|Harding filing stems from 2011 eviction and property sale|
First of two parts
In a massive lawsuit that has a little of everything – allegations of racketeering, official misconduct, fugitive flight, forgery, harassment, civil-rights violations, and even religious persecution – a former Harshaw resident is taking aim at current and former officials of the Oneida County Sheriff’s Office, as well as county corporation counsel Brian Desmond and various private parties.
Linda Harding, formerly known as Linda Clifford, filed the lawsuit, which stems from a 2011 action by the sheriff’s department, Wells Federal Bank, and others to evict Harding from her home and eight contiguous parcels of land, the lawsuit states. Officials also seized horses, vehicles, firearms, and other items of movable property, including trailers, in the October 20, 2011, eviction, the lawsuit states.
According to the complaint, those named as defendants have violated – and are continuing to violate – Harding’s constitutional rights, including her First Amendment right to petition the judiciary for redress of grievances, her right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures under the Fourth Amendment, her right to not have her property taken by state action without due process of law, her right to equal protection of the law, and her right to be free from double jeopardy guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.
The Lakeland Times will report on the defendants’ responses to Harding’s complaint as the lawsuit proceeds.
In the complaint, filed on Dec. 27 by Harding’s attorney, Wendy Alison Nora, Harding claims the defendants created what she calls a Wells Federal-Oneida County Racketeering Enterprise to deprive her of due notice and process in the original foreclosure, and to engage in ongoing misconduct to deprive her of her property and civil rights.
Along the way, the lawsuit alleges, the defendants have engaged in multiple federal and state crimes.
“The federal and state crimes alleged herein also form the basis of common law torts, including, but not limited to trespass, defamation, fraud, abuse of process, malicious prosecution, false imprisonment, slander of title, conversion, and tortious interference with economic opportunity and give rise to the civil remedies available at (federal and state law), and for disgorgement of profits as unjust enrichment,” the complaint states.
In the matter, Harding is also acting as a bailee for William Clifford, Derek Osero, Justin Osero, Christine Osero, and Donna Theis, who had entrusted personal property to Harding without transferring the ownership, the complaint states. Harding had possession and control of the personal property, and is seeking the recovery of their property or damages resulting from the conversion of that property.
Among the relief claims being sought by Harding are actual and punitive damages of $1.8 million for the confiscation of real property and personal property in excess of any lawful claim; $300,000 for conversion of bailors’ personal property; $700,000 for slander of title; and $600,000 for damages caused by defendants’ failure to adequately supervise their employees, officers, and agents.
In April 2015, Wells Federal sued Harding over an alleged attempt by Harding to file a false certificate transferring the property back to her name, a claim Harding had vociferously rejected and which she counterclaimed was based on a false rendering of a certificate she did file.
Harding is asking that her current lawsuit be consolidated into the 2015 case.
Because some of those named as defendants in the lawsuit – 21 individuals and entities – could not be served, another contentious issue, Harding and her attorney published a summons by notice in The Lakeland Times last week.
Crime and punishment
The forcible eviction of Harding from the property on October 20, 2011, resulted from a foreclosure that she considered illegal, and, while eviction was a civil matter, it resulted in criminal charges against Harding after she produced a rifle while police were present that day.
As Jamie Taylor of the Northwoods River News has previously reported, citing the police report of the incident, Harding was instructed to gather personal belongings and leave her trailer. She insisted she was a “sovereign citizen,” did not recognize the eviction proceedings, and said she had filed a claim in federal court to transfer the proceedings from Oneida County.
The deputies repeated that she would have to leave, and, at one point, Taylor reported, Harding went into another bedroom “and got a rifle from a closet and was trying to work the action when a deputy saw her. She was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and taken to jail.”
Harding said she kept the rifle for protecting her home and horses and was just trying to unload the weapon when the deputy tackled her, Taylor reported in 2014.
She was convicted of two misdemeanor charges, resisting an officer and disorderly conduct.
The twists and turns of the case continued at her sentencing on March 6, 2012. On that day, Harding had requested an adjournment of the sentencing because she was traveling to Madison in an attempt to file a civil rights action in federal court, Harding’s complaint states, an effort that was unsuccessful because of formatting issues. She had contacted Oneida County district attorney Michael Bloom and the court to request an adjournment of the hearing from the morning to the afternoon, but, the complaint states, Bloom refused and a bench warrant for her arrest was issued.
The next we hear in the records and complaints, Harding is living in Missouri.
“Having been denied a continuance of the sentencing which was reasonably requested, having lost her homestead and at least $500,000 in equity in real property and all but a single suitcase of her personal property to (the enterprise), (she also retrieved her dog from the local animal impound facility), being homeless and unemployed (all of her means of making a living had been confiscated on October 20, 2011), plaintiff eventually took up residence in the state of Missouri,” Harding’s complaint states.
On June 28, 2012, from the same events that occurred at the property resulting in the misdemeanor charges, Bloom reissued charges, this time a felony charge of pointing a firearm at a police officer. Ultimately, Taylor reported in The Times, Harding was jailed for 79 days in Missouri in 2014 on the bench warrant for failing to appear at the March 6, 2012, sentencing and the additional felony charge.
Harding ultimately agreed to return for a September 2014 court date, at which time judge Patrick O’Melia took a sympathetic tack, noting the defendant, now in her 60s, had no prior criminal record. He dismissed the felony charge and ordered no probation.
He also addressed the complexity of the civil case and praised Harding’s character, observing that a Missouri public defender had argued for her release from jail there after obtaining a partial transcript of the 2012 trial.
“I thought, well we’ll never see Ms. Harding again,” O’Melia said, as reported by Taylor in The Times. “But, I think it shows strength of character to come back.”
The judge said he considered the 2012 trial “unique.”
“In terms of a lot of interesting defense, some of which she mentioned today,” Taylor quoted O’Melia as saying. “Some of which didn’t make a lot of sense to me, I’m sure it didn’t make a lot of sense to the jury, in terms of the history of mortgages and how she felt she was still entitled to that property.”
He then sentenced her to 105 days in jail for resisting an officer and 90 days for disorderly conduct, to be served concurrently, Taylor reported.
“He then gave her credit for the 79 days served, which with good time meant she would not have to do another day in jail,” Taylor reported. “He also ruled that she owed $686 in court costs.”
According to Harding’s Dec. 27 complaint, the saga began when she refinanced a loan secured by the property by entering into a contract with Wells Federal on Jan. 26, 2007. The contract called for a loan of $470,000 with a maturity date of Feb. 1, 2008, and a final payment of $471,739.72.
Harding then executed a mortgage to secure the repayment of the debt and encumbered nine separate parcels of land, the complaint states. The approximate value of the parcels was no less than $850,000, the complaint asserts, and was estimated by financial institutions as being valued in the amount of at least $1 million.
Harding sold one parcel and parts of the other nine parcels that she owned by warranty deed dated Feb. 1, 2000, and paid more than $140,000 to Wells Federal in March 2007 and April 2007. Wells Federal released its claimed mortgage on the one parcel and part of other parcels, resulting in Harding retaining ownership of eight separate parcels, the complaint states.
The mortgage instrument showed each of the nine parcels as a separate parcel, with the ninth parcel clearly set forth as a separate parcel of real estate, the complaint asserts. On Feb. 28, 2008, Harding and Wells Federal restated the loan contract, with Harding owing $340,000 to Wells Federal.
Then, on Dec. 7, 2009, Wells Federal, through attorney Deanne Koll of Bakke Norman, began foreclosure proceedings, the complaint contends, with Wells Federal asking for the property “or such part thereof as may be sufficient” to be sold to pay the debt.
But, the complaint contends, while Harding was served with process and “filed what she thought would be treated as her response to the foreclosure action on Feb. 10, 2010,” that response was ignored “and she was treated as if she had not appeared in the foreclosure action.”
In March, Wells Fargo officials executed an affidavit in support of a foreclosure judgment, and Koll also executed an affidavit attesting “(t)hat the time for answering or otherwise joining issue has expired and no issue of law or fact has been joined.”
Koll filed a motion for default judgement, but, the complaint continues, in the findings of fact and conclusions, Koll proposed “a sale of the whole,” or all the parcels, as opposed to the initial complaint that called for parcels sufficient to pay the debt to be sold.
“Nowhere in Wells Federal’s Motion for Default Judgment or the March 3, 2010 affidavits and exhibits of (Wells Federal employee Matthew) Zebro or the affidavit of Koll is any evidence presented which would support the sale of all of the separate parcels of defendant’s real property as a whole, as opposed to selling the discrete and separate parcels sufficient to pay the amounts due upon the promissory note and real estate mortgage as requested in the complaint,” Harding’s complaint states.
Judge Mark Mangerson subsequently signed the proposed findings to sell all 214 acres into effect, the complaint contends, and all the parcels, valued at more than $850,000, were apparently sold to Wells Federal by the Oneida County sheriff on a “credit bid” in April 2011.
The complaint accuses Wells Federal of using a credit bid at the sheriff’s sale for the amount of its debt but failing to pay Harding the balance of the property’s value.
“The ‘credit bid’ was so far below market value that it confiscated approximately $500,000 of plaintiff’s equity in the real estate and made no funds available to payment to the minor judgment creditors who were named parties in the foreclosure action,” the complaint states.
Though an order confirming the sheriff’s sale was entered, the complaint alleges, Harding was never served with the motion for confirmation of sale, thus giving her no opportunity to object to the sale of the whole, and then, on May 10, 2011, the court issued a written order, or Writ of Assistance, authorizing the sheriff to forcibly eject her from her home and contiguous property, again without any notice or opportunity for Harding to be heard, a right the complaint contends she had under the U.S. constitution and federal case law.
At this point, the complaint asserts, sheriff’s department officers “began to communicate with the plaintiff on behalf of Wells Federal informing plaintiff that she should remove herself from her homestead and the contiguous lands (the real property), having apparently undertaken to act as agents for the private entity, Wells Federal.”
On the last day of May 2011, the complaint continues, deputy Tyler Young produced a document ostensibly signed by Harding, in which she supposedly agreed that all personal property located at her home as of July 11 of that year was to be treated as abandoned.
That document was a fake, Harding’s complaint asserts.
“Plaintiff did not meet with Young on May 31, 2011, at any time of day and never signed the document described (above), which was created by Young,” the complaint states. “The signature appearing on the document bearing the date of May 31, 2011, at the time of 12:00 p.m. is a forgery.”
On July 18, 2011, the complaint continues, Harding sought the protection of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, filing a petition under Chapter 13 of Title 11 of the U.S. Code. That prompted Wells Federal, through attorney Koll, to file a motion for relief from an automatic stay in the bankruptcy case, saying Harding “had no more than a ‘scintilla’ of interest in the real property,” according to the complaint.
That motion was factually false, Harding’s complaint states. What’s more, the complaint alleges, because it was transmitted by wire, it was criminal.
“Because Plaintiff’s interest in the Real Property consisted of her right to equitable possession of the Real Property and her equitable interest of approximately $500,000 in equity above the indebtedness claimed by Wells Federal, the Motion to Lift the Automatic Stay signed by Koll and transmitted by wire from Bakke Norman was a false filing in violation of (federal law), was transmitted by wire in violation of (federal law) and constituted yet another predicate act by Koll in violation of (racketeering statutes) and (Wisconsin statutes),” Harding’s complaint states.
Nonetheless, on Aug. 15, 2011, the court lifted the automatic stay, and, on Aug. 26 of that year, a second written order for eviction was issued by the Oneida County circuit court; it was not served on Harding, either, the complaint contends.
On Oct. 11, 2011, Harding moved the Oneida County circuit court foreclosure action to the U.S. district court and served a one-page notice of removal on the Oneida County sheriff and the clerk of circuit court, the complaint states.
But, Harding’s complaint alleges, more false documents showed up in addition to that one-page document when it arrived at the federal district court, documents appearing to show that the Aug. 26 written order of eviction had been served on Harding and that she acknowledged it.
“Without Plaintiff’s consent, approval, authority or knowledge, a yet to be identified person caused documents to be delivered to the United States District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin to be filed into the Federal Court Case by wire or mail between Oct. 12, 2011 and Oct. 25, 2011,” the complaint alleges. “Joanne E. Friedl, (initials ‘jef’) on her own initiative or upon the instructions of a third party, caused documents not presented by the plaintiff to be associated with the one-page Notice of Removal on Oct. 25, 2011 and submitted by a yet-to-be identified person by wire or mail to the Federal Court with Plaintiff’s single page Notice of Removal, which made it appear that Plaintiff had filed the documents.”
Among those documents was a copy of the Aug. 26, 2011, Writ of Assistance, the complaint contends, executed without Harding having notice and opportunity to be heard, and falsely making it appear to the district court that Harding had been served, though she had never seen it.
“The Aug. 26, 2011 Writ of Assistance, falsely attributed to plaintiff in the federal court case filing by association with the Notice of Removal in the district court file, shows the reverse side of the document by ink bleed in mirror image,” Harding’s complaint states. “The stamped ‘Proof of Service’ on the reverse side of the Writ of Assistance is visible on the front page of the document is blank, showing that it was not served.”
To date, the complaint contends, Harding has never been served with either writ of assistance, the lack of reply to which would authorize entry onto her lands or into her dwelling.
Meanwhile, the complaint alleges, the Oneida County corporation counsel, Brian Desmond, was advising the county to move forward with the eviction.
“While the Oneida County Circuit Court was divested from jurisdiction over the foreclosure action by virtue of the removal to district court, Desmond advised the Oneida County sheriff to proceed to eject plaintiff from her real estate,” the complaint states.
And, as The Times previously reported, on Oct. 20, they did.
Next: Allegations in the wake of the eviction