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Published: Saturday, 5/8/2010

Foreclosure standoff ends with arrests of 7 in house

BY BRIDGET THARP
AND CLAUDIA BOYD-BARRETT
BLADE STAFF WRITERS

STONY RIDGE - There were cheers and chants from about 30 protesters across the street as Wood County sheriff's deputies carried Keith Sadler out the front door of his foreclosed home and into the pouring rain early Friday.

"Keith's house, Keith's house," chanted demonstrators from the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League - an activist group co-founded by Mr. Sadler - as the 53-year-old was placed in a sheriff's vehicle just before 8 a.m. One yelled, "You're an American hero, Keith," and others cheered as the vehicle rolled away.

Mr. Sadler and six others were arrested during the forced evacuation of his U.S. 20 home early yesterday.

They spent five nights barricaded inside in an attempt to resist his eviction from the place he owned for 12 years and lived in for 20.

All were charged with misdemeanors of obstructing justice and trespassing, and freed on their own recognizance hours later by Perrysburg Municipal Court Judge Dwight Osterud.

Although thousands of people in the Toledo area face foreclosure every year, few resist the process with as much fanfare as Mr. Sadler.

Local authorities and housing advocates said it's rare for anyone to go to such lengths as barricading themselves in a home.

"It's the only time this has happened in six years I've been working here," Wood County Sheriff Mark Wasylyshyn said.

He said people whose homes have been sold in a foreclosure sale usually vacate their properties after receiving a notice to leave from the sheriff's office.

In Lucas County, Deputy Sheriff David Tardich said people do occasionally stay in their homes until authorities arrive to kick them out, but normally they leave without further resistance.

"They don't protest like these people are doing," Deputy Tardich said. "When they show up, we tell them they have to leave the property and their stuff is removed."

He called the Stony Ridge standoff "ridiculous."

But Steve Fought, spokesman for U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), said Mr. Sadler's case highlights a widespread problem that doesn't receive enough attention.

"This is so unfortunate. It's a heartbreaking picture," Mr. Fought said. "The amount of money that Keith Sadler owed on his home is probably a day's work for the head of J.P. Morgan. It's pocket change for a lot of the people that have made out on others' misfortune. It's just so sad, and unfortunate that it has happened to thousands of people in our community."

Mr. Sadler, who mostly has worked in factories, bought his house from his father but fell behind on mortgage payments last year after he was off work from Dana Corp. for medical reasons.

Court records show State Bank bought Mr. Sadler's house for $33,333 at a Wood County sheriff's sale this year.

On March 31, the bank obtained a writ of possession in Wood County Common Pleas Court compelling him to leave.

Mr. Sadler was arrested in August after disrupting a Lucas County sheriff's sale by blowing a whistle to stop the sale of foreclosed homes.

During his arraignment by video in Perrysburg Municipal Court yesterday, Judge Osterud put a special condition on Mr. Sadler's release from jail.

"Do you understand that being law-abiding means you cannot go back to the residence in Stony Ridge?" the judge asked.

"Yes, I do," Mr. Sadler said, noting that he would be staying with his mother in Fulton County's Lyons.

He did not return calls for comment after his release from the Wood County jail yesterday afternoon.

The failed effort to save Mr. Sadler's home involved streaming videos live from inside the barricades online at Ustream.tv. Footage showed Mr. Sadler and a few of the others inside binding themselves to furniture with chain locks moments before sheriff's deputies entered the home with guns drawn and disabling the Web camera early yesterday.

Mr. Sadler told The Blade earlier this week that he understood the protest could lead to his arrest or even the loss of his temporary job with the U.S. Census Bureau.

"The housing crisis, it's very out of hand," Lance Crandall, 21, a spokesman for the Toledo Foreclosure Defense League, said yesterday outside the Wood County jail. "We have people that are unemployed, upper-class, working-class, being kicked out of their homes because of an economic crisis that we didn't create."

Several protesters were sleeping under a makeshift tent built from a tarp found in Mr. Sadler's garage when the sound of shattering glass woke them about

6:30 a.m. yesterday.

It took nearly two hours for authorities to arrest all in the home: Mr. Sadler, 53, of Stony Ridge; Connie Smithingell, 20, of Perrysburg; Bryan Baumgartner, 19, of Toledo; Nicholas Botek, 23, of Maumee; Jessica Angelov, 20, of Oregon; Daniel Orange, 25, of Toledo; and Johnny W. Kutsch, Jr., 22, of Oregon.

John Kutsch, Sr., 56, paced outside the Wood County jail before noon yesterday. Though he worried about his son's safety as he spent the week at the house, Mr. Kutsch said he supported his son's involvement.

His son and namesake was already behind bars yesterday by the time he showed up at the Stony Ridge house with extra bedding, juice, and breakfast for the protesters. He was surprised to learn that his son - who he describes as a soft-spoken artist and musician - initially hid from authorities to maintain a spy camera set up inside a fire alarm on the second floor.

"I didn't want to see him go to jail," Mr. Kutsch said. "But he's doing something he believes in. I'm proud that he's standing up for what he believes."

Lucas and Wood counties have experienced a dramatic increase in foreclosures.

Between 2006 and 2009, foreclosure filings in Lucas County rose more than 24 percent, while in Wood County they rose almost 70 percent. That's well above the state average of 12.6 percent.

However, foreclosure filings in Lucas County are down so far this year. The Lucas County clerk of courts reported filings dropped to 1,453 cases in the first quarter of 2010, down from 1,680 during the same period in 2009.

February through April also saw three successive months of decline in filings.

That's not the case in Wood County. For the first quarter of 2010, mortgage foreclosure filings numbered 187, up from 153 in the same period of 2009. The worst month for filings was March, when 83 cases were filed.

Bill Faith, who directs the Coalition on Homelessness and Housing in Ohio, said the foreclosure epidemic is spreading dramatically in rural and suburban counties. He said that's partly because the subprime lending that brought on the housing crisis took root in the suburbs and countryside later than in the cities.

That means holders of risky mortgages in rural and suburban areas are only now grappling with the effects of adjustable rates, Mr. Faith said. Plus, rising job losses have pushed increasing numbers of people with standard mortgages into foreclosure. That's particularly true in rural and suburban areas, Mr. Faith said.

"Many rural counties have unemployment numbers well into the double digits," Mr. Faith said. "When there's a major employer in a small area, when that major employer goes away, that has a ripple effect in the community."

Keith Foster of the Fair Housing Center in Toledo, which offers help to people in foreclosure, said it's possible for borrowers to avoid losing a home by negotiating with their lender.

But he said it's often a wearying endeavor and takes persistence.

"It's a very, very frustrating process," Mr. Foster said. "It's very typical for somebody to send in their documents and never hear anything."

Mr. Foster said borrowers facing foreclosure should get free help from HUD-approved counseling agencies.

While he did not condone Mr. Sadler's actions, he said people should stay in their homes for as long as possible. That gives them more time to work out a deal with their lender, or at least save money to move on.

He said deals can sometimes be reached even after a sheriff's sale of a home because lenders often buy the houses back at the sale.

"Do what you can within the law to do what you need," Mr. Foster advised.

Contact Bridget Tharp at:

btharp@theblade.com

or 419-724-6507.



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