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Published: Wednesday, 3/2/2005

Otsego coach, wife accused of racial bias in sale of house

BY CLYDE HUGHES
BLADE STAFF WRITER
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Racial discrimination in home sales is not unusual in the Toledo-area real estate market, according to a Perrysburg Realtor who alerted authorities to alleged discrimination by Otsego High School's boys basketball coach and his wife.

The Ohio Civil Rights Commission recently filed a complaint against Keith Limes and his wife, Tracy, in Wood County Common Pleas Court.

Darlene Sweeney Newbern, director of the commission's regional office in Toledo, said it found probable cause that an African-American couple was discriminated against by the Limeses in 2003 when they looked at the Limeses' home at 14909 Cross Creek Rd. in Middleton Township, northwest of Bowling Green.

Jon Modene, a Realtor and owner of Re/Max Masters, who turned the case over to the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, said yesterday that he stands by his decision.

"Overt and discreet racism is a fact in the Toledo market," Mr. Modene said. "It won't go away until other Realtors start to speak out about it."

Mr. Modene said he doesn't want to talk about the specifics because the matter is pending in court and he doesn't want to jeopardize the case.

Christine Rayfus, who now lives in Swanton, alleges in the court complaint that she was told by Mr. Limes' father, Alan Limes, that the Cross Creek Road home was already sold while she was viewing the house on July 2, 2003, with her fiancee, Tarryl Hamilton.

The day before, Ms. Rayfusreported she viewed the home with Deborah Patton, a Re/Max Masters showing agent. A "for sale" sign was in front of the home on both days.

On July 3, the complaint states, Mrs. Limes allegedly called Ms. Rayfus' Realtor, Mr. Modene, and objected that the couple's property was being shown to African-Americans.

In a report from the commission dated July 22, 2004, Mr. Modene described Mrs. Limes as "hostile and threatening" in that phone conversation.

The report stated, "[Mrs. Limes] asked if the colored people that were at the property were his people. [Mr. Modene] stated that he informed [Mrs. Limes] that this was illegal and he wasn't going to answer her question. He also informed [Mrs. Limes] he had a buyer for them. Tracy Limes informed [Mr. Modene] that the property was not available to his clients."

Mrs. Limes said in an interview with the commission that she didn't have a contract with Mr. Modene and had not given him permission to show the house. The property remained available for sale until at least July 22, 2003, the complaint states.

"I called the Fair Housing Center and turned them in after the phone call and seeing how upset [Ms. Rayfus and Mr. Hamilton] were," he said. "I think Realtors have a positive duty to do so when they see this type of behavior. I did it without any concern for the consequences."

The Limeses declined comment last night when reached by phone.

Ricardo King, the Fair Housing Center's general counsel, said Ms. Rayfus went to the center on July 14 to complain of alleged discrimination. Mr. King said the Fair Housing Center investigated the allegations by sending a "tester" couple, who were white, to the home to see if the home was still available for sale.

According to the Ohio Civil Rights Commission 2004 report, Mrs. Limes told the testers there was a pending offer but was "99.9 percent sure that offer would fall through," and that they could make an offer.

The Limeses reported to the Civil Rights Commission that they had entered into a written sales agreement with a white couple on May 30, 2003, contingent on financing by June 10, 2003, and closing before July 28, 2003.

Basing its report on documents and interviews with the prospective buyers, the commission believes that the Limeses knew the couple would not be able to secure a loan in late June, 2003.

The Limeses eventually closed on the sale of the home to another white couple on Sept. 5, 2003, for $265,000, according to county records.

The Ohio Revised Code states that it is unlawful for any person to refuse to sell, transfer, assign, rent, lease, sublease, or finance housing accommodations, refuse to negotiate for the sale or rental of housing accommodations, or otherwise deny or make unavailable housing accommodations because of race, color, religion, sex, familial status, ancestry, disability, or national origin.

Otsego Athletic Director Scott Bernthisel declined to comment on the case yesterday.

Joe Long, Otsego Local Schools District superintendent, said the allegations against Mr. Limes and his wife were "serious," but the board likely won't look into the matter until the complaint is heard in court. "Right now all we have are allegations," Mr. Long said. Only two African-Americans were among the 2,598 residents of Middleton Township in the 2000 Census.

The couple are asking for unspecified damages and attorney fees for them, their minor children, and foster children. The case has been assigned to Judge Reeve Kelsey.

Contact Clyde Hughes at:

chughes@theblade.com

or 419-724-6095.



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