fresh produce from Maryland’s Eastern Shore,” said Aly Valentine of the University of Maryland Extension Office. “Prior to working with the Maryland Food Bank, Amy spent two years as an adjunct instructor of Health and Nutrition at Gardner-Webb University in North Carolina, and seven years teaching freshmen health and physical education at Salem Academy in Winston-Salem, N.C. She earned a Master of Science degree in Exercise and Sport Science from The University of North Carolina at Greensboro and a Bachelor of Science degree from Limestone College in Gaffney, S.C.”

Cawley is secretary of the Maryland Farm Bureau Women’s Leadership Committee, board member for Maryland Agriculture Education Foundation and LEAD Maryland, active member of the Maryland Christmas Tree Growers Association, and volunteers for Common Ground and Caroline County Recreation and Parks.

“During the holiday season she can be found assisting her father at Cawley Family Farm by making fresh wreaths and selling Christmas trees,” Valentine said. “On the weekends in the spring, summer and fall she works at Clayton Farms. When there is spare time, she enjoys spending time with family and friends, going to the beach, watching sports, taking pictures, scrapbooking, and making people laugh.”

Medifast is a leading manufacturer and provider of clinically proven weight-loss and healthy living products and programs. It has been a proud corporate citizen of the Caroline County community since opening its Ridgely distribution and printing center in 2003. Over the years, Medifast made partnerships with many organizations in the area, including the Chamber of Commerce, the Maryland Food Bank and The Benedictine School.

“As the home field sponsor for the Caroline Cougars local youth football team, Medifast has been instrumental in not only providing a field for the team, but also much needed enhancements to the field including goal posts, and utilities to the field and clubhouse,” said Choptank Transport Executive Vice President Steve Covey. “Accepting the award on behalf of Medifast is Executive Vice President Guy Sheetz.

“Guy oversees the procurement, logistics, product development and manufacturing operations in Ridgely,” he said. “He is actively involved in the community and supports a number of local volunteer and youth organizations. He is a member of the McDaniel College President’s Advisory Council. He volunteers his time with Habitat for Humanity and Medifast’s Community Impact Programs.

“Medifast encourages their team and employees to volunteer their time for the Maryland Food Bank, Rebuilding Together and the Believe in Tomorrow Children’s House at Johns Hopkins,” he said.

“Founded in 2003 by Caroline County native Eric Good, Shoreline Vinyl Systems has grown to become an industry-leading manufacturer, wholesaler, and distributor of vinyl fence, vinyl railing and vinyl pergola systems on the east coast,” said Caroline Chamber member Jeff Powell. “Shoreline sells its products through over 300 dealers across eight states, and is currently in the process of expanding that footprint into four additional states in 2016.

“Since the beginning of 2014, Shoreline has increased annual sales by 56 percent, they have expanded their operation into a 91,000-square-foot facility, formerly occupied by Boaters World in the Denton industrial park, and they have added 24 jobs which has doubled the size of their workforce,” Powell said. “Shoreline attributes this recent success to their continued commitment to delivering quality over price, for their dedication to always providing first class customer service and for sticking to their core value of being a small-town, family owned and operated business who ‘Says what they do, and Does what they Say.’”

Rowe Insurance Agency was started by Leroy Rowe in 1990.

“Leroy recognized the need for insurance representation in the northern end of the county and felt Greensboro was a good place to start,” said Caroline County Chamber of Commerce President Carville Leaf. “In 1993, his daughter Laura came to work with him and three years later, he retired, confidently handing her the reins.

“Under Laura’s leadership, the business has continued to grow and expand, even moving into a new, larger building at the same location in 2005,” he said. “Rowe Insurance is pleased to have been part of the community for 26 years, and looks forward to serving the citizens of Caroline County for many years ahead.”

Cindy Riddleberger was raised in Ridgely and is a 1977 graduate of North Caroline High School. She was senior class president and a member of the inaugural softball team.

In 1987, she joined her father, Archie Carroll, and sister, Sherry Hollingsworth, in the family insurance business representing Nationwide Insurance.

“While working with her sister Sherry, Cindy contributed to the achievement of Nationwide’s most prestigious award, Hall of Fame,” said Pam Hutchinson of Choptank Transport. “Agencies were required to achieve the President’s Conference Award for 20 years in order to be inducted to the Hall of Fame.”

Cindy’s son Matthew joined the agency full time, making them a third generation agency. The company recently purchased and rehabilitated the former Citgo Gas Station in Denton for the agency’s new home.

“We have always had great associates to help us take care of our policyholders,” Riddleberger said. “Their dedication and loyalty has enabled our agency to be successful since it began in 1959. I’m proud to be a native of Caroline County, and I’m thankful for all the wonderful people who have supported the family business. Without them, we would not be where we are today.”

Brent C. Fuchs, a 1996 graduate of North Caroline High School, is an associate of Heritage Financial Consultants, LLC. He is a registered representative and an investment advisor representative with the Series 7 and Series 66 FINRA registrations. Fuchs has been affiliated as a financial planner with Lincoln Financial Advisors (broker/dealer) since 2000. In addition to his securities licenses, he also is a licensed life and health insurance agent.

“Throughout Brent’s career, he has strived to obtain the most relevant and advanced financial planning designations to serve his clients in the areas of comprehensive financial planning, retirement planning, and estate planning,” said Bill Towers of Towers Concrete Products Inc. “In 2003, Brent obtained the Certified Financial Planner certification, a benchmark certification for the financial planning industry. Additionally, he holds the Chartered Financial Consultant and Chartered Life Underwriter designations from the American College and the Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor designation from the College for Financial Planning.

“Brent has achieved President’s Club recognition with Lincoln Financial Advisors and has qualified multiple times for the Million Dollar Roundtable, the premier association of the world’s most successful insurance professionals,” Leaf said. “Brent is also a member of the Resource Group — composed of the top 200 advisors within Lincoln Financial Advisors.”

Fuchs volunteers his time coaching Little League T-Ball, as well as indoor and outdoor soccer. He also supports a number of local organizations, such as the 4-H Club, Caroline County Library, Caroline YMCA and Caroline Hospice.

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Winston-Salem area shows more improvement on foreclosures – Winston

Posted: Friday, January 29, 2016 1:12 pm

Winston-Salem area shows more improvement on foreclosures

By Richard Craver Winston-Salem Journal

Winston-Salem Journal

Foreclosures fell to a three-year low in the Triad during November, a national real-estate research group said Friday.

The CoreLogic report focuses on residences in some stage of foreclosure. The Winston-Salem metropolitan statistical area comprises Davidson, Davie, Forsyth, Stokes and Yadkin counties.

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Foreclosure filed on former Bertram site on Miami River, report says

A foreclosure has been filed againt the buyer of the former Bertram Yacht property on the Miami River, the  South Florida Business Journal reports.

Birch Commercial Mortgage filed the lawsuit against Interterra Investments Group and Intermarine Investments. The buyers’ $16 million mortgage went into default on Jan. 22, the Journal says.

Horacio Stuart Aguirre, who represents the property owner, told the Journal that new financing should resolve the foreclosure soon.

For a full report, go to the South Florida Business Journal.

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Local foreclosure sales fall to 15-year low – messenger

We’re always interested in hearing about news in our community. Let us know what’s going on!

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Client seeks chapter 7 relief for $78K credit card debt

Client files chapter 13 while hoping for a loan  modification of mortgage

Client seeks chapter 7 relief for $78K credit card debt

CLIENT has had an on going “battle” with Wells Fargo for justice on her mortgage since 2007. It’s been 9 years since she made the mistake of refinancing her fully paid house with World Savings Bank. Yes, client was already a senior 9 years ago when she decided to borrow $250K against her house, which had no more mortgage! Apparently, a relative had asked her for some money to finance a business, and being the doting aunt that she was, she gladly but mistakenly, obliged. The question then was where should she get the refinance loan? She spoke to an agent of a very popular mortgage loan broker who offered her a fixed 30-year mortgage at 2% per annum. The broker told her that the interest rate was so low, it would make her cry, that the mortgage payment would be fixed for 30 years, and that she could even choose from several amounts of mortgage payments, depending on which one she would be most comfortable with.

She signed all the loan documents without reading them as most seniors would do. After paying for two years, she noticed that the loan balance, instead of decreasing, was increasing! Eventually, she got a letter from Wells Fargo informing her that the bank had taken over the loan. In addition, Wells Fargo said that she had a default of $20,000, and that if this amount was not paid in full immediately, foreclosure of her residence would ensue. When she called the famous loan broker to ask what was going on, she was told that the loan broker was being criminally indicted for a massive loan mortgage fraud scheme. It was only then that client realized that she had been duped. She did some research and found out that Wells Fargo had taken over the loans of World Savings, including hers, and that Wells Fargo was actually trying to make things right for the victims of this “massive” fraud as part of the settlement with the Attorney General’s office as well as part of the Federal “bail out” funds.

She called Wells Fargo and was given the run around. Wells Fargo wrote her many letters saying that they were going to look into the matter and would get back to her within 30 days. The 30 days dragged into 7 years without any resolution. Wells Fargo started foreclosure proceedings and client paid off the entire default of $57K. It was back to square one for a while then the problem resurfaced. Client hired a succession of lawyers who all went against a brick wall because client did not want to sue; all she wanted was to have the matter amicably resolved by negotiation.

Now there is a default of $40K, and Wells Fargo wants to foreclose yet again. She now retains me for a Chapter 13 to stop the foreclosure and to negotiate a settlement with the bank without a lawsuit. Fortunately, I was able to get some positive response with the bank saying that they are now having their legal department look into it, and that they would propose a settlement by next week. It remains to be seen whether the bank is now serious in resolving this matter, or if they are bluffing again.

Second client is 74. Her husband left her 20 years ago. She was able to sell the family home a couple of years ago with a net profit of $200K. Then, disaster struck. Her only son got sick, lost his job because of his illness and became her dependent. She had to take care of her 40-year old son, who moved in with her. Medical insurance would not pay for a lot of the expenses. So, the $200K evaporated after 3 years. After that, she relied on credit cards to pay for her son’s medical bills. Fortunately, her son got well and will son be joining the work force again. The problem is she now owes $78K of credit cards. The minimum payment is $3K a month. She only gets social security of $1800 and a pension of $500. She is able to pay her rent of $800. But there is just no way she can pay the 78K of credit cards. So at 74, client decides to wipe out all her credit card debt and obtain a fresh start!

“Let God (Adonai/Yahweh) have all your worries and cares, for He is always thinking about you and watching everything that concerns you.” — 1 Peter 5:7

* * *

Lawrence Bautista Yang specializes in bankruptcy, business, real estate and civil litigation and has successfully represented more than five thousand clients in California.  Please call Angie, Barbara or Jess at (626) 284-1142 for an appointment at 1000 S. Fremont Ave, Mailstop 58, Building A-1 Suite 1125, Alhambra, CA 91803.

(Advertising Supplement)

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6.4 Million U.S. Properties Had Negative Equity at End of 2015

6.4 Million U.S. Properties Had Negative Equity at End of 2015

Down 616,000 units from last year and half of market peak in 2012

According to Irvine California-based RealtyTrac’s Year-End 2015 U.S. Home Equity Underwater Report, which shows that as of the end of 2015 there were 6.4 million (6,436,381) U.S. properties seriously underwater — the combined loan amount secured by the property is at least 25 percent higher than the property’s estimated market value — representing 11.5 percent of all properties with a mortgage.

The year-end 2015 seriously underwater properties were down 481,292 from 6.9 million (6,917,673) representing 12.7 percent of all properties with a mortgage at the end of the third quarter of 2015 and down 616,189 from 7.1 million (7,052,570) representing 12.7 percent of all properties with a mortgage at the end of 2014. The number of seriously underwater properties at the end of 2015 was half the 12.8 million (12,824,279) representing 28.6 percent of all properties with a mortgage in Q2 2012, the peak for seriously underwater properties.

“Over the past three and a half years, the number of seriously underwater properties has been cut in half, but we continue to deal with a long tail of seriously underwater properties, and it will likely be another five years at least before most of those remaining underwater properties move into positive equity territory,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac. “At the other end of the spectrum, the growing number of equity rich properties reflects a moribund move-up market and restrained leveraging of home equity by U.S. homeowners.”

As of the end of 2015 there were 12.6 million (12,621,274) U.S. properties that were equity rich (at least 50 percent equity), representing 22.5 percent of all properties with a mortgage. The number of equity rich properties at the end of 2015 was up 2.1 million (2,145,015) from the 10.5 million (10,476,259) representing 19.2 percent of all properties with a mortgage at the end of Q3 2015 and up 1.4 million (1,371,628) from the 11.2 million (11,249,646) representing 20.3 percent of all properties with a mortgage at the end of 2014.

“The equity in South Florida homeownership continues to grow with our rising prices,” said Mike Pappas, CEO and president of Keyes Company, covering the South Florida market. “We have tipped the scale — now with more homes in strong equity positions — than underwater homeowners. Distressed homeowners who are underwater still have options — working through a short sale — usually receiving some cash for moving or utilizing the advantageous HARP refinancing vehicle.”

Markets with the highest and lowest share of seriously underwater properties

Among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, those with the highest share of seriously underwater properties as of the end of 2015 were Las Vegas, Nevada (27.7 percent), Lakeland, Florida (24.4 percent), Cleveland (24.2 percent), Akron, Ohio (22.5 percent), and Orlando, Florida (22.2 percent).

Markets with the lowest share of properties seriously underwater as of the end of 2015 were San Jose, California (1.8 percent), San Francisco (3.8 percent), Austin, Texas (3.9 percent), Portland, Oregon (4.2 percent), and Boston, Massachusetts (4.2 percent).

“I’m very pleased to see the continued drop in Seattle homeowners who are seriously underwater, which is further indication that we’ve climbed out of the hole we found ourselves in following the crash of the market in 2008,” said Matthew Gardner, chief economist at Windermere Real Estate, covering the Seattle market. As of the end of 2015, 6.3 percent of homes with a mortgage in the Seattle metro area were seriously underwater, down from 8.9 percent a year ago, according to the report. “Seattle housing is benefitting greatly from positive job growth, favorable borrowing costs, and strong appreciation; therefore, I expect to see more and more homeowners return to positive equity in the coming year. My hope is that this leads to additional inventory which we desperately need in the Seattle housing market.”

Markets with the highest and lowest share of equity rich properties

Among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, those with the highest share of equity rich properties as of the end of 2015 were San Jose, California (53.7 percent), San Francisco (47.6 percent), Honolulu, Hawaii (36.7 percent), Los Angeles (35.8 percent), and Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (35.0 percent).

Markets with the lowest share of equity rich properties as of the end of 2015 were Memphis, Tennessee (11.4 percent), Dayton, Ohio (12.1 percent), Indianapolis, Indiana (12.4 percent), Las Vegas, Nevada (13.1 percent), and Cleveland, Ohio (13.3 percent).

Half of all properties in foreclosure now have some equity, a new high

As of the end of 2015, 49.7 percent of all homes in foreclosure had some equity, the highest percentage since RealtyTrac began tracking in Q3 2013. The share of in-foreclosure properties with equity at the end of 2015 was up from 43.3 percent as of the end of Q3 2015 and up from 34.6 percent as of the end of 2014.

“The increase in equity in 2015 was the enabling factor in assisting some less fortunate homeowners — such as those troubled by divorce, health, or job loss events — the ability to avoid foreclosure by taking advantage of market conditions in the sale or refinance of their properties,” said Michael Mahon, president at HER Realtors, covering the Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus markets in Ohio. This favorable equity environment has helped to reduce the overall foreclosure activity across Ohio, and is further predicted to further reduce the number of underwater foreclosures in 2016.”

Among metropolitan statistical areas with a population of at least 500,000, those with the highest percentage of foreclosure homes with equity were Denver (89.6 percent), Austin, Texas (88.8 percent), San Jose, California (87.5 percent), Pittsburgh (85.3 percent), and Nashville (83.6 percent).

As of the end of 2015, 28.4 percent of properties in foreclosure were seriously underwater, down from 33.4 percent at the end of the third quarter of 2015 and down from 34.6 percent at the end of 2014 to the lowest level since RealtyTrac began tracking this metric in the first quarter of 2012.

Markets with the highest percentage of in-foreclosure properties that were seriously underwater were Las Vegas, Nevada (50.2 percent seriously underwater), Chicago, Illinois (46.7 percent), Lakeland, Florida (46.1 percent), Cleveland, Ohio (45.1 percent), and Deltona-Daytona Beach-Ormond Beach, Florida (44.9 percent).

Profile of seriously underwater properties

Some characteristics of the 6.4 million U.S. properties seriously underwater as of the end of 2015:

  • 41 percent of seriously underwater properties were non-owner occupied, while 59 percent were owner-occupied
  • 57 percent of seriously underwater properties had been owned 10 years or less, while 43 percent had been owned more than 10 years
  • 63 percent of seriously underwater properties had a loan originated in 2008 or earlier, while 37 percent had a loan originated in 2009 or later
  • 33 percent of all properties valued $100,000 or less were seriously underwater, while 8.7 percent of properties valued more than $100,000 were seriously underwater

Profile of equity rich properties

Some characteristics of the 12.6 million equity rich U.S. properties as of the end of 2015:

  • 23 percent of equity rich properties were non-owner occupied, while 77 percent were owner-occupied
  • 62 percent of equity rich homes had been owned for more than 10 years, while 38 percent had been owned for 10 years or less
  • 52 percent of equity rich homes had a loan originated in 2009 or later, while 48 percent had a loan originated in 2008 or earlier
  • 47 percent of all properties valued more than $1 million were equity rich, while 21.7 percent of properties valued $1 million or less were equity rich

WPJ News | Top 3 Signs Your Home is Underwater - RealtyTrac


According to the California Association of Realtors, pending home sales in California continued to improve from a year ago with solid gains, which will position the market for a modest increase in home sales in 2016.


According to CBRE Group, Inc., the U.S. commercial real estate market shows continued healthy demand across all property types during the fourth quarter of 2015 (Q4 2015).

TEN-X_820x510_HQ_2.jpg announced today that it has rebranded as Ten-X, marking the company’s transition into an online marketplace..


Foreclosure filings — default notices, scheduled auctions and bank repossessions — were reported on 104,111 U.S. properties in November, a decrease of nearly 10 percent from the previous month


Technology firms and start-ups aren’t just exploring new U.S. markets, and they’re starting to plant roots.


According to the California Association of Realtors, pending home sales bounced back from the previous month at the statewide level in October 2015.

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City concerned about foreclosure bill

Posted: Friday, January 29, 2016 4:00 pm

City concerned about foreclosure bill


Staff writer


BELOIT — City Officials are concerned about a new bill which would change foreclosure laws in Wisconsin.

Rep. Terry Katsma, R-Oostburg, introduced Assembly Bill 720 earlier this month. The bill would change regulations for the process of foreclosing homes, reducing the redemption period for a homeowner to pay the mortgage on a residential property from one year to six months, and from six months to three months on an abandoned property. Currently, lenders must sell an abandoned foreclosed property after a five-week period, deemed a “redemption period,” during which time the homeowner could pay the mortgage. In addition it limits who can petition a court for a declaring a mortgaged property abandoned.

Currently the process of a foreclosure can take up to 18 months, according to a Wisconsin Bankers Association timeline.

“Our concern is that foreclosure processes that aren’t completed in a timely fashion,” said City Manager Lori Curtis Luther. ”(It) leave us with abandoned properties that have a high potential of lowering property values for neighboring properties.”

Luther said the City of Beloit has the same concerns as Milwaukee, whose Mayor Tom Barrett has spoken out against the bill, claiming it would drag the process of foreclosures out even longer, thereby damaging the city’s efforts to recover from a foreclosure crisis.

However, the Wisconsin Bankers Association supports the bill.

“We think this legislation will benefit municipalities, neighborhoods and homeowners by speeding up the foreclosure processes in situations that have exhausted all remedies for abandoned properties. The bill retains the municipalities’ ability to go to court to declare a property abandoned,” said Mike Semmann, executive vice president and chief operations officer for Wisconsin Bankers Association.

Semmann said the bill gives courts an option, which is something they’ve never had before.

“The bill will help create clarity so the determination is by the court on whether or not the home can be sold. It gives the court options, where the current law allows for no options,” he said. “Statewide we’re really back to pre-recession levels on foreclosure. This is a piece of forward thinking legislation.”

Still, Luther has concerns on the bill.

“We’re trying to avoid “zombie” houses,” she said. ”We don’t want these vacant abandoned properties where the lender starts a foreclosure but doesn’t actually close it.”

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  • Discuss


Friday, January 29, 2016 4:00 pm.

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Foreclosure Bill,

City Of Beloit,


Terry Katsma,

Rep. Terry Katsma,



Wisconsin Bankers Association

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