Sunday, May 31, 2009

Liar, Liar, Debtor on Fire!

I hate hearing about Welfare abuse—people taking advantage of the system that is designed to benefit those who are truly in need. Recently I learned of another such abuse—it's called filing for bankruptcy so you don't have to pay your bills.

Here's how it works. You rack up a bunch of bills like student loans and credit card debt. You sign a lease to rent a much larger, newer, luxury home to replace your cheesy apartment. You trade in your Kia SUV for a new 2008 Lincoln. You're living the high life as a single person making about $90,000 a year. As soon as you have everything you need, and you've racked up about $60,000 in debt and court judgments, you pay a lawyer half of his $3,000 fee and declare bankruptcy. Even if you are ineligible, you still get to do that. It's the law. And as soon as it happens, your creditors aren't allowed to collect a dime from you.

The system works for people who have lost their jobs and their homes, or for the seriously ill who have depleted their savings on medical care. It probably also works for people who lost their life savings to scum like Bernie Madoff. But it should not work for people like my ex-tenant who signed a lease but never payed me one dime in rent. And yet it does.

On Friday I lost another day's pay (plus the cost of a ZipCar rental) to drive an hour and 45 minutes to Baltimore to attend something called a "341 Creditors Meeting." My debtor was there, with her very young attorney. There is no judge at this meeting, just a Trustee, his assistant, and a very small audience of other indigents and their attorneys. I was the only creditor.

The first few cases I sat through went very quickly. There were no anomalies. When time came for my debtor's case to be called, the Trustee whispered something to his assistant and then brought in other people from the waiting room (who were scheduled for a later meeting). He knew that my debtor's case was a doozie, so he deliberately let others go first.

This might be because I'd sent him a 5-page report outlining fourteen false or otherwise inconsistent statements or claims that my debtor had made in her bankruptcy petition. The facts were all backed up based on information I obtained through my own investigation. (I spent a lot of time on this!)

When my debtor's case was called, I was invited to the table by the Trustee (whom I could tell was a man who does not take crap from people). Sitting directly next to the Trustee, I saw him silently read through my 5-page letter. The other parties at the table were unaware of what he was looking at. I was inwardly pleased that he cared. He then hid the letter beneath other paperwork in the thick file for my ex-tenant (let's call her G.S., but believe me, she's no girl scout).

After her identity was established and she was sworn in, G.S. was asked if everything in her paperwork was correct. That was Lie #1 (otherwise known as perjury). The Trustee first told her that she hadn't submitted her tax returns by the deadline and then called her to the mat on several other items in her paperwork.

This turned out to be the longest bankruptcy case of the morning. At one point the attorney claimed that he "thought" they'd filed an amended petition correcting one of the falsities that the Trustee nailed them on. This peeved the Trustee, who asked the attorney just when exactly such amendment was filed. Neither G.S. nor her lawyer could answer. The Trustee looked at his computer and said with the slightest aggravation, "It's not in the system" before continuing his questions.

Aside from other paperwork issues, G.S. actually failed to list two of her four previous bankruptcy filings, which she claimed that she didn't think she had to list because they were dismissed. The Trustee corrected her, indicating that the question clearly asks for all previous filings, not discharges, and that she'd failed to list a 2003 and a 2004 bankruptcy. Her statement of financial affairs failed to list her 2007 income. She failed to list any law suits within the past year, of which the Trustee knew there were two. Several amendments would have to be made to the petition.

The Trustee also asked her why I was not listed as a creditor, as I'd indicated in my letter to him. Instead, G.S. had listed the court (and the wrong amount for the judgement awarded to me). That too would have to be corrected in the petition.

The trustee questioned her $732/month charitable contribution claim on her list of monthly expenses. (Just like I later questioned how she could spend $250/month in gas.) She claimed the donations were for her church, and the Trustee asked if she could provide proof.

He brought up other inconsistencies that I'd outlined in my report, like the disclosure of compensation (to her attorney) showing three different amounts across the paperwork. He asked her if she'd had other bank accounts in the past year. On her paperwork she'd listed "none," but now, caught in another lie, she was forced to disclose three accounts she'd closed so I couldn't garnish them. When asked why she hadn't included it on her petition, she mumbled she must've forgotten.

He asked her if the Comptroller of Maryland was still garnishing her wages$mdash;a $2,458/month expense she claimed on her paperwork. That, too, was a lie, and I knew it. When he asked her if she'd sold or given away any property valued at over $200 in the past two years, I made a note on my legal pad.

Finally it came time for me to ask questions. First thing I said to her was, "Ms. S., you stated earlier that you hadn't sold or given away anything valued at $200 or more in the past two years, correct?" She reluctantly answered "Yes," not knowing what I knew. I looked directly at her and said, "What happened to your Kia Sorento?" I knew she'd traded it in on a new Lincoln just six weeks prior to her bankruptcy filing.

The look on her face. She stammered. "Uh... uh..." She started to answer but wasn't sure what to say. It's horrible being caught in a lie. She looked at her attorney, asking if she had to answer. He told her yes. She finally admitted, "I traded it in."

I questioned why she put $2566/month as her rent, when I knew it was $2200/month. She claimed she'd spread the security deposit out over six months (which is not rent). I caught her lying about her income, asking her which was the truth, "the time you said under oath on November 20, 2008, that your gross income is $10,000 a month, or the time you said under oath it is $7,500 a month?" She stammered again. "Uh... I was talking about gross income."

"So was I."

"Uh. . . it's closer to $7,500. . . I guess."

I asked her why she got a car loan for $37,885 for a car she claims is only worth $22,400 on her paperwork. She got defensive and said "It wasn't for that much" (a lie). This went on a little while longer before the Trustee nicely said I could have one more question since there were so many people waiting. I did. In the end, there were over a dozen "amendments" that she needed to make to her petition and her Ch. 13 plan. Of all the other cases in the room that day, not one change was needed. G.S. needed enough changes for several days' worth of cases.

If I was a judge, I'd dismiss the case now.

This is what I don't get. She still gets her confirmation hearing in July. She's guilty of perjury (many times over—in both this case and in mine against her last year), and yet she still gets relief from paying any of her debts. The honest, trustworthy creditors are the losers. What's wrong with this picture?

The whole thing sucks. Believe me, I've learned my lesson about giving the poor person with bad credit a "chance" because she's truly trying to clean up her credit so that she can buy my home from me. Get this - she used the same exact ruse on her new landlord in her new luxury town house that she moved into just six weeks before declaring bankruptcy.

She's a scam artist. Well, I guess you gotta be good at something. It's too bad that the courts give these thieves the benefit of the doubt as well.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Kitty Playland

I came home from work tonight to find cat toys scattered everywhere. It seems little miss Jelly Belly is a toy freak.

A few days ago I woke up and found a toy mouse in my bed. That's a first. Later I saw Jelly with a toy that I hadn't seen in eons. In fact, it's so old that it was one of Martin's early toys. I had no idea where she'd found it. The next day I saw another old mousie out on the floor that had never interested Baby.

I still wasn't sure where Jelly had found it until later when I was in my home office. Beyond the loveseat on the floor was a cat toy basket that I'd forgotten about, which had been stored on one of the lower shelves of my book case. I can picture Jelly standing up on her hind legs pulling it off the shelf. I'm sure that's exactly what happened.

Trust me, she's not destructive. She just loves her toys!

I wish she'd love Baby as much.

I am so proud of Baby. We've had Jelly for two weeks now. At first Baby gave her a hard time, chasing her down, and I felt sorry for Jelly. I was afraid that Baby would never give up the fight. But within 10 days Baby was like a new cat. She has tried several times to make friends with Jelly. And now Baby is literally falling over at Jelly's feet in an effort to be friends, but whenever Baby gets a tad too close, no matter how gentle and unagressive she is, Jelly hisses at her and walks away.

Earlier I gave them each some catnip on the kitty scratch pad. Jelly immediately started eating her pile of catnip; Baby started rolling in hers. (These are typical responses for each of them.) They were inches apart and all was fine for a minute until Jelly got hissy. Baby just looked at her as if to say, "Rats! I wish you'd play with me."

I'm still giving it time. Jelly is such a cute little girl. That squeak of hers makes me laugh. And the past three nights she's slept on my pillow just like Martin use to do, wrapped around my head.

Baby is really making an effort to be friends. When she gets in her playful mood at night she tries even harder to get Jelly's attention, but Jelly will have nothing to do with such foolishness.

We'll see. It could be that Jelly is better off as a single cat. Or, they might be best friends a couple weeks from now.

Friday, May 15, 2009

One Week with Jelly Belly

I must say, this is the third time I've tried (in as many years) to introduce a new cat to an existing cat in our home. I guess the third time is a charm, because things are really looking up for Baby and Jelly Belly.

I kept them separated the first day and a half. Sneaky little Jelly Belly managed to get out and was basically chased down and attacked by Baby three times. That's how the weekend went.

On Monday I worked from home. I have a tall stand-up desk in my home office that Baby likes to grace her presence with while I'm working. I figured that was a good time to let JB out of her space and let her wander around. Baby would feel safe up high, and the two would be able to observe one another without directly interacting.

In fact, I worked at home the first four days of the week and repeated the process each day. It seems to have worked. That, and the constant praising and petting of both of them to reassure them that they are both good girls. Trust me, that part makes a big difference!

I was also careful to quelch all of my "fears" about the relationship not working. Cats reign when it comes to reading human emotion. So I remained as positive and indifferent as possible, and I think both of them got good vibes.

After a couple days of that, I let them out in the same room where each was basically on the same level as the other. I had to break up relatively few skirmishes, each of which was less severe than the previous, until it primarily seemed to be nothing more than posturing.

Even as the two girls jockeyed for position, I was soooooo proud of Baby. She improved on getting past the whole "alpha stance" behavior much more quickly than I imagined. Jelly Baby has been quite a brave soul and relatively fearless—not to mention thankfully unaggressive toward Baby. I think that her easy-going personality has a lot to do with the success of this project.

Today I left home and went into my office to work, but I kept the girls separated; they weren't ready for unsupervised visitation with one another. When I got home, I let them both out. Each day they walk a bit closer to one another, with JB generally (and carefully) giving Baby a wide berth.

It was so cute. Baby went up to JB very gently and slowly, and she just sniffed the tip of her tail. Clearly she was making an effort. But JB hissed! Later, when Baby wasn't looking, JB walked up to her where she was lying on the carpet and sniffed at her tail in the same fashion. Baby turned, swatted with one paw, hissed, and threatened to attack.

But moments later both were fine. If I remain positive and continue with the hearty approbation, I think this is going to work!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Kitty v5.0

This weekend I volunteered at King Street Cats, helping out with Saturday adoptions. Of the 24 kitties that we are sheltering now, one of them was adopted yesterday - yay!

Um, and guess who was the adopter? Little did I know that I'd be coming home with Kitty version 5.0, but this little girl touched my heart and I just had to try her out as a companion for Baby. Starting next week, I'm going to be gone about 15 hours a day on Mondays and Tuesdays, and I hate to leave Baby alone that long. So I hope this works out.

The new kitty already has a new name, so that's a good sign. (Remember New Kitty the spaz from a year ago?) Well, this newer kitty was called Sable at first. You can see her on Not unlike Baby, this poor thing has had two previous families - both military; both left her behind when re-stationed. Despite the trauma she has endured, she couldn't be sweeter. She's actually a snuggler! I'd never met a cat that snuggles with humans. And she squeaks. She's very talkative, but it comes out as a squeak, not a meow. It's so cute!

She's a slightly chubby Tuxedo—which just means an all-black cat with white feet, chest, and face. I Googled Tuxedo cat and found out that T.S. Eliot called these black-and-white cats "Jellicle Cats." A while after reading that, I was sitting on the floor with Sable when she walked away from me. I took one look at her squarish body and that paunch of hers, and out of my mouth came the words, "Jelly Belly!" She had a new name.

Baby is not pleased. I'm keeping the girls separated. Twice they accidentally ended up in the same room, and before I could stop it, an evil Baby (whom I didn't recognize as my sweet, lovable Chantilly kitty) viciously chased down Jelly Belly and attacked her. When I separated them and a couple chunks of fur settled to the floor, poor JB was lying on her back, all four paws up in the air. Now she's scared of Baby.

I have told Baby that she's made it quite clear that she is officially the Alpha cat, and she needs to leave it at that.

The reason this kitty captured my heart is she is what's called an "all-four declaw," which essentially means she's suffered through ten amputations. It's inhumane and can scar a cat for life (psychologically), not to mention leave the poor animal with all kinds of physical problems. Remember, when these 10 amputations occur, the cat isn't given a wheel chair to get around in—it still has to walk on all fours while they slowly heal, and it's excruciating.

On her first day here, Jelly Belly would try to jump up on the bed. But she'd miss and slide down the side. It about killed me to see that. She's only five years old and she's not that fat, so I couldn't understand why she couldn't jump up on the bed. Later I noticed that she frequently displays balance problems trying to walk. It's primarily in her hind legs. That's when I realized why she can't jump up on the bed - it's because she's an all-four declaw. She'll have problems walking and balancing for the rest of her life.

Many people don't realize the mutilation that declawing entails; when I was younger, I used to be one of those people who thought it was OK to get a cat's front claws removed. Now that I know how painful it is and the lasting effects it has on a cat, I'd never ever put a cat through that again. And a four-paw declaw is just cruel.

It breaks my heart. All the more reason to hope and pray that Baby will warm up to her and become her best friend. Jelly is going to need lots of loving.

Fingers are crossed! This girl is a real sweety, and I hope I can keep her.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

No Justice for us Good Tax-paying Folk

If you want to learn how to screw your landlord out of his or her money, read on for some tips. I've learned a lot over the past 18 months from my deadbeat ex-tenant, who continues to get away with not paying me a dime despite the court order that she do so.

Unfortunately, it doesn't matter if someone breaks a lease, takes money from you, never pays their taxes, repeatedly commits perjury, doesn't show for trial, lies to the court about her whereabouts that day, and files a fraudulent bankruptcy petition (also chock full of lies) to stop a wage garnishment—the justice system ultimately errs on the deadbeat loser's side.

It's been nine months since the Court awarded a judgment in my favor. I haven't seen one dime from my ex-tenant the loser.

Thanks to the loser defendant's repeated schemes designed to get out of paying me, I find myself spending more time and money on this case. And unfortunately, it ain't over yet.

For one thing, she lied under oath throughout our case, and got away with it. She lied about her employment status and provided a false residential address on her responses to interrogatories, which are in written form but are signed under oath and penalty of perjury. She didn't show up for trial, then had the gall to write a letter to the court three weeks later saying she'd been called out of town on a "family emergency" on the day of trial. Accompanied by that letter was her request for a new trial, a request that she'd missed the deadline for by 10 days.

The problem is that the judge that reviewed the letter and illegal motion for a new trial must've been sleeping, because he/she called for a hearing, in complete disregard for proper procedure (and law). Never mind that I'd won the judgment, and the judgment was absolutely final as of ten days post-trial. Because some judge or clerk wasn't paying attention, I had to go back to court during Christmas week, to appear for the defendant's motion.

Guess what? The defendant did not show to argue her own motion. The judge literally laughed at the absurdity of us being there at all. (Why couldn't this have been the judge who reviewed the ludicrous motion?) My attorney and I were walking down the aisle away from the bench, and the judge couldn't stop laughing. We never should have been there that day.

So you'd think that would be it, right?

Wrong. It's difficult to get an uncooperative defendant to confess assets. When mine didn't do that (as ordered by the court), my lawyer had to remind her. So, last November, a full 60 days after the deadline, she responded to interrogatories yet again. And she lied yet again—claiming all her bank accounts (3 separate checking accounts) had a zero balance, and that she owns virtually no furniture, no clothing, no car, has no retirement accounts, etc.

So then I had to file a motion to compel her to come to court, bring specific financial records, and orally confess her assets to me in front of a judge. This was scheduled to happen on April 20 of this year.

Meanwhile, I had been unable to garnish the defendant's wages because I had to get in line behind the Comptroller of Maryland. Seems my deadbeat ex-tenant had a bad habit of not paying taxes. When I checked the court record, I found five tax liens against her, dating back six years. She somehow evaded paying over $60,000 in taxes. Most of that was written off in a Chapter 7 bankruptcy that was discharged on behalf of the defendant just three years ago.

The defendant had an attorney buddy call my lawyer early on in our case. This two-bit lawyer never entered an appearance and therefore couldn't legally represent her. But that didn't stop him from calling my attorney and lying about the defendant's employment status. He told my attorney, "You'll never get a dime out of her. She's unemployed. And she'll just file bankruptcy again." My lawyer was worried when he heard that, and so was I.

But I'd done my own investigation and found out about the defendant's previous bankruptcy. She had to wait eight years to be eligible for bankruptcy again. Great! Maybe there was hope yet.

Then later on, again based on hours and hours of my own investigation over several days that included Labor Day weekend last year, I tracked down her employer and found out she'd lied under oath about being unemployed. (That was also when I found out that she'd lied about being out of town on the day of our trial.) The garnishment would start as soon as her tax levy was paid off. Unfortunately, I lost my job two weeks later.

I did the math and found out that my garnishment would start in mid-April of this year. I was looking forward to collecting 25% of her wages every month until she left that job, which was a contract due to expire on June 30 of this year. I was due to collect just a few thousand dollars this way—only a portion of the judgment—but it would be a start.

In March, I did a little more investigating and discovered that the defendant had purchased a $38,000 Lincoln at the Ford dealership and had upgraded from her $1,300/month apartment to a new 2,100-square foot $2,200/month luxury town house. Her income was still the same. She still was paying a dime on her mounting student loans. She still owed me over $25,000.

And yet she was living in the lap of luxury, conning more suckers into signing leases with her and loaning her money that they'll never see a dime of. (As of March her credit rating had sunk to 466. She used her mom to co-sign the car loan application with her.)

On April 20 I gave up a day's pay and $75 for a ZipCar rental to drive up to Maryland for our court date. It was a nightmare. I was on the docket for "orals," which were supposed to start at 1:15PM. When I walked in at 12:45, a long-winded case was dragging out. I could tell it wasn't about to come to a close.

Finally, at 1:15, the judge stood up, announced she had to go get something to eat, and would be back within a half hour. She said that since there was no food in the building, she had to go off site and might take longer. I was worried because I knew I had to be out of there by 3:30PM to make it to class that evening.

So I sat on the hard wooden pew as the clock ticked off an hour. I'd spoken to the clerk already to let him know my situation. But I worried the entire time. The defendant hadn't shown, but if I walked out, there was nothing I could do to discover her assets. So I stayed and waited.

Finally the judge came back. I thought she was going to go back to that lengthy case, but she did the right thing and took the quick cases first, followed by orals. I was out by 2:30, but it was all bad news. When my turn came and I stood in front of the judge, she pulled out a piece of paper stating that the defendant had filed for bankruptcy the day before. I know my jaw dropped open. I didn't say one word. I knew the defendant wasn't eligible for bankruptcy, but somehow she'd gotten away with filing a petition for Ch. 13.

My heart sank. It was already a rotten day. I'd missed a day's pay. The hour-long drive up had been in pouring, blinding rain. My hair was toast. Now I had to bttle traffic back to VA, and I was going back empty handed. All that for nothing. My ex-tenant had managed to screw me again.

Hence began my investigation into the defendant's bankruptcy, into bankruptcy code in general, and into the MD bankruptcy court system. These things take time. Plus the paperwork I had to fill out to file a claim. Seems the loser forgot to put me down as a creditor on her petition. She knows I'm the creditor but listed the court as the creditor of the judgment instead, probably on the advice of her sleazy lawyer who never should have filed the bankruptcy to begin with (which, by the way, costs $3,000 to do). Not surprising. Maybe she thought I wouldn't find out about it and would miss the creditor's meeting on May 29 (that'll be another holiday week ruined with yet another trip to court to continue to battle this loser—not to mention, another day's pay lost).

I went through her bankruptcy report, which is downloadable online (for a fee, of course), and found several inconsistencies (read: lies) about her assets monthly living expenses. ($285 for a phone bill??) She even lied about the amount of rent she's paying, putting down $2566 instead of $2200. She lied about the tax levy, which shouldn't have shown up on the report at all because it was paid off. In addition, she exagerrated the amount of the levy. She lied about her monthly wage amount on her 11/20/08 interrogatories, as I found out from the bankruptcy petition.

So I spent hours yesterday before going to my volunteer job, writing up all these (and more) 'inconsistencies' to send to the trustee, along with my claim form. According to a bankruptcy attorney I spoke with last week, this particular trustee in Baltimore is pretty smart and doesn't let anyone pull the wool over his eyes. I hope that's true.

Unfortunately, that doesn't help me now. I received a letter from the Court stating that she is ineligible for bankruptcy—but that doesn't stop the proceedings. Unbelievable. This is what I do not comprehend. A person can continue to file bankruptcies to stop paying their debts, whether they are eligible or not. I can't garnish wages because filing a bankruptcy petition (fraudulent or not) invokes an automatic stay for the debtor's creditors. No one can collect squat until the case is either discharged or dismissed, and that will take months. And by then she'll have a different job and I'll have to spend more hours tracking her down all over again. And by then there'll be a new tax lien against her . . . well, you get the picture.

You can't get blood from this turnip. If my defendant continues to pursue this Ch. 13, she might be facing jail time and a $500,000 fine. Not because she's ineligible—because she lied under oath on her bankruptcy petition.

This isn't a fair world at all. Oh, and God I miss New York. Just had to throw that in . . . .