Police on alert for attempts to sell pieces of forceclosure

Mike Vaughan was surprised when an elderly couple was willing to pay $60 for some old kitchen cabinets from an east Medford home that is heading into foreclosure.

The couple had seen an ad the 30-year-old Vaughan posted on Craigslist Wednesday that offered to sell almost every fixture in the house on Cedar Links Circle — including the kitchen sink.

Vaughan, who said he didn't think anybody would really want the old cabinets, was even more surprised when two Medford police fraud investigators approached the couple as they were leaving Thursday. They informed the couple it was against the law to sell anything attached to the house.

"I didn't know that," said Vaughan. "They could tell I was really surprised."

Medford police say they have bumped into this problem a few times before, and they want people to know that it is illegal to strip a house threatened with foreclosure. No arrests have been made in other cases.

The two Medford fraud investigators, alerted to the ad by some observant citizens, decided not to press charges against Vaughan, who previously lived in the house, which was owned by his father-in-law.

"We were able to catch it in time so that no crime was committed," said Medford Detective Sgt. Mike Budreau.

Budreau said he suspects that stripping houses is likely more common than people think and is greatly under-reported to police.

After questioning Vaughan, the detectives determined he didn't realize he was doing anything illegal and he agreed to stop. He had been paid $60, but the couple planned to come back later after he removed the cabinets from the wall.

After a discussion with the detectives, Vaughan gave the money back and removed the Craigslist ad, which offered to sell sinks, a mirror, bedroom doors, a laundry door, cabinets, light fixtures, ceiling fans, stair rails, attic stairs and an old water heater.

He said he had done a lot of work on the house, which his father-in-law bought with the provision that Vaughan would make the monthly payments. He said the house wasn't in foreclosure yet, though he said it would be at the end of the month.

Michael Woods, Vaughan's father-in-law, purchased the house in February 2007 for $279,000, according to county records. The assessor's office estimates the real market value now at $248,530.

Budreau said banks and other lenders have been sending letters to police agencies advising that it is illegal to take items that are attached to a house during a foreclosure action. He said the key issue for law enforcement is whether there is an intent to defraud someone, but he said the issue could get into a gray area depending on the status of the loan.

"It does get tricky," he said, noting that many police agencies have relatively little experience dealing with foreclosures.

Detective Brenda Garich, one of two investigators who went to the house, said Vaughan was cooperative, but he had been eager to sell the fixtures.

"He was trying to get money any way he could, probably," she said.

Garich pointed out that a man from Damascus, near Portland, was convicted recently of aggravated theft and after stripping a house that was in foreclosure.

"Sometimes you can get a homeowner that is mad and thinks 'I'm going to be sticking it to the bank,' " she said.

At this point, Medford police would prefer to educate people about the law rather than put anyone in jail, Garich said.

"People are already in hard times," she said.

Vaughan has a wife and three children, and said he is struggling to support his family after losing his marketing job. They tried to refinance the house, but the loan got transferred from one lender to another, and Vaughan's work situation didn't improve.

"I'm in financial trouble, too, with everything going on," Vaughan said.

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 776-4476, or e-mail dmann@mailtribune.com.

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