Greene neighbors sue under RICO


Article Courtesy of The HOOK, Charlottesville, VA

Published April 13, 2006

The long-litigious Dogwood Valley subdivision has gone to the next level: three residents filed a civil RICO suit in federal court against the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association and five of its board members.

The three plaintiffs, subjects of an October 2005 Hook cover story, filed the Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization civil suit in the U.S. District Court in Charlottesville April 7, and each is seeking $1 million.

"Enough is enough," says plaintiff Grant Colby, who claims the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association has ignored numerous court rulings, including a 2004 decision by the Virginia Supreme Court that found the association had no right to levy special assessments on properties and sell them at auction.

In Dogwood Valley v. Winkelman, two lots, each with a $35 judgment owing, were sold at auction in 1998. The Court voided the sale of the lots-- one of which was purchased by former association president Gary Lowe. He ran unsuccessfully for the Greene County Board of Supervisors last fall and is named in the RICO suit.

Plaintiffs allege that the association continues to place liens on properties and file frivolous lawsuits against those who complain, typically non-suiting shortly before the trial date.

Mitch Miller paid his 2002 road dues assessment, but received a notice from the association saying he still owed $208, the lawsuit alleges. When Miller's brother attempted to pay the $208 for the second time, the suit says, Lowe would not accept Miller's payment from his brother, and a lien was placed on his property.

Lowe did not return phone calls from the Hook by press time.

Doug Dye had to pay higher interest rates when he refinanced his home last year because of the liens on his Dogwood Valley property that won't go away.

Plaintiff Doug Dye says he's been trying since 1979 to get liens removed from his property. In 1984, the Greene County General District Court ruled the assessments and liens were illegal-- yet in 1998, Dye found out his property was about to be sold at auction. According to the suit, he paid $875 under duress-- and the liens still have not been removed.

"We're being subjected to extortionate litigation," says Dye, adding, "We are getting nowhere in the 16th Circuit." He describes the lawsuits, motions, and demurrers as "just like a video of a minuet on endless replay."

The Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act was created to fight organized crime. Over the years, its provision for allowing civil cases with trebled damages has been used to fight abortion protesters, record producers, and baseball team executives.

This suit contends that the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association, its officers, and members of the board of directors constitute an enterprise with a "pattern of racketeering."

"This case is unique when you've got the highest appellate court in Virginia saying you can't do that, and they ignore it," says Maryland lawyer Joe D'Erasmo, who's representing the plaintiffs. "Maybe there's some rationale, but I'm mystified by what it may be."

Last year, the association's attorney, George Dygert, told the Hook he had filed "curative action" documents in the Greene County courthouse so the association could make special assessments for roads and commons.

The plaintiffs aren't convinced the "curative action" documents are valid.

"When you have a homeowners association just ignoring a court decision that says it can't collect assessments and not removing liens when those properties are all some of the owners have, that's serious stuff," says D'Erasmo.