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New approach on pond situation

"He's basically threatening all of us with trespassing on his property."


Latest: 10:28 pm, 6/27/17, Tuesday

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- One man says the new owner of two neighborhood ponds could be violating criminal law.

As we've reported before, after a man in the Timberline Valley South subdivision stopped paying the drainage taxes on the ponds, the delinquent tax bills were auctioned off. A man from suburban Chicago bought them. Since then, he's threatened to charge homeowners rent to use their own private docks, or charge them with trespassing.

The city's neighborhood services department told them they should form a homeowner's association to fight him. But since not having an HOA is one the reasons a lot of people moved to the subdivision in the first place, there still isn't a consensus on moving in that direction.

So one homeowner says he's going to try something else.

Politician  and cyber security investigator John Bambenek lives in the neighborhood. He claims the new owner (who represents a company called "Nasty Joe's") could be violating criminal law.

Bambenek says in most states, it's called extortion. Illinois has a statute on "Intimidation". He claims it applies in this case, since the Nasty Joe's guy has said he's expecting to turn a profit on these ponds, and is threatening trespassing charges.

"You can't do any of the stuff that you're trying to do," says Bambenek, "You can't threaten and extort an entire neighborhood for a $200,000 payday. The law's pretty clear on that. It was crafted for the mob, but essentially this guy's just doing white collar mob tactics."

Bambenek is citing 720 ILCS 5/12-6, section 12-6, part A. It basically says a person commits intimidation when they threaten to cause someone to do or not do something that the intimidator doesn't have the authority to tell them to do. In this case, trespassing. And Bambenek points out: the neighborhood covenants clearly define the ponds as common areas for all to use. 

He says he's filing a police report about this. How enforceable that is would be up to them and the state's attorney. At a neighborhood meeting last month, Champaign police did tell homeowners officers will not be used as a tool to bully or intimidate the subdivision.

Whether or not that works out, county officials say the new owner will still have to cough up some cash to keep the ponds. The Supervisor of Assessments office says, the man from Nasty Joe's will have to pay property taxes on the ponds. How much depends on the value the township assessor decides they're worth.

Latest: 11:40 am, 6/8/17, Thursday 

CHAMPAIGN COUNTY, Ill. (WCIA) -- County officials say the man who bought two ponds in a Champaign neighborhood owns them fair and square, but it's going to cost him.

A man from suburban Chicago both ponds in the Timberline Valley South subdivision after the owner stopped paying drainage taxes.

The supervisor of assessments' office says, previously, the ponds were classified as "common areas" not owned by anyone so there was no assessed value.

But, since they've been bought, they're now private property. It means the new owner will have to pay property tax on them. How much depends on the value the township assessor decides they're worth.

The owner says he works for a company called Nasty Joe's and has threatened to make homeowners pay rent to use docks or charge them with trespassing.

At a meeting Wednesday night, police said they likely wouldn't enforce those charges. 

Update: 10:00 pm, 6/7/17, Wednesday

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- Dozens of homeowners came to the meeting with questions about their subdivision's ponds, but many left with even more.

City staff members told residents of an area neighborhood they need to organize and hire a lawyer.

After someone stopped paying the taxes on these two ponds in the Timberline Valley South Subdivision, a man in suburban Chicago bought them. Since then, he's threatened to make homeowners pay to use their docks or charge them with trespassing.

City representatives did their best to explain what they know and try to help the neighborhood. Their biggest suggestion is for them to form a homeowner's association.

But since the ponds have already been sold, many homeowners wonder: What's the point? Anger, frustration, and confusion are rampant as staff members shared the city's perspective.

"We want to assist the neighborhood in developing a long-term solution to respond to the issue, and the only way we can do that is to develop a homeowner's association," says John Ruffin, the City of Champaign's Neighborhood Coordinator.

But that's not what many of these people wanted to hear. They say one of the main reasons they moved into the subdivision is because there wasn't an HOA. Plus, it was the county that sold the ponds.

"I think people are more or less confused," says homeowner Will Thevodeau, "We got invited to a meeting, and all the parties aren't here. 90 percent of the questions were for the county, but the county didn't show up."

Here's the background:

One man was paying the ponds' drainage taxes all on his own. He tried to rally his neighbors to form an HOA so they could all split the $30 bill, but they say no one was interested, so he quit paying the tax bills.

Nine years later, the county sold the delinquent taxes to a man representing a company called "Nasty Joe's," and he wants to use the ponds to make money.

But most homeowners had no idea this was happening. Many didn't live there until years after the HOA discussion, and even those who did were left in the dark because there was little to no notice the ponds were going to be sold. It's something the county treasurer says isn't actually required by law.

"The county got involved, and now we're the ones stuck now paying for it," Thevodeau told city representatives.

"We're willing to work with you collectively to find a solution going forward," said Ruffin, "We can't change what happened in the past."

There was one question they were happy to get an answer to: Could Nasty Joe's call the police for homeowners trespassing on their own docks?

Sure, he could call them. But they may not answer.

Deputy Champaign Police Chief Joe Gallo said, "The Champaign Police Department will not be used as a tool to bully, intimidate, or harass our citizens."

The room gave that comment a round of applause. After the meeting the homeowners took a straw poll to see how many support organizing an HOA. About half  raised their hands.

The city says, like it or not, the new ponds' owner is a member of their community now. If they form an HOA, the Nasty Joe's man would be part of it. Then, the neighborhood could make its own rules and the owner would have to comply with them.

Original: 10:30 pm, 6/6/17, Tuesday

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) -- People who live in this neighborhood say they're being held hostage. The neighborhood's detention ponds were bought by a man from northern Illinois. The city is meeting with concerned homeowners to discuss their options.

Someone stopped paying the property taxes on two ponds in the Timberline Valley South Subdivision. The county sold them. The new owner says he expects to make a profit.

Many homeowners who have private docks use them for fishing, boating, and swimming and now they're worried the new owner might charge them money to use them, or charge them with trespassing.

The situation should have been completely preventable, but many in the neighborhood say they had no idea any of this was happening.

You would think taking a dip in the pond in your backyard shouldn't require dipping into your wallet.

"Oh we like it. It's a nice pond," says John Hauge.

"It's used for recreational activity," says Oscar Gamble.

But the neighborhood's two ponds could soon be used for something else. A northern Illinois man bought them.

"This is something that probably shouldn't have happened, but we don't have a homeowner's association," says Debby Borg.

Borg runs the neighborhood watch. She didn't think she'd have to keep a close watch on these detention basins.

"I heard by accident," she said.

The Champaign County treasurer says, every year, the ponds' property tax bills were taken care of by one man in the neighborhood. It wasn't much; only about $30. Nevertheless, he tried to rally his neighbors to form a homeowners' association so they could all split it. But they say no one was interested, so he quit paying the bill.

"From that point on," says Borg, "Nobody did anything."

That was nine years ago. Eventually, the county put the drainage district up for sale. The man who bought it says he works for a company called "Nasty Joe's, LLC," and he's demanding some sort of return on his investment of about $1,000.

"These are primarily not sporting lakes or fishing lakes," says Gamble.

"It's a white elephant if you try to use it for anything other than a detention basin," says Hauge.

Homeowners say they're not sure what the new owner sees in these ponds. Their biggest concern is what he's trying to get out of them. In other words, they're wondering just how nasty Nasty Joe's can be.

The owner says he's considering charging rent on the docks, or selling the ponds back for a steep price: to the tune of $100,000 - $200,000.

"He's basically threatening all of us with trespassing on his property," says Gamble.

What's more? Several in the subdivision say they had no idea anything was happening.

"I think the biggest issue is the county selling it to a third party without notifying any of the residents around the lake," Gamble says.

Gamble is one of many who were left in the dark. Homeowners living around only one of the ponds were told. The law firm handing the sale for the other pond mailed only one notice. They say it was sent to 2306 Amy Drive.

We checked, and that address doesn't even exist.

"They mailed off a notice to the Timberline Valley South Homeowners' Association, but there is no such thing," says Gamble.

The county treasurer says such a notice is not actually required by law. The question now is what the law says about things Nasty Joe's can or can't do.

"We have to come together as a group and decide what our next steps are," says Borg.

The neighborhood services department is hosting the Wednesday night meeting. City staff will talk to them about what they can and can't do.

The county says it's not clear who originally owned either pond. Neighbors say because of that, they're surprised they could even be sold. The county says they were just following the procedure for auctioning off delinquent property tax bills. 

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