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WPCA Weighs City Council Moratorium On Foreclosures–Lopez, Klein Scrutinize Collection Practices

April 20th, 2018 · 28 Comments · Analysis and Comment, City Council, News and Events

A special meeting of the Water Pollution Control Authority is scheduled to take place Friday afternoon regarding the City Council’s 180-day moratorium on foreclosures. The authority will hear a presentation by the City Attorney’s Office where foreclosure action is initiated. It raises a question: what happens when the will of the council bumps against the will of a city agency when both concerns are advised by the City Attorney’s Office? Meanwhile retired Superior Court Judge Carmen Lopez and attorney Jonathan Klein have pulled apart minutes of meetings, agendas and list of top 100 balances owned with some intriguing results.

The City Attorney’s Office is examining the legality of the council’s action that centers on stopping abusive collection action that has led to foreclosures. Lopez is providing pro bono advise to the Ordinance Committee, the driving force behind the moratorium. Lopez and several council members have raised the specter of aggressive foreclosure action against poor homeowners while high-profile businesses in arrears go untouched. Minutes of WPCA meetings also show that Ernie Newton, the council’s liaison to the WPCA, has hammered home that point.

City Councilman Marcus Brown, co-chair of the Ordinance Committee, says the council is working on reforms such as stopping the use of outside attorneys from bringing foreclosure action and limiting fees involved.

Referring to the City Attorney’s Office, Brown adds, “They have 90 days to give us their legal opinion. If they don’t act in 90 days the charter says we can pass the amendments to the existing ordinances without a legal opinion.”

The meeting will take place 5:15 pm in the Wheeler Room of City Hall, 45 Lyon Terrace. Several council members, in addition to Brown, have been invited to attend including Aidee Nieves, Denese Taylor-Moye, Rosalina Roman-Christy, Jeanette Herron, Michelle Lyons and Eneida Martinez who serves as co-chair of Ordinance.

Meanwhile, attorney Jonathan Klein, who’s familiar with the WPCA foreclosure process, shares his assessment, in an email to Carmen Lopez, from an examination of minutes of WPCA meetings, agendas and top 100 in arrears:

No. 4 on the list, at $20,727.40 past due, is the Park Royal Condominium [Association, Inc.], which is at 2600 Park Avenue. Guess who owns a majority of the units there and controls the condo association? Benchmark Trading, Ltd.! Juda Epstein can’t foreclose on his own client (in which I believe, but cannot yet prove, he has an ownership interest), but why can’t the City hire someone else to do it? But you know what is even worse? I checked the land records online and there is this property has not even been liened by the WPCA. (Technically, by statute, a delinquent bill results in a lien by operation of law, but without a certificate of lien actually being recorded on the land records, as is routinely done on every homeowner who gets behind in paying the WPCA, no foreclosure action can be brought.

• Ganim Legal, P.C., of which the Mayor’s brother Probate Judge Paul Ganim, is the principal and president, and which owns Paul’s office at 2370 Park Avenue, is only No. 31 on the list, at $5,956.13 past due. A search of the land records online also shows that no lien has been recorded. [Editor's note: Paul Ganim says he's challenging the amount in court based on erroneous charges.] 

• Columbia Towers, LLC is No. 2 on the list, at $27,572.92. It owns an apartment building at 50 Ridgefield Avenue that it purchased in 2007 for $5,000,000. I checked the Judicial Branch website, and there is only one lawsuit showing in which Columbia Towers, LLC was a party. It was a 2009 case (not City of Bridgeport-related), captioned Primrose Construction Co., Inc. v. Columbia Towers, LLC, Docket No. FBT-CV09-6004890-S. Guess who represented Columbia Towers, LLC? You guessed it–Juda Epstein. (At least liens (two that I can find) have been recorded in this situation, although no foreclosure action has been commenced.

By the way, William Kirby is on the list at No. 24, even though the WPCA foreclosed on his property. (I checked–he does not own any other property in Bridgeport.)

A few more observations regarding the WPCA:

• At the January Ordinance Committee meeting where the City Attorney’s office put on the big dog and pony show, Russell Liskov said that the WPCA has to foreclose its liens because it cannot force people to pay by turning off or disconnecting sewer service (for health reasons). However, Section 13.04.410 of the (Code of Ordinances), entitled “Discontinuance of service for failure to pay,” provides, “The WPCA shall have the right to discontinue sanitary sewer service to any person discharging into the sanitary sewers of the city who fails or refuses to make timely payment of the sewer charges for which he is billed. The basis under which service is discontinued shall be determined by the board of directors of the WPCA.” That ordinance was adopted on May 5, 2014. In years past, I have actually heard Russell threaten to cut off service as the ultimate weapon to get people to pay.

• I don’t remember if it was at that meeting or at an earlier time, but when it was suggested that the WPCA bill monthly so that people can more easily handle small payments, Russell Liskov explained that it cannot be done because the administrative costs of printing and mailing bills monthly, instead of quarterly, would be too expensive. Yet Section 13.04.360 of (Code of Ordinances), entitled “Billing frequency” provides, “Billing for sewer service charges for residential customers shall be made on a periodic basis at the beginning of the period for which service is to be provided, unless such residential customer charges are based on water consumption, in which case billing will be made coincident with water billings from the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company. Billing for sewer service charges for commercial, industrial and institutional customers shall be made generally concurrently with the monthly or quarterly water bills issued to them by the Bridgeport Hydraulic Company.”

Statement from Paul Ganim who is also Judge of Probate for Bridgeport:

I commenced a legal action against WPCA for its outrageous conduct in attempting to bill me for services that they never rendered. Back in 2016 there was an underground water leak at my office. None of the water went into WPCA controlled sewer system. I attempted on many occasions to rectify the situation with WPCA. I could not get the courtesy of a response. After numerous attempts to resolve and clearly an erroneous bill, I commenced to take legal action. That matter will be heard before the court and decided in October 2018. (See case here)

Update from Jonathan Klein: 

WPCA did lien the property at 2370 Park Avenue.  The certificate of lien is dated June 15, 2017 and was recorded on November 9, 2017.  It relates to $1,997.74 billed on 9/28/2016 and $1,664.60 billed on 12/27/2016.  The certificate of lien does not identify the name of the property owner/debtor, but the Town Clerk indexed the lien under the name of 2370 Park Avenue, LLC, as grantor, which is why no WPCA lien shows up on the land records indexed under the name of Ganim Legal, P.C.

From the approved City Council Resolution

WHEREAS, the number of liens, foreclosures and foreclosure-related evictions caused by the Water Pollution Control Authority (WPCA) has become a citywide problem; and

WHEREAS, foreclosures destabilize neighborhoods and the loss of a home to foreclosure can devastate a family; in addition to losing what is often their most significant asset they are uprooted from community supports and often find themselves with no place to go; and

WHEREAS, the City Council Committee on Ordinances currently “has before it Resolutions 55-17, 56-17, and 57-17 all of which intend in their final form to rectify by Ordinance the many problems the City Council sees in the WPCA and the Lien Foreclosure process;” and

WHEREAS, a Moratorium of 180 days placed on the WPCA or any of its representatives in commencing any further Foreclosures would enable the Council Committee on Ordinances to complete their work with the pending three resolutions and for the full City Council to take the steps necessary to resolve the conflicts identified in the existing ordinances; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Bridgeport City Council that to enable the Ordinance Committee to complete its work, minimize unnecessary hardship on the residents of Bridgeport, that effective April 3, 2018 No Court Action to Foreclose a Lien Shall Be Instituted for a period of 180 days by the WPCA or any of its representatives AS AMENDED FROM THE FLOOR AT THE APRIL 2, 2018 CITY COUNCIL MEETING

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED by the Bridgeport City Council any and all foreclosures currently pending in the Superior Court shall be included in the moratorium and no further action shall be taken by the WPCA Attorneys to move pending case or cases in the Superior Court.

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28 Comments so far ↓

  • The Bridgeport Kid

    Whereas Bridgeport City Hall has routinely targeted the poor…

  • Donald Day

    Whereas the City of Bridgeport has routinely targeted the poor stealing the home, hopes and dreams of those targeted poor.

    • The Bridgeport Kid

      Bill Finch’s administration, which included a few DTC apparatchiks, routinely targeted the working poor, seizing automobiles for tax debts as low as $100.00. Ganim has continued the practice, looking the other way while Unscrupulous attorneys took advantage of the language of a poorly written statute to foreclose on the homes of those that have fallen on hard times.

      What’s next, first born males?

  • Jimfox

    Whereas the FBI should be called.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Sorry Jim they are either on a book tour or they are busy looking busy.

  • Andrew C Fardy

    Where as there is no reason for a WPCA at all. The WPCA was formed to collect taxes to repay the federal government for monies sent to Bridgeport to update the sewers. The city spent the monies elsewhere and the Feds wanted their money back.
    We the taxpayers own all of the sewers, we own the 2 treatment plants and we own anything associated with the sewers.We(the city) put the management of the system out to bid. The rates go up every time the system is put out to bid. The WPCA should be disbanded and a experienced manager should be hired to run this new city department.
    Think of this we pay Aquarian for our water usage and we pay again to WPCA for using the sewers. We pay the WPCA even if we are watering our lawn or filling a swimming pool, WHY.
    The question was WHY and the answer is the WPCA is a giant slush fund for Bridgeport politicians to use to balance their budget and god forb is GRAFT.
    btw WE CAN USE THE MONIES PAID BY TRUMBULL TO HIRE A dIRECTOR AND UPDATE THE SYSTEM.
    Doing this would also stop the bullshit foreclosurers

  • Maria Pereira

    So the City Attorney has been referring homeowners to outside attorneys owing $2,000 or more, but Mayor Ganim’s brother owes $6,000, and a foreclosure has not even been commenced.

    It must be nice to be treated “extra special” by Mayor Ganim because you’re his brother.

  • Donald Day

    Maria, this is a perfect example of the outside attorney’s Bridgeport hired only want to crush dreams of poor people and take the homes of poor people that lack the resources to pay. I won’t make this a race issue, but…….

  • Lisa Parziale

    Kudos to Maria and Donald! The saving grace will be the involvement of the esteemed Judge Lopez. She never takes on a cause that she doesn’t make right. The unsung hero who never gave up!

  • Andrew C Fardy

    It is a race issue, the majority of people being foreclosed on are people of color, t must be noted that poor whites are getting screwed. The rich whites are getting away with not paying their taxes BTW what is the penalty on Ganims owed WPcA taxes. Why did wpca let the Park Royal now owe $20,000 Plus. Why haven’t we taken over the units that owe money to WPCA. Joe Ganim and all the ,mayors have been screwing the people of Bridgeport for years.
    The first step as I see it is fire!! FIRE all of the city attorneys they are a worthless bunch of crooks that participate with enthusiasm in the screwing of poor citizens of Bridgeport

  • Ron Mackey

    These parasites in the City Attorney Office especially City Attorney Russell Liskov and private attorney Juda didn’t give a dam about the hardship of the poor, it was no big deal to them to take somebody’s home. But wait a minute, where was Mayor Joe Ganim, where is his voice and concern about the poor who are being ripped off by Liskov and Juda? Ganim is to busy running the state trying to run for governor while people are losing their homes. Look at this poor ass comment below from the City Attorney’s Office.

    By Brian Lockhart Updated 6:26 pm, Thursday, April 12, 2018

    “As previously reported, Meyer and his staff last week took unilateral action to address one of council members’ major concerns — that private collection attorneys pass exorbitant legal fees on to already indebted sewer users, making it harder for them to pay off their bills and avoid foreclosure.”

    “Any private lawyers interested in handling such cases must now sign agreements that place a limit on legal costs and spell out the city’s rights to audit cases for potential improprieties.”

  • Jeff Kohut

    In regard to the WPCA fiasco: Prosecuting scumbag, rip-off-artist lawyers and conniving landlords in league with such is a moral and practical mandate… (Just an interesting aside; the Park Royale apartments are essentially a dormitory for Bridgeport’s real planning and economic development agency — SHU…)

    The scum trail uncovered by Judge Lopez and Attorney Klein loom both disturbing and telling — and, of course, the trail probably stretches throughout the city and well-beyond…

    But, again: A moratorium is enacted, some scumbag connivers and rip-off artists are exposed/embarrassed, and forced to pay back (collectively) a few hundred thousand dollars.. And then what?! The WPCA-tax monster still exists — looming ever hungrier and angrier… The people of Bridgeport will still be subject to the combined Eversource-Aquarian/WPCA water-access extortion…

    Now, Andy provides some history with which I am not familiar — the existence of WPCA to pay back the Federal government for Bridgeport’s sanitary sewer expansion-upgrades decades ago… Now, that expansion/upgrade has done little to help Bridgeport and was apparently undertaken mainly to accommodate anticipated residential and commercial needs upstream in the affluent ‘burbs… We know that Trumbull would still be a hick, farm town without access to Bridgeport sewers, and that Monroe, et al., have been quietly trying to engineer a hook-up to our system (via Trumbull) in order to accommodate population and grand list expansion…

    So: It would seem that yet one more aspect of the economic torture and bloodletting of Bridgeport is attributable to the comfort/prosperity-level prerogatives of our satellite ‘burbs (as well as, of course, the Gold Coast, in terms of regional/statewide development policy, in a similar regard, with respect to workforce housing and transportation infrastructure).

    Indeed, the “elephant in the room” takes the form of; “What is the remedy for this institutional abuse of Bridgeport? How do we get rid of the WPCA and its legal mandate to exploit poor Bridgeporters and otherwise hobble our lifestyle and development prospects? How do we break free of the destructive economic vice-grip of the for-profit utilities that are sucking much of the depleted blood supply out of our city?!… All of these things, together, beat down, torture, and destroy the city and its residents in an institutionalized, legal way — without any acknowledgement, much-less “action” from our legislative representation at the federal, state or local levels…

    A moratorium is really only symbolic, and when it expires, leaves things worse-off than before — after using tremendous time and energy that will no longer be available to pursue real, meaningful action/change — unless there is a grand, viable plan to fix things, permanently, at the source, in regard to the motivation for the moratorium…

    I haven’t caught wind of any such plan. This moratorium situation appears to be petty much a politically-motivated scheme of a vendetta nature that is being played as end in itself with no consideration of follow-through actions… I have no argument that certain scumbag elements involved in this whole, unfair/tragic tax-rip-off fiasco need to be held accountable; but the WPCA nightmare doesn’t go away with the removal of a few scumbag lawyers (and the WPCA nightmare is only a symptom, and small aspect, of the overall socioeconomic bloodletting of Bridgeport at the hands of the Gold Coast/suburban Connecticut Oligarchy) — the bills and the consequences of the inability to pay will still be there after the moratorium expires and the current set of scumbag lawyers has been exposed, if not punished…

    So: What is the plan to fix the federal/state/local-sanctioned economic bloodletting of Bridgeport [for the benefit of the 'burbs (and Gold Coast)(and certain utilities and institutions)] that is at the heart of this matter… Again; it seems that we’re using our precious, depleted political and electoral capital/energy to piss in the prevailing SW wind…

    Are we ready to picket federal and state offices for utility/utility-related expenses relief? Are we ready to pursue lawsuits in this regard? Are we ready to take stronger actions? Will the moratorium leadership consider more than temporary symbolic measures, beyond local political vendetta, to get real economic justice for Bridgeport?

  • Andrew C Fardy

    The federal government sent the Mandanici administration Federal monies to update the sewer system.
    Mandanici took the Federal monies and applied the money to the budget. The Feds came along saw there was no sewer updates and demanded their grant money back. This request led to the formation of the WPCA. their job was to collect sewer taxes to payback the monies owed to the Feds. There was no intent for this tax to go on forever.
    The politicians saw this as a cash cow and had people believing that this tax had to stay forever.
    ALL of the sewers the piping and the sewer treatment plants are still in place and were paid for by taxpayer monies.Our property taxes paid for the sewers and their upkeep.

  • The Bridgeport Kid

    Jonathan Klein and Carmen Lopez represent the nobility of the legal profession.

  • John Marshall Lee

    The antidote to much of what ails us are the effects of OPEN, ACCOUNTABLE, TRANSPARENT and HONEST governance. WPCA as a subject of fairness has been bubbling away for several years now with a variety of individuals looking at complaints and attempting to understand the scene.
    From what I am reading, while there is some concern about the WPCA practices, there is little argument for an alternative institutional mechanism itself. Rather what appears to be demanded is a reason why some entities must suffer a process of liens and foreclosures, when much larger (and perhaps connected) entities fly without expense through failure to make timely payments. And some people lose their property suffering exorbitant expense for little genuine service in the meantime. Unjust. Unreasonable. But daylight is a curative.
    The last time I looked, one of the larger offenders was Park City Communities with a variety of properties. They were on a schedule, but did that mean that ultimately they would be fully paid, or were they merely treading water?
    Can the little person expect to be treated fairly? Can they trust in our institutions to get an honest story and dependable and timely service? Time will tell.

    • Andrew C Fardy

      JOHN THERE IS NO SECRET HERE. THE PEOPLE LITTLE PEOPLE HAVE NO WHERE TO TURN TO. tHE POLITICALLY CONNECTED DONT HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT PAYING THE WPCA BECAUSE THE WPCA BOARD OR COMMISSIONERS LOOK THE OTHER WAY. WHY DOES A POOR ELDERLY PERSON HAVE TO FEAR FORECLOSURE WHEN THE OWNERS OF THE CONDO UNITS AT PARK ROYAL DONT. THE OWNER F THE UNITS AT PARK ROYAL IS A CONNECTED ATTORNEY.
      THESE PEOPLE SHOULD ALL BE ARRESTED FOR ROBBERY AND TAX EVASION BUT THE STATE AND THE FEDS DONT CARE ABOUT THE LITTLE PEOPLE. WHERE ? IS THAT SMILING ASSHOLE BLUEMENTHOL? OH THATS RIGHT THERE IS NO CAMERA

  • Tom White

    From a previous post:

    Ok. While some comments are giving kudos and high-fives to council members for their action, let’s review some basics:

    A resolution is a communication to introduce a legislative action.

    The city council does not have the authority to institute a moratorium on some of the collection practices used by the WPCA:

    The Bridgeport WPCA has a board of directors that oversees operations as required by the Clean Water Act and other Federal guidelines.

    The WPCA Board utilizes the Bridgeport city attorneys office for legal matters, including collections.

    The Bridgeport city attorney can utilize a third party to perform some of their work.

    The Bridgeport city attorney office has used a third party to do collections.

    At issue is the use of foreclosures in the collection process.

    The city attorney has explained the collection process and the reason for and guidelines for foreclosures.

    The City Charter states that all new ordinances and amendments to existing ordinances must be submitted in their final form and then reviewed by the city attorney for legality.

    City council members have submitted multiple resolutions (communications) but have not submitted an amended ordinance.

    Observation:

    The city council members appear to expect that they can make comments through resolutions and in committee meetings and an amended ordinance will appear in their mail box, courtesy of the city attorney.

    I realize that council members have restraints on their time, given the many taxpayer funded social events some attend, taxpayer funded NLC junkets and recovery time from beatings by boyfriends.

    Suggestion:

    The city council president should meet with representatives of the city attorney’s office. The council president may need to have council members other than the committee chairs involved as there is obviously animosity preventing progress.Agree on some details that need to be addressed in an ordinance amendment and stop the dramatics.

  • The Bridgeport Kid

    The WPCA collections process resembles the time honored extortion schemes in New York City’s trash hauling industry and the Manhattan garment district run by the Five Families. The attorney’s fees charged by Epstein and others are exhorbitant to the point of usury.

    Wonder what the bar association’s ethics committee has to say…

  • Tom White

    The city council members would be wise to allow Judge Lopez to craft their position and specific recommendations. The city council members are unqualified and to this point, unable to present a clear, well organised argument to make changes in the collection process for delinquent WPCA bills.

    Hopefully, with research and guidance from Judge Lopez, along with research provided by Attorney Klein, they can get past their apparent frustration with this issue.

    I hope the council members will see from this experience that they must do homework and deal with facts, not innuendos and unsubstantiated accounts of abusive practices.

    They need to be specific as to what must change and present it in an organized fashion. If at issue is the collection process, have they researched how it is done in other jurisdictions? Did any council members inquire when half the body attended the most recent NLC gathering in Washington DC? Have the council members asked CCM for examples of best practices?

    There are resources for council members to reach out to. The question becomes one of whether the council members know how to do it and realize they cannot simply make comments and expect the issue to be resolved. Reaching out to Judge Lopez was a good move.

  • Maria Pereira

    This gets more interesting by the minute.

    Paul Ganim filed a lawsuit against the WPCA on April 26, 2017. He is representing “2370 Park Avenue, LLC ” and is claiming there was a water leak at the property between April 29, 2016 – November 2, 2016 “of which none of the water went into the sewer. The underground water leak occurred in late July and continued to early August 2016.”

    “The sewer bill on the property for the first quarter of the past two years averaged $29.73. The sewer bill for the usage periods from April 29, 2016 to November 2, 2016, during which the leak occurred, amounted to $3,722.27.”

    Paul Ganim is asserting “the amount, legal interest, or property in demand is greater than FIFTEEN THOUSAND ($15,000) DOLLARS, exclusive of interest and costs.

    Here’s the problem, the property was owned by 2370 Park Avenue, LLC from September 2013 – October 4, 2016. It was conveyed to ” Ganim Legal, P.C.” in October 2016. How could the WPCA lien the property on June 15, 2017 with the Town Clerk placing the lien under the name “2370 Park Avenue, LLC” instead of “Ganim Legal, P.C.” when in June 2017 the owner of the property was “Ganim Legal, P.C.?”

    How could Paul Ganim file a lawsuit representing “2370 Park Avenue, LLC” in April 2017 when the property transferred to “Ganim Legal, P.C.” in October 2016? This was done so that if anyone searched a civil case under the name “Paul Ganim” he would not pop-up as a plaintiff in this litigation against the WPCA.

    This was done to conceal that a lien was placed on Mayor Ganim’s brother Paul Ganim.

    In addition, by December 27, 2016, Paul Ganim owed over $3,600 to the WPCA. If state statute allows the municipality/water authority to place a lien after 30 days in arrears, and the City of Bridgeport/WPCA has been consistently placing liens on properties for much less, why did the WPCA wait 8 months to place a lien on Paul Ganim’s property when it should have been placed on the property in October 2016?

    Once again, it must be nice to receive special treatment as Mayor Ganim’s brother, Paul Ganim.

  • Maria Pereira

    Paul Ganim also filed a lawsuit against the Board of Assessment Appeals on June 27, 2016. This is interesting because the WPCA placed a lien on his Park Avenue property on June 15, 2017.

    ” On October 1, 2015 the Plaintiff, “Fox Properties, LLC” was and still is the owner of property located in the City of Bridgeport and assessed at (70% of its true value):”

    2370 Park Avenue was assessed at $309,220
    99-101 Gilman Street was assessed at $238,110
    3250 Madison Avenue was assessed at $101, 890.

    The complaint goes on to state the following:

    “Ganim on March 3, 2016, appealed said assessments to the Bridgeport Board of Assessment Appeals claiming that said assessment were excessive and did not represent the true valuation of the properties.”

    ” After a hearing before the Board held on April 29, 2016, the Board took the following actions:”

    2370 Park Avenue reduced to $214,130
    99-101 Gilman Street reduced to $214,628
    3250 Madison Avenue remained at $101,890

    A reduction of $95,090 on 2370 Park Avenue
    A reduction of $23,482 on 99-101 Gilman

    I believe this would be a property tax savings of $6,403. Please feel free to correct me if I am incorrect. If so, isn’t that a nice pocket full of change.

    Paul Ganim’s complaint goes on to state the following:

    “The valuation of land and building by the assessor and the Board of Assessment Appeals was not the fair market value thereof as of October 1, 2015, but was grossly excessive, disproportionate and unlawful.”

    Once again, the lawsuit plaintiff was listed as “2370 Park Avenue, LLC” which means anyone conducting a civil lawsuit search under the name Paul Ganim would not have found this lawsuit.

  • Tom White

    Getting off-topic, but the owner of 3250 Madison Avenue is listed as Paul Ganim of a Fairfield address.
    Are probate judges required to reside in the towns of their jurisdiction?

  • Mojo

    *** Sen. Richard B. can’t be everywhere however, he’s in favor of the moratorium & will be sure to do what he can to help. He’s not the States Attorney anymore for those that are still living in the foggy past! ***

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