Tax lien titan Aeon Financial LLC was sanctioned last week to the tune of $16,850 for loading unexplained fees on top of a homeowner’s paid-in-full tax lien certificates. The mysterious company has notched a foothold in Cleveland and other large cities since the foreclosure crisis bottomed out, and the county judge's recent order against its lawyers signals a contrast to a more typical look-the-other-way syndrome.
A blogger at REALNEO was the first to report on this story
In 2011, Archie Lewis was hit with a foreclosure complaint on an East 134th Street house he owned (pictured here). Aeon Financial had purchased the property's tax lien certificates as part of a bulk transaction.
With fees and an 18-percent interest rate, the total cost to be repaid came to $7,427.60. Lewis, now 65, paid that in full over time, and the court dismissed Aeon Financial's case in 2013. The following year, however, Aeon Financial opened a new case, seeking payment on the exact same liens. The company has a known record of opening up cases with intent to over-bill homeowners.
This case came before magistrate Tracey Gonzales. Read her full order here
Gonzales wrote: "[Aeon Financial employee Joseph] Lord testified that even though the [payment] schedule created by his office may indicate a zero balance, it doesn't necessarily mean a zero balance. There may be additional fees hanging out there that need to be paid. This Court is amazed. What fees? Where do they come from? Why do they exist? Why weren't they on the schedule you created? [Lewis] has already turned $3,397.54 of outstanding taxes into $8,671.00. However, according to Mr. Lord's testimony, there may still be a few unaccounted for, unlisted, unexplained fees and costs that need to be paid. In other words, even though one has completed their end of the agreement, [Aeon Financial] may just arbitrarily call and demand more money from you."
The judge went on to call the litigation "shameful to our profession" and sanctioned Aeon Financial LLC, ordering the company to pay thousands of dollars in attorney's fees.
The civil case against Lewis is but one of hundreds filed against homeowners in similar tax-strapped positions by Aeon Financial in recent years. The Washington Post
published a 2013 investigation into Aeon Financial's activities
in the DC metro area, as well as in Ohio.
"In Cleveland," the Washington Post
wrote, "Aeon took the deeds to dozens of houses and then failed to care for them when they didn’t sell, leaving rotting porches, shattered windows and collapsed walls, prompting the city to levy more than 100 code violations."
For instance, Aeon Financial presently owns the house at 1357 East 170th St. The property was transferred to the company in December 2011. Since then, more than $4,000 in property taxes have accrued. Aeon has paid nothing to the county. And in April 2013, Aeon Financial obtained the property at 13504 Earlwood Road in South Collinwood. More than $2,500 in property taxes since then remain unpaid.