A Hamilton County Chancery Court judge has granted an order to freeze the assets of Auburn Hills mobile home park managers and prohibit them from conducting any business after letters were sent to residents warning them that management would start demolishing homes deemed uninhabitable starting Saturday morning.
The judge appointed receivers to take over operation of the facility.
State and local officials began investigating alleged abuses by Kimberly and Steven West after detectives received a complaint from community members accusing the pair of stealing $60,000 in relief items meant for the residents of the park who were affected by a deadly EF3 tornado that tore through the neighborhood late on Easter Sunday.
The two were arrested shortly after, and Kimberly West was arrested a second time after allegedly asking residents to sign a document stating that the Wests had provided them with aid after the storm. The two face a $4 million civil suit.
Recently, the Wests sent a letter to residents announcing a plan to bulldoze 21 homes in Auburn Hills on Saturday morning, "despite the lack of adequate notice to the residents or orders of eviction from any court," reads a 43-page civil law enforcement complaint filed by Tennessee Attorney General Herbert H. Slatery in Hamilton County Chancery Court on Saturday morning.
The letter sent to residents and obtained by the Times Free Press states that property management would begin the demolition within 48 hours and to "please make sure to remove all of your belongings."
The Attorney General's complaint says it aims to "restore some modicum of decency to the operation of Auburn Hills and the treatment of its residents," the complaint reads.
The Hamilton County District Attorney's Office, which is conducting the criminal investigation into the theft of disaster donations and coercion of witnesses, also obtained an emergency order on Friday to stop the destruction of homes.
A woman who identified herself as Kimberly West hung up the phone when reached for comment Saturday afternoon.
The state Attorney General's complaint, which also names Logan Most and Ronald Weiss — owners of the company that operates the park — states that the defendants deprived and continue to deprive the residents of basic needs and "disregard their fundamental human rights" by subjecting them to "years of verbal, emotional, and financial abuse, and in at least one instance, physical abuse."
"Defendants shout and curse at the residents, terrorize them daily with incessant patrolling, display weapons to them, repeatedly fine them [in cash], threaten to call the police or immigration authorities and extort significant amounts of money or property from them, while depriving them of basic life necessities such as adequate shelter and peace of mind," the complaint reads. "Most of the residents of Auburn Hills are very vulnerable, speak little English, have little money and are unable to defend themselves from these atrocities. But they are human beings, and good humble people at that, who deserve a safe and decent place to call home."
In its proposed temporary restraining order — now approved by a judge — the state accused the Wests of:
— Offering or providing lease or financing arrangements that were in violation of federal law.
— Telling residents that the Wests had to first approve the sale of mobile homes or other personal property owned by residents.
— Telling residents that rent and other payments could only be made in cash or money order.
— Telling residents that rent or other payments were not received when in fact they had been.
— Telling residents that temporary housing would be provided after a natural disaster when it was not.
— Telling residents that property tax payments would be applied to property tax obligations when that didn't happen.
— Telling residents that the Wests have special connections to law enforcement or threatening to turn residents in to federal immigration authorities in order to coerce compliance from residents when that was not true.
— Withholding legal documents that residents were entitled to receive, including leases and vehicle titles, and providing English-only versions to residents who speak little to no English and barring the help of an interpreter.
— Using eviction notices as routine correspondence to coerce more payments than what was required.
— Failing to repair mechanical, structural, or other problems affecting the health or safety of residents.
— Withholding donated emergency, medical, and food supplies after a natural disaster.
The order prohibits the Wests from continuing any of the alleged actions.
It also bars the defendants from moving or disposing of any funds or assets and prohibits them from opening any safe deposit boxes or borrowing money.
The court also appointed two people, referred to as "receivers," to assume full control of Auburn Hills and its operations and the assets of the defendants if the appointees believe the proceeds stem from violations of the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act or fraudulent transfers.
The appointees are to keep a record of actions taken and have been given the power to remove any associate of the defendants from the property and its operation.
And, within 48 hours of receiving the order, each defendant is to prepare and deliver to the state Attorney General's Office and to the receivers completed financial statements detailing all funds or assets that are located inside or outside of the United States.
Additionally, the state and the receivers have been granted the ability to carry out expedited discovery, including depositions, in anticipation of a court hearing scheduled for June 19.
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