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Diddly squat 

Two years after a foreclosure mess-up, the county is still stuck with a mess — and no money

By mid-November, the summer weeds that sprouted like cornstalks in front of Jeanette Dobbs' Colorado Springs home have died, leaving an expanse of thistle-studded dirt. A broom, a plastic tub and other relics add to a feeling of abandonment, at odds with other neatly kept properties that line Drakestone Drive northeast of Wasson High School.

To see this property abandoned, however, is only a pipe dream for county officials still dealing with a foreclosure botched two years ago. Paul Murphy, an attorney representing the El Paso County public trustee's office, sounds harried talking about repeated efforts to serve Dobbs and her daughter with notice that the county once again is trying to claim title for a home the trustee's office paid for in November 2007.

"They don't come out," Murphy says. He adds that the next step might be to deliver the legal documents to Dobbs by certified mail: "We can't just let this sit here."

But that's already happened. And at least one neighbor is skeptical that change is coming: "I don't think the county knows what to do."

The phenomenon of squatters staying in bank-owned homes has been widely reported in foreclosure meccas like Detroit. In Colorado Springs, it's rare. And here, Dobbs has twisted the model, living reclusively in what should be a government-owned home.

She bought the house in December 2006 for $210,000, and her lender filed to foreclose the next July. An investor snatched the property for $155,000 when it went to auction in September 2007, but the law at the time allowed property owners 75 days post-auction to redeem the property by paying the auction price plus legal fees. (The redemption period went away at the start of 2008.)

Dobbs and her daughter Jessie Dobbs delivered a check for close to $164,000 to the trustee's office. Then headed by Patricia Thompson, the office actually accepted the check a day late ("A matter of trustee," news, Jan. 3, 2008). It closed the auction deal by returning the $155,000 to the investor.

But the Dobbs' check turned out to be fraudulent. At the time, Jessie was under investigation for writing bad checks worth more than $28,000. That case later merged with the investigation of the Drakestone foreclosure. As part of a plea deal in October 2008, Jessie admitted to a lesser theft charge and was ordered to serve four years' probation and to pay $192,308 in restitution.

The trustee's office filed to take title of the property in December 2007. But after going through mediation, Murphy says, Jeanette refused to sign legal documents.

"And we had other technical problems," Murphy explains, chalking those up to how unusual it is for a trustee's office to take legal title.

Now Murphy is back at it again, filing a second lawsuit to take title, this time on behalf of the El Paso County commissioners. (Commissioners haven't been in the loop on this, according to Chair Jim Bensberg, though the county should see most of the proceeds if the house is seized and put to auction.)

He says procedures have been changed to screen out bad checks. Thompson resigned after the mess-up; prosecutors and detectives who worked the case have all moved on to other assignments and worries. El Paso County foreclosures have boomed since then, hitting a record 4,602 in 2008 and on pace to break 5,000 this year.

While that has left some people homeless, Jeanette seems determined to stay put. She answered her door one recent morning, but declined to answer questions.

lane@csindy.com

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