Real Estate Deal That Started It All

And then … the Clemente house became empty. And everything changed.

“The Clemente House” — 723 East Liberty Street, right next door to Garrick and Lucinda Krlich’s home, and, like the Krlichs’, a neat older two-story home.  Sitting on an acre of land, it had been inhabited for many years by Mary Clemente, who initially shared ownership of the home with her brother Arthur.

Mary lived alone in the house until the inevitable day in came when she had to enter a nursing home. Another brother, Frank Clemente, became her guardian.

Rick Krlich, who has acquired several of the properties surrounding his home over the years and manages them as rental property, told Arthur Clemente he would like to buy Mary’s share of the empty home.

Arthur Clemente told Krlich that he couldn’t sell the house.  “It belongs to the state,” he said. “This house is to pay for Mary’s care in the nursing home.”

Krlich learned from Arthur Clemente that Mary Clemente went into the nursing home as a Medicaid patient.  It followed, then, that her share of the property next door would have to be sold to satisfy the State of Ohio’s right to reimbursement.  According to Ohio law, a home that is no longer the principal place of residence for those receiving nursing home care under Medicaid must be sold at a legitimate price to reimburse the state unless it qualifies as being essential for self-support.  Any joint owner of the property must live there in order to protect his or her claim to exemption. Neither condition applied here, and Krlich began to wait for the property to be offered for sale, likely through seizure by the state.

But that didn’t happen.   Arthur Clemente died in 2005.  Apparently secure in his continuing ownership of his half of the home, he had willed it to another brother, John Clemente Sr., who also did not live in the house.

Time went by, and the state did not exert its claim.  Krlich finally contacted the Jobs and Family Services Department, which administers the Medicaid program, and asked when they planned to proceed.

“They weren’t interested,” he says.  “I was told the whole Clemente ‘thing’ was so convoluted that it would take too much time to fix.  Their attorney didn’t even understand the law about seizing property in order to reimburse the taxpayers who were paying for Mary’s care. I had to explain it to him.”

Krlich recalls that he even brought Trumbull County commissioners into the case, as they have oversight over JFS in the county. He pointed out to Commissioner Frank Fuda that JFS had failed to do its job of seizing the property, and made an oral offer.

“I offered to write a check for $100,000,” Krlich said. “They could hold it until the place was put up for sale, and they’d know they could get at least $100,000 for it.  But Fuda didn’t do anything.”

Frustrated, Krlich began a series of communications with the State of Ohio regarding JFSD mandates.  There, he got even more stonewalling.  Using the HIPAA privacy act as a shield, each letter assured him that though they could not discuss the case with him, there was no fraud involved in the Clemente case.

Krlich was getting increasingly frustrated and angry: “Where do you go from there?  You can’t sue the JFS.”

Between the one-acre parcel that the Clemente home sits on  and the Krlich property lies a small strip of land – just a little more than a third of an acre – that belonged to Frank  Clemente.  Rick Krlich maintained that lot  for 23 years ⎯ mowing the grass, removing trees and shrubbery, even reconstructing the ditch ⎯ in return for Clemente’s promise that he’d have first option to purchase it when it was sold.

Krlich also offered to buy the strip of land from John Jr., whose response, he says, was that “Frank doesn’t want to sell you the land. Let him give it to me, and then I’ll sell it to you.”

Krlich agreed.  But after Clemente Jr. received the deed to the narrow strip, he informed Krlich that he didn’t want to sell it.

“I felt duped,” Krlich recalls.

It was not until January of 2007 that, as Mary’s guardian, Frank Clemente filed suit with the Trumbull County Probate Court to allow him to list her share of the home for sale. He also filed an application to waive a new, higher appraisal, attaching to his complaint a previous appraisal instead that placed the value at $49,500. The court approved the waiver of appraisal in May.

Under another chapter of that same Ohio law – the “Medicaid law” – Clemente was required to  list the property with a real estate agent or real estate firm for sale “at an amount not greater than the market value as determined by the county auditor” – which the court had accepted as the aforementioned $49,500. The guardian was also mandated to accept an offer that was “equal to or greater than 90 percent of the market value.”

Under those guidelines, an offer of $22,275 would have been sufficient to purchase Mary Clemente’s half of the property.  Krlich was notified by his attorney, Elliot P. Legow, on July 18, 2007 that the guardian of Mary Clemente’s estate did not yet have legal authority to sell her interest in the property, but that he would submit Krlich’s offer if that’s what Krlich wanted.  It was.

On July 24, 2007, attorney Legow wrote to attorney James Thomas, who was representing Frank Clemente and the estate, to offer “on behalf of a client who does not want to reveal his name” the sum of $30,000 for Mary’s one-half interest in the real estate — a sum far in excess of the mandated 90 percent of her value of the property.

“I wasn’t even aware that I could have bought the entire property,” Krlich says. “I didn’t know the state law then.  I didn’t know that the law said the other half had to be sold, too.”

Failing to get a response, Legow wrote again, on August 6, this time addressing both attorney Thomas and the Probate Court, naming Krlich as the interested buyer and repeating the offer of $30,000, and noting that no order of sale had yet been issued.

On August 12, 2007, Krlich recalls, he sat in the yard of the Clemente house next door, discussing his bid to purchase the property with John J. Clemente Jr., who is also chief of the Eagle Joint Fire District.   That, Krlich says, is when Clemente asked him to pull his bid, and when he refused. Krlich recalls that Clemente then told him that “we will be bitter enemies for life.”

Attempts to verify this vow with Clemente have been stifled at his home telephone answering machine.

In the nighttime hours that night – actually the early morning hours of August 13 – a white Pontiac drove past the Krlich home, its fire-department PA horn blowing.  The car, they later learned, was owned by Jared Clemente, John Jr.’s son, and was also equipped with a fire emergency siren.

It was the beginning of the Krlichs’ nightmare, though they didn’t know it at the time.

Again, on August 21, Legow wrote to Thomas, reminding of the offer and asking if Clemente (Frank, the executor) had received offers in excess of that amount, so Krlich “can decide if we will want to adjust his offer.”  He also asked to be kept advised of the filings and offers in the matter.

What Legow was unaware of was that on July 31, Probate Judge Thomas A. Swift had approved an order of “Sale or Private Sale, dispensing of New Appraisal,” to John Clemente Jr., the son and heir of the owner of the other half of the property, for $20,000.  No real estate firm. No regard for the 90-percent mandate — even under the old appraisal of  $49,500, 90 percent of Mary’s share would amount to $22,275.  Under the newer appraisal, the property’s value was actually set at $51,600.  Ninety percent of Mary’s share of that appraisal would equal $23,020. Both figures, and the selling price, were far below Krlich’s offer of $30,000, which never got processed. And the offer to purchase, ostensibly from John Clemente Jr., bore a scratched-out date of October, 2005 that had been replaced with the date July 25, 2007, a day after Krlich’s offer, and was unsigned.

It was unsigned, Krlich says, because “John Clemente (Jr.) told me himself he wouldn’t sign it, that he was trying to get the value down to about $4,000 (yes, that’s four thousand dollars) so that he wouldn’t have to pay in the twenty-thousands to get it. He told me he knew someone at JFSD who told him to have the property appraised low, because they never check appraisals.”

Soon afterward, John Clemente Jr. filed suit asking that the transaction be completed.

Krlich, through his attorney, sued to set aside the order of sale. In court, attorney Anthony Rossi, representing John Clemente Jr., argued that Krlich had submitted an offer “after the contract was consummated,” that he therefore had no standing, and that in any case the executor had accepted John Clemente Jr.’s oral offer (the paper purchase offer dated July 25 was apparently only the confirmation of acceptance).  Krlich contends that without a valid offer – a written offer was presented, apparently as proof of an offer, but it was unsigned – there could be no consummation.

Krlich’s attorney pointed out that the Court “is the superior guardian of Mary Clemente,” and he asked Judge Swift to consider what was in her best interest, the offer of $20,000 or the offer of $30,000.  He also asked the judge to consider the interest of the state: as a recipient of Medicaid, whatever funds Mary Clemente received from the sale of the property would to go reimburse the state for her care.  “I believe it’s a purchase of $30,000 (that) would serve her best interest,” Legow said.

Nevertheless, the court found in favor of the executor; the order of sale was confirmed.

Krlich appealed the court’s decision, taking his argument to the Eleventh District Court of Appeals. In this hearing it was determined that there had been an intermittent appraisal figure submitted, on January 9, 2007, during the administration of the estate of John Clemente Sr., which placed the total value of the property at only $40,000. (Again, it should be noted that the Trumbull County Auditor’s records show the 2010 value of the property at $51,600 –29 percent more than the figure accepted by the court. And this at a time when property values are decreasing, not rising, in the Mahoning Valley. The recent re-evaluation that negatively affected almost all Trumbull County properties places the new value on this property at $46,300.)

In reality, several appraisals were submitted to the court for its consideration; however, none of them aligned with any others.  The bottom line here is that the criterion is set only by the Trumbull County Auditor and was ignored.  One is forced to wonder just how many appraisals were submitted.

The Appeals Court supported the Probate Court decision, opining that Krlich lacked standing to intervene because only those with a “direct interest in the subject matter of the litigation” may sue, and that he had no direct interest. This, despite the fact that Krlich had waited for the property to go on sale, had immediately made an offer in excess of the mandated amount, and as the next-door neighbor had a vested interest in keeping the value as high as possible on the Clemente house – not an easy thing to do, he says, considering that the youngest Clementes  had turned the place into a hangout, complete with pool table, volleyball court and firepit. “It became Horn Blowing Central, with their girlfriends helping them to make noise,” Krlich recalls.

During the hearing, the appeals court judges asked attorney Deborah Smith, co-counsel for Clemente Jr., if the property had been put up for sale (in accord with state law). Her reply was that she didn’t know.  In reality, Krlich says, “she did know that it had not. We wouldn’t be here if it had.”

By accepting attorney Smith’s response, Krlich argues, the court failed the taxpayers – “now we have two courts failing the taxpayers.”

And so, like that, it was over. Garrick Krlich was disappointed but resigned.

And now the horn blowing began in earnest. All hours of the day and night. Despite Hubbard’s Horn Ordinance, which reads that “No person shall use the horn of a motor vehicle except to give warning to other drivers or pedestrians.”

In the months and years since, the horn honking continued, increasing in tempo until Krlich was forced to call police, who responded readily at first but then began backing off, Krlich says.

The frustrated Krlich shelled out some $14,000 to set up a sophisticated video-with-sound surveillance system, with a separate camera that simultaneously records the license number of cars being filmed, to document the incidents.  The program runs around the clock, and those incidents that happen while the Krlichs are at home are scrupulously recorded onto DVDs.

Since July 2008, Krlich, through his attorney, Robert A. Henkin, has filed more than 300 police reports and many Civil Protection Order actions, seeking to stop the almost incessant horn honking.  (One 84-year-old driver, who was caught on tape and subsequently fined, said he blew the horn to protest the ordinance, not for any other reason.  “It was stupid,” John Nittoli said after being found guilty.  Krlich notes that Nittoli only “protested the ordinance” in front of the Krlich home, not anywhere else, and that Nittoli has also been charged with criminal mischief and criminal trespass in Girard Municipal Court. )

Krlich took his complaints about failure of police to respond to Mayor Richard D. Keenan, who on December 22, 2010, after a full year of receiving them, sent a letter to Police Chief Martin Kanetsky, ordering that a memo be issued reminding officers that:

“1. Every phone call to our police department must be handled with full cooperation to the resident who calls.

“2. All information given to the officer who follows up on the call including license plate numbers obtained by any resident shall be checked through the LEADS system and investigated and handled properly.

“3. Patrolmen on patrol each and every shift shall closely monitor the East Hill area, in particular the area of Creed and East Liberty, (where the Krlichs live — ed.)  and shall log in times and dates they are in the area and shall turn in this report daily to the shift sergeant and that shift sergeant shall supply the chief a daily record.

“4. The chief shall call the mayor daily with a report on this report.

“5. Any infraction of the law such as disturbing the peace, which includes horn blowing in the area of Creed and East Liberty, trespassing or any other violation, a citation shall be issued to appear in Hubbard Mayor’s Court, no exceptions.”

Mayor Keenan’s letter also refers to an ominously portentous Dec. 18, 2010, incident that occurred in front of the Krlich home. There, according to reports, a confrontation occurred between Krlich and 19-year-old Matthew Shelton, of Parrish Avenue.

Shelton told police he had been driving on East Park Avenue when Krlich approached the driver’s-side window of his car, complaining about horn blowing. Shelton said he went home then headed out to baseball practice, driving another vehicle. Video surveillance obtained from Krlich, however, clearly showed Shelton driving past Krlich’s residence and pointing a gun, which later was identified as a pellet gun. Shelton pulled into a driveway on Creed Avenue and Krlich pulled in behind him, blocking him as he summoned police.  Shelton was charged in Girard Municipal Court with aggravated menacing.

On January 6, 2011, Chief Kanetsky was placed on paid administrative leave. The official reasons did not mention the horn honking incidents but included insubordination, misuse of city facilities and/or property, and “jeopardizing the health of the entire police department and facilities.”  Kanetsky went on medical leave, then retired in June. On August 10, 2011, James Taafe was sworn in as the new police chief.

On June 23, 2011 Matthew Shelton was found guilty of the reduced charge of disorderly conduct, was fined and had a Criminal Protection Order issued against him.

The complaints continue to accumulate in Girard Municipal Court, which has jurisdiction. The cameras continue to record the sight and sound of horn-blowing; the piles of DVDs on the bookshelf grow ever higher.

Shockingly, the DVDs show that not only are the horn blowers apparently not afraid of retaliation from the authorities, in many cases the violators are the authorities!  Among the recordings that show horn-honking incidents and harassing acts as they take place are vehicles owned by:

  • Hubbard Township police;
  • Several City Council members, including Jerry Crow and President of Council Bill Williams (and several members of his family ); and some of the others’ relatives, including  councilman Ed Palestro’s  two grandchildren and Chip Silvidi, the brother of councilman John Silvidi;
  • The Hubbard Township zoning Inspector, containing assistant inspector Denny Parsons and retired staffer Sue Siciliano;
  • The son and another relative of the current police chief, JamesTaafe;
  • Fire departments in the Eagle Joint Fire district, Wheatland and West Middlesex districts Krlich has taped horn honking by several members of the Eagle district: Daryl Babcock, John Clemente, Joe Marando,  Adam Novotny, and Jared and Mike Clemente:  he has won Civil Protection Orders against Ed Palestro III, Rich Wittkugle, Josh Wilson, and Joe Takach, the son of Luke Takash.  One of his recordings shows  Scott Halicki blowing the horn on his fire truck on his way back from a fire.  Ironically, had he blown it on the way to the fire, it would have been legal under the ordinance.

Wilson, who was dating the assistant fire chief’s daughter, had told a third party (who told Krlich) that he honked “because Jared Clemente (chief John Clemente’s son) told me to.”

Joe Marando, an EJD fireman, was recorded in a car with Jared Clemente, on off-duty time.  After this first incident, he received a warning. The second time, he was taken to court.   Although he was charged as a private citizen, Krlich notes that at his court date, the fire  chief  showed up, in uniform, along with the head of the EJD, Ray Wells, and the department’s attorney, David Comstock – “and Comstock later charged the taxpayers for being there.”

“By being in uniform, they put the weight of the department behind a guy who was being charged as a private citizen,” Krlich says.  “The chief was driving a department truck.  And the chief, who was supposed to be on duty, left his post to be there.  Where’s the regard for the taxpayer they’re supposed to be ‘protecting and serving?’”

And these are just the incidents that Krlich takes the time to check on.  “We don’t bother to search the tapes for those that happen when we’re gone,” he says. “We just check the ones we hear when we’re home.”

As the complaints languish, largely backed up for failure to prosecute, Henkin, Krlich’s attorney, notes “it’s apparent that if the police would respond to a complaint and file suit,  a court hearing would be set.” Krlich blames Hubbard’s former Law Director, Jeff  Adler, who  has since become Girard Municipal Court judge. “He let the complaints lapse”  during his tenure in Hubbard, Krlich says.

In fact, Krlich questions Adler’s behavior throughout the history of this strange story.

“Jeff Adler acted as John Clemente Sr.’s attorney when Clemente willed ‘his’ half of the house to his son, John Jr.,” Krlich points out. “I’d like to know, since he was law director at the time – and was also an assistant Trumbull County prosecutor — whether he did the work for the Clementes on his own private time, or on the city’s time. Either way, there’s a definite conflict of interest here. He’s supposed to be looking out for the taxpayers’ interests. When I took my complaint to him, he told me I was crazy.” Adler and others perpetuated the “crazy” comment, throughout the community, Krlich says.

Krlich and Henkin point out that the Hubbard Police Department as well as the Girard Municipal Court Prosecutor, Robert Johnson, have failed to process charges or hold hearings on some 270 cases that have been filed in the system.

Krlich says further that when he asked Johnson what had become of one of the cases he had filed, against one of Adler’s friends, Johnson did not deny that Adler had called him and the case was dismissed.

Johnson has said he did send out some 70 letters to residents whose license plates were recorded as belonging to cars whose horns were honked at the Krlich house, urging the owners to stop the honking or face possible charges.

“But nothing was done, even to the repeaters,” Krlich says. “And their behavior mirrors the Ohio stalking law.”

Neighbors seem to be strangely accepting of the harassment, Krlich says.  “One of my neighbors has called the honking ‘beyond unbelievable.’ But he hasn’t ever reported it,” he notes.

A lone positive note in the story is that Krlich possesses a letter signed by all members of the Clemente family, agreeing to not honk horns near his home.

What is interesting is that none of the parties who have been charged, when asked why they participated in the honking, will give a reason.

“They appear to be afraid they will be the next victim if they tell,” Krlich says.

**

Mary Clemente died December 4, 2008 at O’Brien Memorial Health Care Center in Masury, Ohio.