Thursday, July 31, 2008

Loan Shark?

John Singleton Copley, Watson and the Shark

The recent arrest of Radovan Karadzic by the International Criminal Tribunal for crimes against humanity and the indictment of Republican Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska for receiving an unreported $250,000 gift from an oil company suggests the machinery of justice is at work at the international and national level. But the mistreatment of the 70-year-old Karol Craft and her son in the county, state, and municipal courts raises the suspicion that in Ohio it is the Halls of Injustice, not the Halls of Justice, that sometimes prevail.

According to Mrs. Craft, the injustice for her started in the halls of the Scioto County Courthouse, on the third floor, on Feb. 9, 2006. Mrs. Craft’s son was facing jail for nonpayment of child support. Under those high-pressure circumstances, Timothy Lyons' attorney Michael Mearan brokered a “disastrous” deal by which Mearan’s former business associate, Joe Lester, loaned Mrs. Craft and her son $3,000 at $1,000 interest so her son could pay his back child support. The loan was to be paid back in six months. Mrs. Craft’s home, which was valued at $57,500 by the County Auditor, was put up as collateral. When Mrs. Craft could not pay Lester’s loan, she lost her house to Lester’s assignee. (In addition to the $4,000 Mrs. Craft and her son owed Lester for the loan, Mearan added an additional $1,700 to the their indebtedness, for a total of $5,700, making it even harder for them to repay Lester’s loan.

The hastily written handwritten document Mearan drew up listed $3,000 on one line for Lester and on the next line an additional $1000 for him, presumably as interest.

$1,000 is 33% of $3,000, but since the O.R.C. stipulates that interest is calculated per annum, the interest on Lester’s loan was actually 66%. As a reader of RiverVices who works in the banking industry pointed out in an email he sent to me at, the Ohio Revised Code limits the percentage of interest that can be charged on a loan. Ohio Revised Code 2905.21-H defines criminal usury as “illegally charging, taking, or receiving any money or other property as interest or an extension of credit at a rate exceeding twenty-five per annum or the equivalent rate for a longer or shorter period . . .” (At the time Lester made the loan, the legal limit was 21% interest.) The website claims that if a personal loan agreement above the O.R.C. interest limit “is brought before a court in that state, the agreement will be declared illegal. The net effect of such a judicial declaration is that the loan agreement will be voided. Once voided by the court, it no longer is enforceable. In other words, the borrower will no longer be obliged to make payments pursuant to the loan agreement. The borrower is off the proverbial hook.” If this statement is correct, the whole long process by which Mrs. Craft lost her home was illegal from the start. The question of whether Mrs. Craft and her son subsequently signed a deed transferring their property to Joe Lester or his assignee would be moot.

If Mrs. Craft could take Mearan and Lester to court, as Karadzic and Senator Stevens are being taken to court, she might presumably find a measure of justice. But lawyers cost money, a lot more than she gets from Social Security each month. After talking with a minister, she came up with the idea of appealing to the public by placing collection jars in stores and businesses, but the sheriff’s office told her raising money that way was panhandling, which is against the law.

Mrs. Craft holding collection jar

Against the law! If only she can raise the money to hire an attorney to take her case, perhaps she can get the courts to enforce the law against criminal usury. There is a more familiar name for criminal usury: it is called loan sharking. Whether Mrs. Craft was a victim of criminal usury, or loan sharking, is something that could, that should, be settled in court.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Dirty Deeds?

Original scribbled "contract." 

The story of the dirty deeds begins, in my opinion, in 1952 when the parents of Karol Craft bought a parcel of land at what later became 1555 Dogwood Ridge Rd., in Wheelersburg. The property was located next to the Sacred Mission Church. Karol Craft’s father, a carpenter, built a home on the property, with the assistance of his wife, who was handy with tools. In the decades that followed, according to Karol Craft, the Sacred Mission Church showed an interest in acquiring her land.
As long as she was not in financial difficulties, Mrs. Craft was not interested in selling any part of her property. But on one occasion, when she needed money to help pay taxes, she sold part of her land, in the rear, to the Sacred Mission Church. But she rejected subsequent offers from the church because she thought the church wanted too much land for too little money. But a serious financial crisis occurred in 2006. Mrs. Craft’s son Timothy Lyons had fallen way behind in support payments for his two teen-aged children. Facing possible jail time, he appeared in court, along with his mother, on Feb. 9, 2006. As a result of her son’s appearance in court on that date, Mrs. Craft would lose her home. She lost it, she and her son claim, through trickery and deceit on the part of Mike Mearan. Mrs. Craft and her son do admit to signing, in the court hallway, the hastily drawn up hand-written "contract" on Feb. 9, 2006, which is shown above. But they deny vehemently signing any"deed" that day.
The "contract" was not enough, apparently, to transfer the title from Mrs. Craft to Joe Lester or his assignee. Mearan needed to get Mrs. Craft and her son to sign a deed, which he had apparently failed to do on Feb. 9. But Mrs. Craft and her son refused to sign anything after that date. They concluded they had been hornswoggled and stampeded in the court hallway on February 9, being pressured by Mearan, to take one example, to accept a $3,000 six-month loan from Joe Lester for which they had to pay $1,000 or 33% interest. Because he could not get Mrs. Craft to sign on the dotted line, Mearan or someone else resorted to forging their signatures on the deed to make the transfer appear legal, or so Mrs. Craft and her son now believe. In a letter to the Disciplinary Counsel, Timothy Lyons wrote, "On the 22nd of December, 2006, [Michael Mearan] did wrongfully file with the Scioto County Recorder a forged deed that conveyed our home to Attorney Michael Mearan’s assistant, Terri Chandler. Neither I nor my mother signed this deed.” Lyons offered no proof of forgery, other than his and his mother’s certainty that they had not signed a deed transferring ownership of their property to Mearan’s assistant on February 9, 2006. The Counsel of the Disciplinary Committee of the Ohio Supreme Court was requested by Timothy Lyons to investigate. The counsel did an investigation, though how thoroughly he did it remains an open question. Mrs. Craft claims the counsel never spoke to her or her son. As far as I know, no analysis of the signatures of Mrs. Craft and her son on the original deed was ever done.

That Mearan served as one of the two witnesses on this deed seems poor judgment on his part. If Terri Chandler was holding the property in her name for Mearan or for Mearan's former "business associate" Joe Lester, Mearan's serving as one of the two witnesses of the signing of the property over to her by Mrs. Craft and her son seems questionable. The other witness, whose name is hard to decipher, is yet to be confirmed.
The original copy of this deed is not at the office of the Scioto County Recorder. A clerk there told me earlier this week that, at Mearan’s request, the original had been sent to him. Any determination of forgery would presumably require an examination of that original copy, as it would also require the testimony of the second witness, who claimed to have seen Mrs. Craft and her son sign over their property to Terri Chandler. The Disciplinary Committee Counsel concluded Mearan had not violated a disciplinary rule but that “it was a disastrous decision for Attorney Mearan to encourage Mr. Lester to contract with you,” that is with Timothy and his mother (emphasis added). Mrs. Craft agrees that Mearan's decision was disastrous.

Like her parents, Mrs. Craft worked hard her whole life, including at Williams Manufacturing, while living in the family home in Wheelersburg. But today she does not have a home or bed to call her own. Occasionally, she has had to sleep in her 1990 Chevy pick-up. She told me she had applied to the Portsmouth Municipal Housing Authority, where Mearan is one of the directors, but she was told the PMHA has a long waiting list. The suffering Karol Craft is experiencing is evident in a photo (shown below ) that I took of her recently in Tracy Park. She appears to be still in a state of shock and disbelief. As she approaches her 70th birthday, she tries to bear up and find some solace in her religious faith. She has not returned to the site of her former home on Dogwood Ridge Rd. since she was forced out of it. If she did go back, she would find the house her parents had built with their own hands about fifty years ago is no longer there. The Sacred Mission Church eventually acquired the property and bulldozed the house.

Mrs. Karol Craft at Tracy Park, trying to make sense of it all.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

American Dreams, American Nightmares

I began to hear early on that I was risking my life by criticizing the over-privileged who control Portsmouth. I heard more than once, usually jokingly, but sometimes seriously, “They’re going to take a contract out on you.” Contract? Portsmouth is not a town where people take risks, especially not in business. Just look at the contracts a local developer has with Shawnee State University for student housing. For the over-privileged few, almost all the risk has been wrung out of doing business in Portsmouth. They are born with abatements in their mouths. I doubt anyone would take a contract out on me or others unless they got some kind of government assistance. Unless Rob Portman finds some more pork in the budget of the Dept. of Agriculture, it ain’t going to happen. I don’t think they’re going to risk their own money to get rid of anybody. I don’t think our local wannabees are going to engage in such high risk business as knocking people off. However, I would be very worried about being murdered if I were a drug-addicted pregnant prostitute in Portsmouth.

I grew up in a Boston suburb that was known as the Crime Capital of New England, where gangsters occasionally rubbed each other out to gain a competitive advantage. After getting to know more about the low lifes of Portsmouth, I have gained some respect for the hoodlums of my boyhood. They were professionals, not amateurs. They were entrepreneurs, not sponges. They didn’t pose as philanthropists while picking the pockets of the people. They weren’t hypocrites who fed on government pork while spouting the myth of free enterprise. They didn’t have a city building committee that conspired to unload worthless buildings on the public. They didn’t have a city building committee with a drug-addicted employee of Mike Mearan as stenographer, a twenty-four-year-old woman who subsequently got arrested for transporting drugs from Columbus to Portsmouth. Not long after that, she was arrested for purse snatching in the parking lot of the local supermarket, and as a result ended up in the Franklin County jail. The gangsters in my hometown didn’t control the local newspaper and get a veteran reporter fired for daring to report that an arrested drug dealer happened to be employed by the largest car dealer in the city. They didn’t keep the news of a robbery at knife point at a local supermarket out of the local newspaper because the newspaper depended for its survival on the advertising revenue from the supermarket, which probably didn’t want customers to get the idea shopping there could be dangerous. I have been told that when the Daily Times reported on Heather Hren’s purse snatching it was not specified that the parking lot where it had occurred was Kroger’s.


As my readers in Portsmouth might know, because the Portsmouth Daily Times reported it on the front page, local lawyer and First Ward councilman Michael Hugh Mearan is suing me for $125,000 for libel for expressing my opinion that he is a “shyster.” Merriam-Wesbster defines a “shyster” as “a person who is professionally unscrupulous especially in the practice of law or politics.” Since Mearan is both a lawyer and a politician, I can’t think of a better word for him. In my opinion, Mearan is a shyster. My previous posting, “Mearan’s Conflict of Interest,” gives a detailed account of why I believe he is a shyster.

Shyster is derived from the German word scheisser, which means defecator or shitter. Shyster may sound like a Yiddish word, but it isn’t. I grew up in a Jewish neighborhood, where I learned The Joys of Yiddish. Growing up, I sometimes heard kucker, which is the Yiddish word for shit head, but it is not my opinion that Mearan is a kucker. It is my opinion he’s a shyster. I have a constitutional right to express my opinion of people in public life. I live in the First Ward, making Mearan my councilman, and I think I have a right to express my opinion of him.

Disastrous Decision

I believe Mearan’s suit against me is the first step in his attempt to silence his critics in the blogosphere. I am not the only blogger criticizing Mearan. Portsmouth’s dean of the blogosphere is Austin Leedom, a 75-year-old veteran of the Korean War and a former deputy sheriff. Mearan recently sent Leedom a certified letter, of the kind he previously had sent me, warning he will take legal action against Leedom unless he publicly retracts criticism of Mearan’s mishandling of the legal problems of Mrs. Karol Craft a 69-year-old widow who had the misfortune to find herself being represented by Mearan. The Disciplinary Counsel of the Ohio Supreme Court determined that Mearan had not broken the law in representing Mrs. Craft, but the counsel informed Mrs. Craft’s son that it was (emphasis added) “a disastrous decision for Attorney Mearan to encourage Mr. [Joe] Lester to contract with you . . .” Tell me, what recourse does a client have when her lawyer gives her “disastrous” advice that results in the loss of her home? For many Americans, owning a home is the fulfillment of the American Dream and losing that home is often a nightmare. We have to go back to the novels of Horatio Alger, the creator of the rags-to-riches version of the American Dream, who was born in my hometown, in 1832, to find a more blatant example of a poor old widow living the nightmare of being bamboozled out of the family homestead. As a result of that “contract” with Lester, Mrs. Craft lost the house when she couldn’t repay the loan and the 33% interest she was being charged. “When the young man [Craft’s son] and his mother couldn’t come up with the money [to repay the loan],” John Welton wrote in the Sentinel, “attorney Mearan moved in for the kill and took over the house.” (Do a Google search using the names “Mearan Welton” and you will see what John Welton, aka as Doug Deepe, has written about Mearan.) The value placed on Mrs. Craft’s house in her dealings with Mearan was $5,700. Joe Lester claimed he made the loan to Mrs. Craft only under persistent pressure from Mearan, his former business partner. Mrs. Craft’s property was reportedly worth around $50,000 at the time. Currently owned by the church next door, the property is valued on the county auditor’s website at $60,550. But when I recently drove out to Wheelersburg, to 1555 Dogwood Ridge Rd., I discovered that the house has been bulldozed and there is nothing but an empty lot. Development is taking place in the area, so the true value of the land is possibly considerably more. Maybe it could even be described as “prime real estate,” which is what our doofus Mayor has called the site of the present Municipal Building.


I confess to being mystified at why Mearan would decide to take anyone to court on the issue of his reputation. It strikes me as a disastrously unwise decision. To hold all the people who could testify to Mearan’s reputation, the court would have to convene in Spartan Stadium. In my opinion, the only word that does justice to this situation, in which American dreams have turned into American nightmares, is meshuge.


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For background on Mearan's "disastrous" treatment of his client Karol Craft, go to Teresa Mollette's informative website:

I have created an email account for those who might want to contact me about this case.