Greene racketeering trial continued

Judge Norman Moon continued the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act civil suit yesterday afternoon that pits three Greene County residents against members of the Dogwood Valley property owners association.

Barely halfway through what was expected to be a four-day trial, Moon asked plaintiffs' lawyer Joe D'Erasmo to provide evidence that defendants Gary Lowe, the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association treasurer (and mayor of Stanardsville), and association officers Dean Musser, Keith Wynn, and Judy McDavid committed extortion under RICO when the association sent letters to residents telling them to pay special assessments after the Supreme Court of Virginia ruled in 2004 the organization could not collect under Virginia law. "It doesn't matter if they knew each other," advised Moon.

He also instructed the attorney to address whether Dogwood Valley Citizens Association treasurer Matt Brown, the fifth defendant, and president Gary Lowe depended on the advice of counsel in trying to collect special assessments and whether that's a defense. Brown testified that he went on his lawyer's advice when the association continued to put liens on properties after the 2004 Supreme Court of Virginia decision.

The association's lawyer, George Dygert, said on the stand that he had filed curative documents to bring the association in line with the court's ruling, and that he told his clients the move could be a risk. He also said Brown had bankrolled $159,000 in legal fees the association racked up litigating its way to the Virginia Supreme Court twice. Dygert's firm also took 25 percent of all delinquent debts it collected.

Another member of his firm, Kelly Hobbs, described how she collected delinquent road special assessments from residents and the process used to foreclose on two lots owned by William Winkelman, who took the association to the state's highest court. Winkelman owed $35 on each lot and a $50 penalty from 1997, Hobbs wrote him in a letter February 20, 1998, letter. His lots were sold at auction two months later on April 29, 1998.

Steve Miller, brother of plaintiff Joseph Mitchell Miller, testified about paying a special assessment in 2003 owed on a lot owned by his brother and mother. The association returned his $208, he said, and president Lowe did not allow Mitch Miller to vote at the association's June 28, 2003, meeting because his assessment had not been paid.

In testimony reminiscent of double-secret probation, Dogwood Valley resident Shirley Moore, 82, recounted how she'd gotten a letter from Lowe because of "misconduct" for collecting "illegal proxies," which Moore denied.

"I don't know anything about stuff like that," declared Moore. "I was a member in bad standing and could only use the road to go to my house, can't vote [at association meetings], and can't go to the [common area] pond."

Moore, too, had a lien put on her property in 1998. She said she paid the road fees, but didn't pay special assessments because, "They don't do anything for the road." She paid up $3014.33 before her 11 lots totaling 30 acres were put on the auction block.

Following a bad storm in 1995, Dogwood Valley residents voted for a one-time $100 special assessment to help repair the damage, Brown testified, and they looked at getting a low-interest loan from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Brown said FEMA required that the association collect delinquent road fees and pass special assessments.

Residents approved $35 special assessments from 1997 until 2002, when the Dogwood Valley Citizens Association board decided that under state law, the board could determine annual special assessments without the approval of 51 percent of the residents, Brown said. The subdivision's original 1968 incorporation called for annual fees of $15, and he called it "absurd" to try to maintain the subdivision's road on that amount, which brought in $7,100 a year.

Other witnesses today described types of gravel the association purchased from Luck Stone.

Judge Moon gave the lawyers five weeks to file the briefs.