How we make the call
Truth Squad assigns five ratings to the political statements we review, in descending levels of accuracy:
|Who:||Freedom's Defense Fund|
|The call:||Flagrant Foul|
This 30-second TV ad is the opening attack in what Lansing political expert Bill Ballenger considers “one of the oddest” congressional primaries in the country, in the 11th District northwest of Detroit. The race pits colorful one-term GOP incumbent, reindeer rancher and former Santa Kerry Bentivolio of Milford against Birmingham lawyer and foreclosure mogul David Trott.
Bentivolio was the unlikely winner of the seat in 2012 when GOP incumbent Thaddeus McCotter abruptly quit the primary in June after conceding that signatures that put him on the August ballot were invalid. That left Bentivolio, who had run a token campaign until then, as the only Republican on the ballot. He survived a write-in challenge backed by the Republican establishment and won in the general election.
Trott is chairman and CEO of Trott & Trott, “recognized as one of the nation's largest law firms handling residential default procedures” according to a posting by the Michigan Department of Treasury about Trott's position as trustee on the State Building Authority. It employs more than 400 people, including more than 90 lawyers.
In a 2007 TV interview, Trott said foreclosure “is all we've ever done.”
The ad attacking Trott as a foreclosure king is by Freedom's Defense Fund, a conservative, Virginia-based political action committee noted for its 2008 TV ad linking Barack Obama with embattled Detroit Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.
Statements under review:
“'Foreclosure King' Dave Trott evicted Texana Hollis, a 101-year-old Detroit resident, from her home of 65 years. Stranded in her wheelchair, she was dumped on dangerous rainy streets, no food, no water, her life-saving medications thrown in a dumpster with her other worldly possessions.”
In a saga that drew national attention, 101-year-old Texana Hollis was evicted from her Detroit home in September 2011 after her son failed to pay property taxes and payments on a reverse mortgage on the house she lived in for 58 years. Accounts from news reports and neighbors said her possessions were put in dumpsters outside the home. Hours later, she was taken to Henry Ford Hospital after crying through the eviction, when others realized her heart and diabetes medication had been lost in the eviction.
Her son, Warren Hollis, who lived with her, said he had her sign a $32,000 reverse mortgage on the property in 2002. He said he used part of the money to fix a leaky roof but also said he bought a car with some of the money. Records at the time showed the home had an assessed value of $5,215 and that the summer tax bill of $778.44 was unpaid.
The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development foreclosed on the home after sending multiple notices.
Trott & Trott, which represents banks and other lenders in foreclosure and eviction proceedings, handled related legal paperwork. HUD later agreed to sell the distressed property to Detroit Free Press columnist Mitch Albom for $100, with an agreement that Albom’s charity would renovate the home on Hollis’ behalf. Hollis returned to her home in April 2012; she died New Year's Eve in 2013 at age 103.
“All to line the greedy pockets of Dave Trott”
The sequence of events that led to the eviction of Hollis began with the mortgage that her son, Warren, had her mother sign in 2002. According to Wayne County Chief Deputy Treasurer David Szymanski, Warren Hollis admitted to ignoring payment notices for years. He also confessed in a television interview that he hid eviction notices from his mother. “I kept it from her because I didn't want to worry her. I was just so sure it wasn't going to happen.”
A bailiff carried out the eviction.
Since its founding in 1976, Trott & Trott has become a major player in foreclosure litigation. Trott has certainly benefitted from its growth, as evidenced by his donation of more than $400,000 to his own campaign. Trott's campaign spokesman, Stu Sandler, called the ad “ridiculous” and “cartoonish. It completely misstates the role of Trott's law firm.” He added: “Nobody wants to foreclose.”
While Trott & Trott does not personally evict homeowners, Sandler does not dispute that the firm does execute legal foreclosure proceedings on lenders’ behalf.
Calls to Freedom's Defense Fund were not returned. David Wolkinson, spokesman for Bentivolio, would not comment on the content of the ad. But he added that Trott “has spent his life accumulating a fortune foreclosing on people's homes.”
|The call:||Flagrant Foul|
No one would deem what happened to Texana Hollis just or fair. Likewise, lawyers who make their fortune helping lenders evict desperate people from their homes aren’t likely to garner public sympathy. But assigning blame for Hollis’s heartbreaking eviction is another matter. As much as anything, she seems the victim of a son who did not pay bills and did not have the heart to tell his mother what was coming. And officials with HUD and the court arguably could have done more to protect a 101-year-old woman in a wheelchair from harm. To be sure, Trott & Trott’s business includes helping lenders carry out foreclosures and evictions, and the firm has profited from an economic climate that saw 100,000 foreclosures in Michigan in 2011. But the fact remains that Trott did not, as the ad says, “evict” Texana Hollis. That decision was made by HUD. His firm was one link in an unfortunate chain of events. On its face, there is no evidence this eviction was carried out specifically “to line the greedy pockets” of Trott, though the firm obviously gets paid for its work.