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Published: Wednesday, 9/19/2012

Seneca County joins mortgage agency suit


TIFFIN — Seneca County commissioners voted 2-1 Tuesday to join other Ohio counties in a class-action lawsuit against mortgage giants Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and the Federal Housing Finance Agency for allegedly not paying taxes on property transfers.

The lawsuit — originally filed by Montgomery County commissioners in July — states that from 2002 to the present, those entities “wrongfully and unjustly” claimed to be exempt from paying the required excise taxes to the counties each time a parcel of property was sold or transferred. The suit seeks to recover any money due Montgomery County “and all other similarly situated counties in Ohio.”

If the lawsuit is successful, Freddie Mac, Fannie Mae, and FHFA could face millions of dollars in restitution sought by the counties.

According to the lawsuit, “the foreclosure crisis has led to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac succeeding in ownership to a significant number of deeds in Ohio and across the country.” That made those entities legally responsible for paying the appropriate excise taxes, the lawsuit states. Between 2002 and 2008, there were 483,456 foreclosure cases in Ohio. Eighty-seven of Ohio's 88 counties have an excise tax; the suit alleges that “the Defendants have failed to pay the appropriate County Excise Tax in each such county.”

Although the mortgage giants claimed exemptions as being “government instrumentalities,” the Ohio Department of Taxation has determined those claims to be invalid.

Commissioner Jeff Wagner voted against Seneca County being a part of the lawsuit. “I don't think there's a lot of benefit to joining this,” he said.

“I think just the opposite,” Commissioner Dave Sauber replied. “I think we are due the money.”

Commissioner Ben Nutter concurred. “If we're not part of it, we don't have a seat at the table, and I think it's important for us to control our own destiny.”

Other states filing similar suits include Florida, South Carolina, and West Virginia.

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