Ethan Throws Book At WPCA Collections, Newton: Worse Than A Loan Shark

The City Attorney’s Office is verging on a collision course with some City Council members. The Ordinance Committee will conduct a special meeting Monday, 5 p.m. in the Wheeler Rooms of City Hall regarding the “Proposed resolution requesting the City Attorney’s Office to create an ordinance that requires the WPCA to implement a customer mediation program for liens and foreclosures.” This meeting is a followup to the committee voting to subpoena three officials associated with collections: Water Pollution Control Authority Acting General Manager William Robinson, Associate City Attorney Russell Liskov, and private attorney Juda Epstein who represents the city in related collection matters. The City Attorney’s office is pushing back asserting the council lacks the authority to tell the law department to issue subpoenas.

City Attorney R. Christopher Meyer says the three, however, will show up voluntarily to Monday’s meeting.

City Councilman Ernie Newton tells OIB the collection process is “worse than a loan shark preying on poor people who cannot afford a lawyer.”

Ordinance Committee co-chair Eneida Martinez, according to minutes of the December 27 meeting declared she was “going to tell it like it is because Economic Development staff have friends that they call when properties come up for sale. Then these developers come from all over the State and different towns to buy these properties. The same thing is true of Atty. Epstein and Atty. Liskov. Both men are Jews and buddies and they go to the same synagogue and they are buying up these properties. These are the facts about what is happening in Bridgeport”.

(Note to Epstein and Liskov: feel free to contact OIB for a response to Martinez.)

For years council members have heard horror stories about the aggressive WPCA collection action that includes property liens and foreclosures.

Book
Ethan Book challenges WPCA collections policy.

City resident Ethan Book has also brought attention to this matter during the public speaking potion of council meetings. He recently issued this letter to the Ordinance Committee co-chairs Martinez and Marcus Brown about his findings.

It was a lively and productive meeting of the Ordinance Committee on Tuesday evening. I offer here comments, information and questions regarding the material which was reviewed on the WPCA, with some content regarding handling of city tax liens. Much of this message pertains to the exchanges between Committee members and (Associate) City Attorney Mark Anastasi.

Attorney Anastasi commented that the Committee had not provided to him detail of examples of apparent wrongdoing by the WPCA or city appointed attorneys on WPCA matters. I provide attached pages 1 through 12 of a letter which I prepared last year. Pages 1 through 8 include substantial detail on four cases, three regarding WPCA and one pertaining to an issue of court proceeding on city tax liens. I briefly discuss the first four cases mentioned.

WPCA v. Johnny Lee Moore (attachment at pgs. 1-2) deals with an issue of a foreclosure action wherein a Motion for Strict Foreclosure was presented by Attorney Juda Epstein even when Attorney Epstein and the Court were aware that a federal bankruptcy proceeding was in place. This is serious error. There is also apparent overcharging by Attorney Epstein and an undervalued appraisal (Mortgage companies typically know what appraisal firms to hire for estimates which err on the side of the bank’s interests.).

WPCA v. William Kirby (at p. 2) is another case handled by Attorney Epstein. There, the total delinquency and charges (including apparent excessive attorney fees) of $8,294.95 were the bases for a Motion for Strict Foreclosure against a property where the appraised value (likely understated) was $85,000. There should have been a Motion for Foreclosure by Sale (where there would be an auction and with excess proceeds given to the defendant, the WPCA customer. The court granted the Motion. This is absurd!

WPCA v. Heirs/Beneficiaries of Adelaida Coriano (pgs. 2-3) another case handled by Attorney Epstein. For that, there was a motion filed in which Attorney Epstein claimed that “The residence(s) of the defendant(s) is (are) unknown and all reasonable efforts have been made to ascertain it (them) and have failed”. It turns out that, although Attorney Epstein knew that Ms. Coriano had passed away, he never checked with the Probate Office which had readily available records of the names, addresses and contact information of Ms. Coriano’s children, and also the name and address of the attorney who was the administrator of the estate. In my view, the statement made to the court by Attorney Epstein was fraudulent. The family was not aware that the property had been foreclosed in default until after it had foreclosed. In addition, $2,100 in attorney fees for a default foreclosure action (where the court pleadings are essentially fill in the blanks) seem excessive. Also, the appraisal appears to be undervalued.

Titan Capital ID, LLC v. Morris Buchannan (pgs. 3-8)is an action of foreclosure of city tax liens which had initially been transferred to American Tax Funding and then to Titan Capital. While that was handled by a different foreclosure law firm, the apparent errors are rampant, including failure of the law firm to give notice to the defendant of pleadings that had been marked ready for short calendar, apparent overstatement of debt and undervaluation of the property, and a curious involuntary absence of the defendant just when the foreclosure action was culminating. This is where I describe a shadow government and where the defendant suspects that the mortgage company was acting in concert with the Office of the City Attorney.

A fifth case is a mortgage foreclosure action of mine, one which was very seriously handled by Bridgeport Superior Court, one which reflects the pro-bank penchant of state judges, an issue which overlaps the other cases mentioned. Since 2003, I have been raising the issue of the need for judicial reform. Although our state and federal laws are rather good overall, the administration of the laws reflects glaring bias in favor of governments, corporations and professional attorneys. This situation is at a crisis point which is confirmed, in part, through the growing great disparity of incomes between the rich and the underprivileged. This issue overlaps with all the public issues which we have been reviewing of the WPCA.

Pages 8 through 12 of the letter deal with contextual issues which relate to the problems observed of the above-mentioned cases. In these, I also discuss what I call a shadow government. Also, on page 11, I discuss the mysterious Bohannon Report, a report which was told to me by a credible source was made for the City during about 2010 and which concluded that Attorney Epstein was overcharging, however, a report which the City Attorney now says it doesn’t have. Go figure!

[Further, according to my records and recollection, I provided to the City Attorney the above information in March of last year!]

Attorney Anastasi commented that Attorney Epstein gets many referrals for WPCA cases because he is effective. However, based on what I have observed and heard, Attorney Epstein fails in a basic responsibility of attorneys. The CT Rules of Professional Conduct provide in the Preamble that “A lawyer is a representative of clients, an officer of the legal system and a public citizen having special responsibility for the quality of justice”. Not only does Attorney Epstein fail that ethical provision, the Office of the City Attorney is aware of this and supports him in that, all for the money.

Attorney Anastasi commented that what Attorney Epstein eventually charges is reviewed by the Court, sometimes adjusted and eventually approved by the court. This doesn’t give me confidence when Attorney Epstein knowingly overcharges, expecting that the non-appearing party or distressed defendant will not contest the amounts, or know how to contest them, and even when the exorbitant amounts are challenged in court, there is deference by the judges in favor of the attorneys and the mortgage companies. I refer to The Fraternity: Lawyers and Judges in Collusion, by retired Arizona Supreme Court Justice John F. Molloy (the Justice who authored the opinion which later became the basis for the Miranda Rule). Regarding lawyer domination, he writes,

“When a lawyer puts on a robe and takes the bench, he or she is called a judge. But in reality, when judges look down from the bench they are lawyers looking upon fellow members of their fraternity. In any other area of the free-enterprise system, this would be seen as a conflict of interest. When a lawyer takes an oath as a judge, it merely enhances the ruling class of lawyers and judges … How can the be expected not to be beholden to those who elevated them to the bench?”

Attorney Anastasi said that the penalty interest of 18% is fixed by statute. I wonder what groups were able to convince the legislature to do that! It seems to me that penalty interest of 18% is excessive considering that we are dealing with a mandatory public service, where there is normally very good security, and where the economy has been suppressed for reasons normally out of the users’ control.

Attorney Anastasi says that the WPCA is not a profit center. It sounds like he is saying that the WPCA doesn’t make a profit. Wow! The WPCA is established by City Charter and is governed essentially by the City Administration, the City Attorney and two appointed City Council members. Does this look like part of the Bridgeport political machine? Can anyone tell me that there are not political patronage jobs at the WPCA? Can anyone tell me that there is not a union to which the political machine panders and expects support for its chosen candidates? Has there been a qualified external audit which deals with cost controls, review of position descriptions and employee efficiency? Without good answers to these questions, there could be the appearance that the political machine is giving favors to expected support groups through overcharging and abuses against a disadvantaged public.

Attorney Anastasi says that the WPCA doesn’t have the authority to forgive debt. Before looking more at that one, should there be more review of the WPCA rate structure and billing practices? [Related to this, it is my understanding that for 40% of the Bridgeport residents, sewage water empties into the water drainage systems for which the all the combined materials go to the water pollution treatment facility. Does this mean that the additional expenses in water pollution treatment are added to the already high costs of the WPCA operations?]

Regarding tax liens, Attorney Anastasi says that tax liens are sold in bundles. Wasn’t that practice started early in the first administration of Mayor Ganim (whereas, previously, tax liens were individually published and sold)? Has there been a consistent practice of reasonable public notice of such offerings? In addition to any published legal notice, is there separate individual notice by the City Attorney to selected real estate investment firms? Has the City Council consistently been asked for its approval of such sale of bundled tax liens? Does the City always award the bid to the highest bidder? Are the bundled liens sold at a minimum of 100% of the stated value of the tax liens? On this, I observe that various of the bundled liens have been sold to American Tax Funding. It has been reported that either Mayor Ganim or Ganim family members have a financial interest in American Tax Funding. Is this true?

… For all the above and with additional supporting information, for the most part, those of the Office of the City Attorney have been acting with deliberate indifference, a 14th Amendment constitutional issue [and acting to support government organization at the expense of justice and the public interests]. This present situation of the WPCA deserved serious, diligent and profound review, that for which there is promise of a good opportunity at the scheduled Monday Special Session of the Ordinance Committee.

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10 comments

  1. According to City Attorney Liskov, who is in charge of collections…  “WPCA go out of their way to work with people who owe them money. But, Liskov has said, court action and foreclosures are the only realistic threat because, unlike other utilities — gas, electric — a sewer connection cannot be severed without causing a health emergency.”

    Yeah, right. RIGHT. 

  2. Some say City Council needs its own lawyer?
    Brian Lockhart 
    Published 11:48 pm, Sunday, November 23, 2014

    BRIDGEPORT — Where can a City Council member go for legal advice when butting heads with the mayor’s attorney?
    The question of whether the council needs outside counsel is something freshman members are grappling with.
    “We just need another place to go,” said Councilwoman Trish Swain, D-132.
    Since 1992, Mark Anastasi has run the City Attorney’s Office, currently staffed by seven full- and four part-time lawyers and aided by various outside firms. The annual budget has hovered for the past few years between $4 million and $5 million.
    Mayor Bill Finch’s administration this year also hired a new, $95,123 deputy chief administrative officer to supervise and better organize the legal department.
    And while the office’s online mission statement claims it works for “the city, its officers and employees, municipal agencies, boards, and commissions” there is a perception that, if those masters are at odds, the mayor — be it Finch or Anastasi’s prior bosses, ex-Mayors John Fabrizi and Joseph Ganim — prevail.
    “The mayor appoints the city attorney,” said Fabrizi. “When I was council president, on several occasions I did not agree with the opinions Mark had given, and that boiled down to Mark being loyal to the mayor (Ganim).”
    Bridgeport, being a city dominated by Democrats, might not experience the kinds of conflicts found in other, more diverse local governments, or at the state or federal levels. But it can happen.

  3. Christopher Meyer ought to look at the charter agin. The City Attorney’s Office under his stewardship is not representing the interests of the people of the city of Bridgeport. The City Charter encodes the authority of the City Council to issue subpoenas o compell individuals to appear. Meyer’s refusal to honor the Council’s request is contemptible.

  4. It is Sunday, a day of worship, the Sabbath, or a day of rest, depending on who you see yourself as being and where you stand within the community (or without).

    The WPCA was formed because it was a way to independently from the City bond for capital infrastructure and repay. Bonding for 20 years for pipes that will be there for decades longer makes financial sense, yes? But to pay old debt or new debt, to provide operating personnel for the plant and field equipment, and a back office takes regular payors. When we think of property tax, we get 97-99% in a timely manner, but still not enough to stop short term borrowing with TANS each year recently, because we also do not have “the rainy day accounts”, otherwise known as “non-committed unreserved City Fund balance”.

    The WPCA has some large accounts for the housing authority, or at least they did the last time I looked in 2017. Large balances, perhaps being slowly paid because of negotiations, but tolerated within the fiscal plan of WPCA. That is where I would focus my research at this time after some preliminaries in recent years.
    **What is the payment % from businesses, residents, City, etc. by kind of payor?
    **Is there such a significant problem with single residences holding away large amounts of revenue from WPCA? Or are single owners easier to intimidate with a process including State set 18% interest rates, and fee structures that seem inordinate also for the initial paltry “legal” effort beyond opening a couple files?
    **Why isn’t the CIty office in City Hall providing immediate counselling to a name that first appears on the list??Liens can always be used to secure long term value, but they do not give rise to the excessive fee structure for the “work”, the practice of first dollar used to pay fees and interest still leaving WPCA unpaid, and the debtor confused and unhappy?
    Isn’t it time to throw the doors and windows open to demand study, report, and action by elected and appointed officials? Time will tell.

  5. Absolutely, John! Very good points! Also, 40% of the City sewer water goes into the rain water run off system. This is predominant in the South End. )The combined effluent then goes to the water pollution plant. Doesn’t this inflate the WPCA costs which are then charged to the users?

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