Monday, October 12, 2015

Tampa Jury Slams "Secret Sinkhole" Sellers For Failure To Disclose 21-Foot Drop Underneath Home To Buyers Before Sale; Convicted Couple Declined Insurer's Offer To Fix Years Earlier, Pocketing $153K Settlement Instead Before Unloading It Onto Unwitting Family w/ Five Kids; Prosecutor: "Defendants Put Lipstick On A Pig & Sold It To Suckers!"

In Tampa, Florida, WFLA-TV Channel 8 reports:
  • A federal jury found a Spring Hill couple guilty of wire fraud, after selling their house to a family with five children and failing to disclose the gigantic sinkhole underneath. The guilty verdict was read Thursday.

    Glenn and Kathryn Jasen face up to 20 years in prison. Sentencing is scheduled for January, and prosecutors are also seeking financial restitution for the couple, now stuck with the worthless house.

    8 On Your Side exposed the sale last fall, when the new buyers discovered the sinkhole and lost their homeowner’s insurance. 8 On Your Side uncovered the Jasens had years earlier cashed an insurance settlement check for $153,000 and failed to fix the hole. They cashed in again when they sold the house.

    Weeks after Kelly Magbee and Thomas Jaje moved in with their family, Citizens Property Insurance dropped their coverage, putting them at risk for foreclosure. That’s how long it took for Citizens to figure out it had already paid out the hefty sinkhole claim to the previous homeowners.

    The insurance company even had an engineering report on the home that pointed out a 21-foot drop – which ended up right under Magbee and Jaje’s 1-year-old baby boy’s bedroom.

    Citizens also failed to file that sinkhole certification with the Hernando County Property Appraiser, as required by Florida law.

    When no one would help the family, stuck with the sinking house, they called 8 On Your Side. A year later, a jury heard the story.

    That’s because federal prosecutors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement launched their own investigation. At first, they only went after Glenn Jasen, and he agreed to plead guilty. But then he fired his attorney and hired heavyweight Victor Martinez, a criminal defense lawyer in Tampa.

    That set off a high-profile battle. The U.S. Attorney’s Office fired back by indicting both Glenn Jasen and his wife, Kathryn, who also signed the disclosure forms, promising no knowledge of a sinkhole or a sinkhole claim.

    Authorities vowed to send a message to others with sinkhole claims who might be tempted to lie on disclosure forms and sell their homes to unsuspecting families.

    The federal jury trial, the first of its kind in the country [ie. federal wire fraud prosecution for lying on a real estate sales disclosure form], started on Monday.

    Kathryn Jasen took the stand and was asked why the couple didn’t fix the house. She answered that they did cosmetic repairs and that someone with Citizens told her it was safe to stay in the house.

    The defendants put lipstick on a pig and sold it to suckers,” U.S. Attorney Tom Palermo told the jury. He asked Jasen who at Citizens told her the house was safe, and she said she could not remember.

    Palermo asked Jasen why she and her husband put in new carpet and landscaping but failed “to fix the thing that was eating your house.”

    Victor Martinez represented Kathryn Jasen and said she did nothing wrong.

    Attorneys for the couple had a different story for the jury. They say their real estate agent, Clara Ward, filled out the paper work with the wrong answers and mislead them into thinking the correct answers were there when they signed the form. They said the agent, who was having financial difficulties, even used a computer program to manipulate the form.

    But the jury didn’t buy that defense, taking less than two hours to return a guilty verdict.

    Thomas Jaje and Kelly Magbee were thrilled with the verdict and happy the trial is over. They have been stuck paying mortgage for the sinkhole house and rent for another house. They moved out of their home after a large crack appeared down the living room floor.

    “We just want to get on with our lives and out of that house,” he said.
Source: Spring Hill couple accused of lying about sinkhole found guilty.

For the U.S. Attorney news release, see “Secret Sinkhole” Sellers Guilty Of Wire Fraud ("In March 2015, the family heard what sounded like a car crash in the earth beneath their house. They soon discovered a crack running across the floor of the house, and immediately had to evacuate.").

See also, Spring Hill couple face federal trial after misleading home buyers about sinkhole:
  • Well-known Tampa Criminal Defense Attorney Victor Martinez [...] says this is a “civil matter” and filed a motion to dismiss the whole case. But U.S. District Judge James Whittemore [didn't buy] the argument and denied the motion.

    This is a case that is getting a lot of attention in the legal community because it is the first case of its kind – federal charges for lying on real estate disclosure forms. It could set precedent and could signal to other home sellers that they could also face federal charges for lying about a sinkhole.