Maine AG gets Berwick tax sale probe: Date on signed deed predates legal notice announcing sealed bids sale

Posted July 01, 2011, at 5:40 p.m.

BERWICK, Maine — A case involving a foreclosed property at 9 Rochester St. is being investigated by the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

According to the Berwick Police Department and former Berwick Selectman Thomas Lavigne, a complaint issued by Lavigne that originally was passed to the York County District Attorney for review has been given to the Maine Attorney General’s Office for an investigation on possible illegal activity.

The complaint, which focused on state law MRSA 17-A, was in response to the acquisition of foreclosed property by a selectman’s wife, Laurie Chambers, in a sealed-bid process.

The owner of the property, Abraham Schlosberg, uses a wheelchair and has suffered several strokes and heart attacks since the death of his wife.

Many in town, including former selectman Lavigne, former selectman Peg Wheeler, are calling the decision to accept the bid of $20,000, which was at least $200,000 less than what the property was appraised at, a move that raises ethical as well as legal concerns. Both Lavigne and Wheeler believe the bidding process may not have been entirely sealed.

Lavigne’s complaint asked for an investigation into the action of the Board of Selectmen, as well as how that decision measured up to Maine state law MRSA 17-A and the selectmen’s code of ethics.

A part of MRSA 17-A states, “A person is guilty of misuse of information if, being a public servant and knowing that official action is contemplated, or acting in reliance on information which he has acquired by virtue of his office or from another public servant, he: acquires or divests himself of a pecuniary interest in any property, transaction or enterprise which may be affected by such official action or information; or [1975, c. 499, (NEW).] speculates or wagers on the basis of such official action or information; or [1975, c. 499, (NEW).] knowingly aids another to do any of the things described in paragraphs A and B.”

According to Town Manager Keith Trefethen, the deed for the property was signed over to Laurie Chambers on Tuesday afternoon with a quitclaim deed. Selectmen Robert Crichton, Chairman James Ramsey and Marcia Elton were the individuals who signed the quitclaim deed.

In an e-mail provided to Foster’s Daily Democrat, Trefethen stated to Lavigne that as of 8:39 a.m. Tuesday, not all the selectmen who approved the acquisition of the property at the June 7 selectmen’s meeting had signed the deed yet.

However, in the quitclaim deed, also provided to Foster’s, Selectmen James G Ramsey’s, Marcia E Elton’s and Robert E Crichton’s signatures were present on the deed, which released the property to Laurie Chambers with their signatures, on May 3, 2011.

The signatures were witnessed by Trefethen and later notarized by town clerk Judy Buckman.

May 3 is four days before the first advertisement asking for sealed bids was printed in Foster’s Daily Democrat. The advertisement also ran on May 11 and May 21. Part of the advertisement reads, “Once a successful bidder is determined, the Town of Berwick will have 30 days to execute a municipal quitclaim deed to the successful bidder and it will be the responsibility of the successful bidder to ensure the accuracy of ownership and ability to accept the property by municipal quitclaim deed.”

Further, the quitclaim deed, according to the document and Lavigne, was notarized by Buckman on June 7, which was the day of the acceptance of Laurie Chamber’s bid by the council in a 3-1 vote, with Joe Chambers abstaining.

The acknowledgment on the quitclaim deed, which appears above the notarization, reads, “Then personally appeared before me the above-mentioned James G. Ramsey, Robert Crichton, and Marcia E. Elton, Municipal Officers of the Municipality of Berwick and acknowledged the foregoing to be their free act and deed in their said capacity and the free act and deed of the Inhabitants of said Municipality.”

When asked about the quitclaim deed, Trefethen said the May 3 date of signature, and his witnessing, was a typo and was supposed to read June 3. He said he would be reprinting a replacement quitclaim deed.

Vice Chairman Joe Chambers said the board didn’t have access to the deed until after they made the decision to accept his wife’s bid on June 7. He said he wasn’t involved with the signing of the deed and that, agreeing with Trefethen, the date on the deed of May 3 is a typo.

“There’s a small group of people wishing to stir things up and it’s affecting the lives of many people,” said Joe Chambers.

Phone calls to Crichton, Elton and Ramsey went unanswered by press time.

This quitclaim deed is, for Lavigne, “substantial proof to claim a misuse of information.”

“This quitclaim deed justifies and confirms everything we’ve said right along,” said Wheeler.

Brian Barrington, the attorney for Abraham Schlosberg, who had owned the property, said due to the statute of limitations, he had six years to bring a lawsuit, if needed.

To see more of Foster’s Daily Democrat go to fosters.com.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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