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3News Investigates: Garfield Heights family takes company to court, wins over tax lien sold by Cuyahoga County

Cuyahoga County has paused lien sales that have netted tens of millions of dollars

GARFIELD HEIGHTS, Ohio — On the outside, it looks like just another middle-class house in Garfield Heights.

Inside, is a family story.

“When you talk about what this home means to us, you really have to think about my dad,” Kathina Vauss told 3News Investigates. “My dad was a caring, loving person and even when he had his challenges, his mission was to keep us together.”

“And he kept us together in this house…To us, it’s worth everything. That whey we’ve been fighting," Vauss continued. 

Roosevelt Wagner, a blue color worker, was a father to Vauss and her seven siblings. 

The fight reads like a Hollywood script: A fight against big business to save the family home.

It started back in 2011 when her father died at 89-years-old. Like many, he failed to write a will and the family home wound up in probate court.

Along the way, property taxes went unpaid. Cuyahoga County-- desperate to recover lost revenue---bundled the lien with other delinquent bills from other properties—and sold them to a company named Woods Cove.

Since 2012, the county has sold about $116 million worth of liens involving over 24,000 parcels. The county has not sold any liens since 2019, a spokeswoman said this week.

The family liens totaled just over $14,000. However, the county’s deal with Woods Cove allowed them to charge 18 percent interest on top of the lien.

Woods Cove had been the target of numerous complaints and the county stopped selling liens to the company several years ago, according to officials. 

“The problem I have with the county is, once they sell it, it’s like they wash their hands of it,” Vauss said. “To me, it's like a mafia shakedown."

Eventually, the family agreed to a payment plan with Woods Cove to cover the back taxes, plus interest and fees.

A problem arose when, according to the family, that payment plan deal was being ignored after the tax bill was resold to a company called TLOA, which tried to alter the plan by tacking on $3,000 more for reasons Vauss still can’t explain.

“Greed,” she surmised. “That’s the only thing I can think of is greed because it’s all about money.”

That’s when the family bunkered down and decided to fight TLOA for not honoring its agreement with Woods Cove.

An attorney representing TLOA did not respond to 3News' request for comment.

The online docket at the Cuyahoga County Clerk of Courts website shows the depths of the fight.

Most recently, TLOA attorneys asked a judge to enforce their demands for more money. When the judge refused, TLOA appealed. And lost again. 

Last month, the Eighth District Court of Appeals sided with the family, upholding the original payment plan.

“The facts are straightforward and simple,” said family attorney Paul Bellamy. He argued in the appeal that TLOA and other companies must be held to the same standards as the government in terms of contracts.

“They can’t change [the contract]. They can’t undo it. They can’t ignore it,” he said.

While the home is appraised modestly at less than $50,000, years of legal fees have piled up for all sides.

But to Kathina Vauss and her siblings, money was never the issue. It was all about preserving their father’s home and their own “Mansion of Memories.”

“He chose to raise his eight children in this house by himself,” she said. “That’s a man. That’s a man. And that’s what’s important to us is his memory and that’s what this is to us.”

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Editor's note: The video in the player above is from a previously published, unrelated story. 

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