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Monthly Archives: May 2017
Prince George’s County: Jurisdiction, courts, and filings – Political Corruption in Transition – The worst of the worst
Searching for trustee filings is not a quick-and-easy process.
The idea is that the filings would show which houses will be coming up on the market in foreclosure sales; this is the kind of tip passed along in online conversation threads for would-be investors who want to dabble in real estate. In Maryland, however, getting such information is easier said than done. I just spoke with a nice clerk at the Prince George’s County Circuit Court, who told me clearly that “we are not required to keep any lists or [that] information.”
Let’s backtrack a little. In an earlier post, I clarified on the basis of information received that, in Maryland, the Circuit Court handles foreclosures. A Circuit Court judge explicitly confirmed the language of the law in writing to a troubled homeowner. All District Court judges know that house foreclosures are not to be handled in the Landlord-Tenant division of the District Court. Regrettably, this crystal-clear law has been repeatedly violated, especially in Prince George’s County, and in the chambers of Judge Crystal Mittelstaedt–where, regrettably, foreclosures have in fact been processed. In legal terms, the District Court lacks jurisdiction to help a house flipper foreclose on a homeowner.
Trying to track down ‘substitute trustee’ filings in Prince George’s County corroborates the principle. When a bank or lender plans to foreclose on a homeowner, often it will arrange with a ‘substitute trustee’, as previously written. By law, a record of the arrangement has to be filed with the county. As one typical legal website explains,
The trustee named in the deed of trust carries out the foreclosure action. While the original trustee named in the deed of trust may institute the foreclosure, the lender will generally appoint an individual, firm, or company that is experienced in foreclosure matters to be substituted in place of the original trustee. This is accomplished by the execution of a written document properly recorded in the county where the real property collateral is located. N.C.G.S. § 45-10 and 11.
Figuring that since foreclosures have in fact been processed in the District Court in Hyattsville, Maryland, I should start there, I called up the court to ask how to look up trustee filings. A nice clerk in the Hyattsville building told me that was “not something we actually handle here,” and transferred my call to the District Court in Upper Marlboro. Another nice clerk there told me, very politely, that the information I wanted “sounds like it may be Circuit Court,” and transferred me there.
Once in Circuit Court, it still took a couple of tries to land in the Foreclosure Department. Note that foreclosures are indeed a department in the Circuit Court, not in the District Court. To put it bluntly, beware of anyone pushing a foreclosure who proceeds through the wrong court. Furthermore, it is a sound principle that the records should be kept in the building where the cases are adjudicated.
Even in the right department, however, it would not be an easy or at-a-glance task to look up forthcoming foreclosures by means of substitute trustee filings. One would need a case number and would have to come in requesting to see a specific case.
With that information, one could go to Maryland Case Search, or to some law firms; some large banks have foreclosure sections in their websites; real estate firms have access to foreclosure listings. Everything is easier if you have the information already.
For example, if you already know that one major ‘foreclosure mill’ attorney is John S. Burson, you can find ready confirmation with a quick look at the multi-page list of some of his cases. If you know that the Wittstadts are walking foreclosure mills, you can easily look them up. Each of these names generates more than 500 results in the quick Maryland look-up.
Looking up the name Hijazi also generates more than 500 results. Many of these cases belong to Abdulla Haitham Hijazi, the attorney son of P. G. County DPIE Director Haitham Hijazi. Some of Mr. Hijazi’s foreclosure cases–indicated as such in the Maryland case list–are actions in district courts in Maryland. Mr. Hijazi did not communicate in reply to a request for comment.
Each page shows 25 results. One can find the results here, or go to Maryland Judiciary Case Search and fill in the search boxes with the name/s.
In a quick search of the first page, I counted two cases in the District court in Hyattsville, six in the District court in Frederick County, and five in the District court in Silver Spring. These are all cases involving real property in which Hijazi is listed as “Attorney.” In fact, Hijazi is a party in each. On the entire page of 25 cases, only seven were handled in Circuit Court (none of those in P. G.).
Second page, another 25 results. All 25 were handled in District courts–fourteen in Rockville; one in Glen Burnie; ten in Hyattsville. For those of you keeping score at home, seven of the Hyattsville cases date from 2016 or 2017 and are currently listed as “ACTIVE.”
Presumably there is still hope for those homeowners. Sadder are all the cases listed as “CLOSED.”
Third page, another 25 results. Not all are indicated as foreclosures, but most involve real property and are being processed in District courthouses with Hijazi as the “Attorney” for his company as party–twenty in all, with five in the Upper Marlboro District Court and the rest in the Hyattsville District Court.
As a citizen, I am beginning to wish that our Judicial Disabilities Commission would take an interest in this pattern.
It also looks like a viable class action lawsuit. That could be hard to pull off, admittedly; people who have already been forced out of their homes might be hard to find.
More to come.
via Margie Burns
Judicial Disabilities Commission should take an interest in this pattern and work closely with judges who have no ties to corruption. Maryland Judges well known to be heavily involved in corruption should be removed from office without further delays.
The other side of house flipping: pushing out the homeowners through Corruption
Ironically, the Director of the Prince George’s County Department of Permitting, Inspections and Enforcement (DPIE) acquired his own residential property in the aftermath of the 2008-2009 mortgage derivatives debacle.
The real property on Willes Vision Drive in Bowie, Maryland, owned by DPIE Director Haitham Hijazi, sold in October 2004 for $600,728. Real estate near Bowie and Upper Marlboro was looking up back then. Sadly, Maryland public records show that the couple who owned the house sold it to a family member of Hijazi’s in October 2009 for about half what they had paid–$332,000. The purchaser, Fawaz Hijazi, then sold the house to Haitham Hijazi in July 2012 for $480,000–an apparent profit of $148,000, which might not be enough to retire on but was not a bad sale for the still-difficult market of 2012. Hijazi also got a reasonably good buying price on a house now valued by Zillow at an estimated half-million dollars. Hijazi’s office has not yet returned a call with questions.
Members of Hijazi’s family live in the house. The residential address is also listed in Maryland’s state Department of Assessments and Taxation as the office address of Integrity Professional Contracting, one of the Hijazi family members’ real estate businesses.
Yet more ironically, following up on the previous post on this topic, one can further track the family’s house-flipping business generated from this address. As found in state database real estate transaction listings and Washington Post home sales, typical examples are listed below. The list looks like the previous one. All properties are located in Prince George’s County:
- In October 2012, Integrity Professional Contracting bought the house at 9805 Walnut Avenue in Lanham, Maryland, for $109,000 (foreclosure). In April 2013, the company sold the house for $240,000.
- In August 2012, Integrity Professional Contracting bought the residence at 8516 Potomac Avenue, in College Park, for $148,000 (foreclosure). The company sold the house in April 2013, for $280,000.
- In April 2013, the company bought 5701 44th Avenue, in Hyattsville, for $207,000. Sold that July for $340,000–an affordable price considering its current valuation.
- In August 2013, Integrity Professional Contracting bought another immigrant-owned house, at 2305 Belleview Avenue in Cheverly, for $136,000. The seller of record was William M. Savage, who has acted as a ‘substitute trustee’ in a number of foreclosures. The Hijazis’ company has also bought other properties from, or through, Savage. The company sold the Belleview house in April 2014 for $250,000.
- In October 2013, Integrity Professional Contracting purchased 4814 Snowflower Boulevard, in Oxon Hill, Maryland, from another immigrant householder for $105,500. The homeowner had bought the house in July 2006 for $376,295. The company currently owns this property, according to the state real property database; the owner mailing address is the Hijazis’ residence and company office in Bowie.
- In April 2013, the company bought the property at 4815 Heath, in Capitol Heights, for $41,000 (foreclosure). The company sold the house in December 2013 for $190,000.
Further examples follow the same pattern, visible to anyone who checks. Even without delving deep, the effect on neighborhood property values is obvious. A house that the lender could resell within a few months–apparently, since that’s what the flippers are doing–is instead sold to a house flipper at a loss for the lender and at a terrible loss, sometimes, for the unwilling homeowner. Since the house flipper is dignified by terms like “foreclosure attorney” and “substitute trustee,” all this is nominally at the behest of the bank/lender, even when to the lender’s loss. And the next buyer gets a cut-price house, often without knowing much about the previous foreclosure sale, including the fact that the nominal ‘seller’–the flipper–was actually one of the parties in the foreclosure.
The Hijazi family also owns another real estate entity, this one registered in the SDAT database by the name of Secured Improvements, LLC (a limited liability company). Like Integrity Professional Contracting, Secured Improvements LLC has a mailing address at the Bowie property owned by Haitham Hijazi. According to the LexisNexis business database, Secured Improvements LLC was established in April 2004, as was Integrity Professional Contracting. Its Maryland state filings date from 2011. Those for Integrity Professional Contracting date from 2004.
As with Integrity Professional Contracting, the company designation for Secured Improvements in WaPo house sales is “Corp.” rather than the technically accurate LLC.
Again as with Integrity Professional Contracting, Secured Improvements LLC has established a track record as a house-flipping company. Again, its business pace picked up in the years after the elder Hijazi began working in supervisory positions for Prince George’s County. A quick check of WaPo home sales shows seven home sales for the company from 2006 through 2009. For 2011, eight deals. For 2012, nine. For 2013, thirteen. Then seven, six, and seven respectively for the years 2014-2016.
Like Integrity Professional Contracting, the Secured Improvements company has obtained some houses through ‘substitute trustees’ including Mark H. and Gerard W. M. Wittstadt.
Sad to say, there are more ways to game the system even than the intermingled interests sketched above.
More to come.
via Margie Burns
PGCPS High School Student, 17, Killed in Crash
A PGCPS teenager Norman White has died after police say he lost control of the car he was driving and struck a tree in Clinton, Maryland.
Prince George’s County police say Norman White was driving southbound on Temple Hill Road in Clinton when he lost control of his car and struck a tree. Patrol officers responded to the crash at around 10:15 p.m. and White was pronounced dead at the scene.
Norman White, 17, was driving southbound on Temple Hill Road when he crashed into a tree near Woodelves Way about 10:15 p.m. Tuesday, Prince George’s County police said. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
Police are trying to learn how White lost control.
He was a student at PGCPS Gwynn Park High School in Brandywine.
School officials at PGCPS Sasscer said White was a junior at Gwynn Park High School and was a member of the varsity football team. Gwynn Park head football coach Danny Hayes said the 17-year-old was gearing up for his senior season and looking to switch positions.
“Norman was one of the biggest little guys that I have known since the 20 years I have been coaching here at Gwynn Park,” said Hayes. “We call him Stormin’ Norman. We gave him that name because basically we don’t play favoritism here at Gwynn Park. He played the line for us – a 175-pound lineman going against 300-pounders. He was constantly meeting the challenge, constantly saw him at practice, what he was doing and how he was doing it – he was doing a great job at it.”
Grief counselors were at the school on Wednesday.
Police are asking anyone with information to call 301-731-4422.
Callers wishing to remain anonymous may call Crime Solvers at 866-411-TIPS, text “PGPD plus your message” to CRIMES (274637) on your cell phone or go to http://www.pgcrimesolvers.com.
BOE Chair Segun C. Eubanks Cuts Off Burroughs in PGCPS Board of Education Meeting
“That can be a one way street but it wont be a one way street for long” threats from Eubanks to Mr. Burroughs after “conflicts of interests” are cited by Mr. Burroughs concerning Mr. Rushern L. Baker III, who is County Executive for Prince George’s County and brother in law to Mr. Eubanks.
“PGCPS CEO Dr. Maxwell Should Resign” Due to Mismanagement of PGCPS Schools
A PGCPS parent recently called on the PGCPS CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell to resign due to myriad of issues.
MILESTONE BACKS OUT OF CELL TOWERS AT ELEANOR ROOSEVELT HS, ACCOKEEK ACADEMY AFTER PRESSURE
GREENBELT – Milestone Communications has backed out of two contentious cell phone tower proposals on school sites in Prince George’s County after fierce opposition from residents.
While there was opposition, it was not just the voices of residents that forced the company to withdraw both applications, but guidelines, rules and regulations that ultimately will prevent Milestone from moving forward with the two proposed sites on Prince George’s County Public Schools’ (PGCPS) land.
“Milestone has withdrawn its application for Accokeek due to the school’s conversion to a K-8. PGCPS policies do not permit telecommunications facilities on elementary school sites,” said Raven Hill, a school system spokesperson.
In the case of the proposed tower at Eleanor Roosevelt High School, issues of transparency and due notice have arisen continuously throughout the process, noted Lupi Quinteros-Grady, the school board member who represents the area.
“The process followed by Milestone Communications has shown a lack of respect for community engagement and a complete dismissal of community concerns. The very location of one meeting showed a clear insensitivity to the community’s views,” Quinteros-Grady wrote in a letter to the chief executive officer (CEO) of PGCPS, encouraging him to reject the tower’s application.
“Milestone’s decision to host a meeting outside of the high school and city of Greenbelt limited local participation by design. There was no prior notification to me or the board of education, which prohibited my own participation since the meeting was scheduled the same night as a board meeting.”
Quinteros-Grady also received more than 40 emails with complaints from residents of her district that were vehemently opposed to the tower proposal, as well as from teachers at the high school.
“The frustrations on my end were the transparency around and how things were being done and communicated,” she said, explaining that even as a board member she had difficulty getting answers and planning meetings with Milestone. “And that was what I was communicating in reaching out to the administration.”
However, the board member noted that the board of education cannot vote on proposed tower sites due to the contract PGCPS signed with Milestone that predates most of the board members and the current school administration.
Greenbelt residents showed up in force to a meeting, held outside city limits, about the tower and spent nearly two hours accosting Milestone staff, claiming that the company did not care about black lives or human health.
One of those residents was Dasan Bobo, who said he opposed the tower, which would have been built less than 300 feet from his home, because of the possible health concerns associated with the type of radiation the cellphone tower emits.
“It’s unacceptable,” he said after the meeting in late April, explaining that he would not subject his family to the health hazards a tower brings. “They’re literally pushing me off my land and forcing me to go somewhere else.”
Quinteros-Grady’s letter, in addition to numerous complaints from residents, convinced the school’s CEO Kevin Maxwell to send a letter to Milestone Communications echoing the boardmember’s complaints and opposing the tower.
Milestone Communications did not answer numerous calls to their office and did not return requests for comment.
For Mary Goldsmith, an Accokeek resident, the news of the tower not moving forward at Accokeek Academy brought relief. She said she opposed the proposal from the beginning because she felt the tower would be a violation of safety.
“Although there are no known issues, why should we be willing to take a risk, especially on the grounds of the schools that are supposed to educate and protect our children in our absence,” she said. “Secondly, the health concerns have mixed reports, however, if there is any chance that any amount or any form of radiation is given off, there should be more than enough reason to back off. “
Goldsmith continues to question the contract that PGCPS has with Milestone to allow cell phone towers on certain school properties and the message she believes that contract sends to students.
She said she feels the school system is putting “dollar signs” before the health and wellness of students.
“Aren’t our children and their futures bright enough and worth more than dollar signs,” she asked.
Still, Goldsmith heralded the withdrawn proposals as a victory for residents, though she believes it is just the starting point for Prince George’s County.
“I think it really starts an open dialogue on what the residents find important. It shows our elected officials that you represent us, and when you go against that, you are not fulfilling your obligations and oath,” she said. “I and many are definitely not going to let this fire burn out. There are several issues facing our communities and we intend to lessen and stop the blows, especially for our youth and elders. I am excited about this victory; however, I am very realistic that this is far from the end. I know this is only the beginning, for this and similar obstacles.”
Bobo and other Greenbelt residents shared a similar message when they came out to the May 11 board of education meeting. They voiced thanks for Quinteros-Grady and Maxwell’s letters, saying they are glad the tower is not moving forward, but they also brought a new message with them: residents want to see this contract with Milestone rescinded.
“I call for the cancellation of this contract that has no place in our community and education system,” Bobo said. “Thanks again for the actions you have taken thus far, but I want to challenge you to go further and reanalyze the need for this no-bid contract with Milestone Communications.”
Goldsmith shared similar views.
“Without a doubt I feel that this decision from the beginning was unethical and money driven, so it should be eliminated and reversed for those schools already impacted,” she said.
And Quinteros-Grady said the board is listening to those ideas.
“I think that there is an interest there to explore the conversation and I don’t think that this is going to go away,” she said. “I think transparency is really what matters, too.”
DuVal High school parents voice their concerns during a meeting in PGCPS
DuVal High school parents voice their concerns during a meeting about issues involving students;
PGCPS board members working on plan to address spike in reported misconduct cases
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – Some Prince George’s County school board members are meeting with employee union leaders to create a plan on how to address the huge number of staff members accused of abuse and misconduct.
FOX 5 uncovered there have been nearly 800 cases of abuse and misconduct so far this school year after new policies and procedures were put in place to address major cases of child abuse. In the majority of cases, staff members are put on administrative leave. Some feel it has reached a breaking point with so many teachers pulled from their classrooms, sometimes for months.
“It’s definitely an overreaction when we have hundreds of innocent people we have placed out on administrative leave,” said school board member Ed Burroughs. “And I’m not confident they are all going to come back to Prince George’s County Schools.”
He and board member Raaheela Ahmed said they met this week with union representatives.
“It was productive, and I feel like those are the types of collaborations and conversations we need to have to address this massive issue,” said Ahmed. “Because it is a massive issue that is affecting not only those teachers, those professionals, those staff members that are out of our schools right now, but the students that work with them.”
“There needs to be a plan,” said Burroughs. “Currently, the superintendent doesn’t have a plan to fix this for next year.”
Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell answered questions about the issue for the first time Thursday. He said he is looking at “adjustments” to current practices and procedures, but did not provide specifics.
“The standards for how we conduct ourselves professionally will not change,” Maxwell said.
He said that he has heard plenty of praise despite his critics.
“I’ll tell you that I get just as many or more people coming up and saying, ‘Thanks for what you’re doing. Thanks for keeping our children safe,’” Maxwell said.
He said there are 128 teachers currently on leave.
FOX 5 has spoken to multiple staff members about the issue.
“I think it’s a situation where people are trying to do the right thing, but doing it in a very poor way,” one teacher said.
She said students are being hurt because their teachers are out, and substitutes and remaining staff have too much to handle.
“(Students) are getting pushed to the next grade level and they may have gone six or ten months without a reading teacher or a math teacher. This is really serious lack of education,” she said.
She and other teachers FOX 5 spoke to said staff members are fearful to have any type of physical contact with students, even if a child needs help. She said she was called by students into a class to help break up an altercation.
“The teacher was standing there separate from them saying, ‘Please stop, please stop, please stop,’” she said. “And the one student just had the other student by the neck. And so I stepped in, and I removed her hands from the child’s neck. And the teacher came to me later and she said, ‘Well, what are we supposed to do in that situation? I thought we’re not supposed to touch the kids?’ And for me, I’m willing to lose my job to make sure that a kid doesn’t get hurt.”
A former D.C. police officer who was a longtime substitute was among those accused of abuse and then cleared. Melody Rich-Neal said she won’t return to the school district because she can’t risk being accused again.
“You walk in with a clear record, and then you walk out fighting for your life,” Rich-Neal said.
She and other Prince George’s County Public Schools staff members tell FOX 5 that some students are fully aware they can get rid of staff they don’t like, at least temporarily.
“They know. ‘Oh shoot, all I got to do is say this and she’ll be gone.’ And they’re right,” she said.
Via Fox 5
EXCLUSIVE: PGCPS CEO responds to 788 abuse and misconduct cases in district
UPPER MARLBORO, Md. – For the first time, the head of Prince George’s County Public Schools is talking about the hundreds of cases of alleged abuse and misconduct by school staff.
FOX 5 was first to uncover that there have been nearly 800 abuse and misconduct cases so far this school year. Some staff members say new policies put in place after high-profile abuse cases are an overreaction and good teachers are being unnecessarily pulled from their classrooms – sometimes for months while under investigation.
For more than a month, FOX 5 has made repeated requests for an interview with Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Dr. Kevin Maxwell. On Thursday, we caught up with him at a school board meeting for an unscheduled interview.
“I’m not going to say that we don’t have some over reporting that is going on,” Maxwell said. “But I think you have to take that in the context of we have had some very serious things done to our children and they are absolutely unacceptable and we will never, ever tell our employees not to report things that they think are child abuse.”
We asked Maxwell if he thought current policies on abuse were strong.
“I think the board policies are fine,” Maxwell said. “I think we need to make some adjustments and some of our procedures that we are operating under and make clear. We have made some adjustments in our practices.”
“Are we going to see a repeat of this next year?” Watts asked.
“Absolutely not,” Maxwell replied. “We are already not seeing a repeat of what we saw at the beginning of the year or at the end of last year. We are already much improved.”
FOX 5 opened records requests in March and again in April that showed abuse and misconduct cases jumped from 636 to 788.
“When you want to mix apples and oranges and you want to throw in the conduct in those kinds of things as opposed to abuse, we have to be careful which category we are talking about,” Maxwell said. “Are we saying that we should just ignore misconduct? I don’t think we want to go there. I think we want to make sure that we keep our children safe and do what we think is appropriate and expect our people to be professional in that.”
When Maxwell was pressed on the issue, he attempted to end the interview with us. We then asked why there would be any change next year if procedures and reporting standards remained the same.
“The standards for how we conduct ourselves professionally will not change,” he said. “If someone believes, if you believe that a child has been abused, you should report that to child protective services. We are mandatory reporters under state law. I will never tell an employee in Prince George’s County that if they believe a child has been abused, that they should not report that, and so that standard will be there because it is the law.”
He also said, “I have already that our numbers are down and they will continue to go down.”
Maxwell then walked away from our cameras.
Teachers told FOX 5 it is now to the point that if they a touch a child for any reason, they run the risk of being put on leave, and that students know they can make up allegations to get rid of teachers. In a majority of these cases, the accused staff members are sent home on paid leave. The head of the teachers union brought up the issue at Thursday’s board meeting.
“The morale is low,” said Theresa Dudley, president of Prince Georges County Educators’ Association. “When teachers can leave here for surrounding jurisdiction where they don’t fear for their job for an accusation that is not true.”
Dr. Maxwell had this to say about low staff morale.
“I have heard a little bit about morale, but I can tell you I have been a lot of different places, and you heard me talk about a few of them in the board meeting tonight,” he said. “And I will tell you that just as many people are coming up and saying, ‘I like what you’re doing. Thanks for keeping our children safe.'”
He said it is unclear if the number of teachers who have been put on leave is impacting students, emphasizing that there are 128 teachers currently on leave. The majority of those accused over the course school year have been returned to work.
“We are not seeing big declines in our (student) promotion rates, we are not seeing big declines in pass rates,” Maxwell said.
FOX 5 will continue to follow this story. You can reach reporter Lindsay Watts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Via Fox 5