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Sheriff to begin seizure process for Baltimore Housing Authority property to pay for lead paint judgment

Sheriff to begin seizure process for Baltimore Housing Authority property to pay for lead paint judgment

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The Baltimore City Sheriff will begin the process of seizing nearly two dozen trucks, computers and other office supplies owned by the Housing Authority of Baltimore City Wednesday to auction and pay an outstanding lead paint poisoning judgment against the agency.

Baltimore City Housing commissioner Paul Graziano

The process will identify and help appraise the property, held at 417 E. Fayette St., the address of the Housing Authority. Information collected will be used as part of one levy against the authority, which has been ordered to pay a total of nine judgments of nearly $12 million from state courts to victims of lead paint poisoning.

The writ of execution for the levy was signed Nov. 7, and handled through the city Clerk of Courts office, said Capt. Samuel Cogen, of the city sheriff’s office. The details on the trucks will be forwarded to the Circuit Court as part of an appraisal process, Cogen said.

The eventual auction of the trucks and possibly computer and office equipment is centered on one case, and is expected to raise a portion of a $2.5 million judgment, said Evan M. Goldman, a Baltimore attorney who specializes in collections who is working for the plaintiffs.

The action is the latest in a bitter public debate over payment to public housing residents who were poisoned by lead paint. The case has been spread between U.S. District Court in Baltimore and the Baltimore City Circuit Court, and numerous appeals are pending, one to the 4th Circuit and one to the state’s Court of Special Appeals.

Paul T. Graziano, HABC’s executive director and the city’s housing commissioner, said last spring the agency was unable to pay the lead paint judgments because it would deplete its resources. With a bulk of the authority’s assets owned by the federal government, much of it is out of reach for the plaintiffs.

But officials have identified a small fleet of Ford, Chevrolet and GMC trucks, vans and a Bobcat not owned by the federal government, as well as computers and other office equipment, Goldman said.

That allows a city sheriff sergeant to tag the 21 vehicles already identified to the Circuit Court of Baltimore City by vehicle identification numbers, in order to prepare them for seizure by deputies and then auction, Goldman said.

“We are disappointed that HABC has not voluntarily paid the outstanding judgment, and has instead put us in the unenviable position of having a levy executed against its non-federal property,” Goldman said Tuesday.

Cheron Porter, spokeswoman for the housing authority, said in an email the sheriff’s office action was part of an “ongoing legal process.”

“After the tagging, these vehicles will still be in possession of HABC and continue to be used to maintain and protect housing for our low-income families,” Porter said. “They are an important resource in ensuring that Baltimore’s low income housing remains viable.”

Porter insisted in follow-up emails the vehicles would not be sent to auction, or seized.

Samuel M. Riley, a private attorney based in Towson hired by the housing authority, declined to comment.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake’s spokesman, Ryan O’Doherty, did not return a call or email seeking comment.

In addition to the judgment for lead paint poisoning, Goldman said the housing authority has accrued $259,000 in interest, which also must be paid. The interest is charged at 10 percent, and totals $21,000 a month, or $720 a day, Goldman said.

The authority is also using taxpayer funds to pay for its legal team, Goldman said.

City Councilman James B. Kraft held a hearing last year that addressed the lead paint judgments. He said Tuesday that the plaintiffs, Antonio Fulgham and Brittany McCutcheon, were right to aggressively seek reimbursements from the housing authority.

“I believe the judgment creditor has the right to seek every legal means of redress to collect on their judgment. The city is not the debtor, the housing authority is, but were the city to be the creditor, and this to be a citizen of the city of Baltimore, the city would certainly … collect on its judgment,” Kraft said.

Another plaintiff, Daron E. Goods, was reimbursed $200,000 for a lead paint judgment last year — two years after he and the housing authority had agreed to settle on that amount. After Kraft held his City Hall hearing and highlighted the delay, the councilman said the agency issued a check to Goods.

“The housing authority paid that judgment, but that would not have happened if we had not had that hearing and I had not made such a big deal about it,” Kraft said. “It was just so blatantly unfair to do what they did. It was an abuse of the process.”

Of the 10 percent annual interest that is accruing on the $2.5 million judgment for Fulgham and McCutcheon, Kraft said he was appalled.

“That’s absurd,” he said.

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