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Money Matters

Five candidates running in three city commissioner races in two cities have declared bankruptcy, defaulted on credit card loans or had their homes liened and foreclosed.

Now they want your vote.





Five candidates running in three city commissioner races in two cities have had trouble paying their bills. These candidates have faced bankruptcies, credit card loan defaults, property liens, federal tax liens, foreclosure and close calls with eviction, court documents show.


Does that diminish their potential to govern?


“Voters are concerned about judgment, about being responsible, about managing budgets, which most local authorities, city or county, have to do,” Cecile Scoon, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Florida, said in a phone interview.


“How they’ve managed their own personal finances or their own business finances is a point of interest because they’re making big monetary decisions that have a direct impact on the community.” 


Voters are often forgiving of a one-time lapse, said Aubrey Jewett, PhD, associate professor of government and politics at University of Central Florida. 


Financial problems become a concern for voters, he said, when they continue to occur. “That would definitely be a sign that there’s a pattern, an inability [for a candidate] to manage their personal finances,” he told VoxPopuli in a phone interview. “Voters begin to think that’s not necessarily a person we want to be managing public funds and making decisions about taxing and spending.”


Scoon added that extenuating circumstances — family emergency, unexpected illness, natural disaster — can precede a personal financial meltdown. It's something she experienced herself when Hurricane Michael took the roof of her Bay County law office in 2018. 


“I would hope people would look into it and not just take it on face value,” she said, referring to a candidates’ financial hardship. 


Let's take a look.


Property Liens 

The state of South Carolina liened Nate Robertson's home in Greenville for $696 in 2010 after the city commissioner candidate in Ocoee’s District 4 special election didn't pay his individual state income tax in 2008. Robertson told VoxPopuli he paid the taxes “once we realized the oversight after we moved from South Carolina to Kentucky.” 


Robertson's opponent, George Oliver III, has had three liens on his homes, according to Orange County court documents. In 2005, his home on Gammon Lane in Orlando had a construction lien placed on it for failure to pay $6,145 for the installation of windows, carpet, plumbing, a water heater, electrical work and painting. 


These home improvements were made in connection with a deal that Oliver, together with two other men, made to purchase the Gammon Lane home from a woman named Truzell Fagin for $73,000, plus $7,100 to pay off her debts and $5,000 for materials and labor to improve one of her other properties.


The arrangement called for Oliver and his friends to make the mortgage payments for the Gammon Lane home to Wells Fargo “on behalf of Fagin” until they sold the property and satisfied the mortgage. A second mortgage for $35,000 was secured to make improvements to the Gammon Lane property and in 2006, the property was sold. In 2008, Fagin sued Oliver and his friends in Orange County Ninth Circuit Court, and won, because they never made the mortgage payments in her name nor did they pay her the $5,000 for materials for her other property. 


In 2009, Oliver’s home on Applegate Drive in Ocoee was liened by their homeowners’ association for $792 for six months of delinquent maintenance fees. In 2012, the Internal Revenue Service attached a federal tax lien for $13,617 for failure to pay 2008 taxes. 


Bankruptcy & Foreclosure

Oliver’s Applegate Drive home was lost in 2017 to Bank of America in a three-year foreclosure fight. The Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS), which tracks mortgage loans, shows a mortgage of $248,400 through Countrywide Home Loans recorded May 3, 2005, and then also $314,500 through Countrywide on July 2, 2007.


(Countrywide was a leader in subprime lending — often providing no-money-down mortgages — in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2007-2008. It was bought by Bank of America in 2008.)  


In a November 12, 2014, court filing, Bank of America stated that Oliver and his wife did not pay their mortgage from Jan. 1, 2011, forward and owed $314,595. The year prior, in 2013, Oliver had applied to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation’s Florida Hardest Hit Fund for relief from the $42,000 balloon payment his mortgage contained. Bankruptcy documents list a debt for $42,000 to the Florida Housing Finance Corporation; it’s unknown if that money was applied to the outstanding mortgage, and Oliver did not respond to emailed questions.


Oliver filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Florida on June 5, 2015, possibly to prevent the loss of the Applegate Drive home, which was sold at auction to Bank of America two years later for $205,200.  


Bankruptcy filings show that Oliver had $15,100 in assets (including 5 million shares of GPS-Sports that were valued at $0) and $489,134 in liabilities, which included the mortgage on the Applegate house and $29,374 in credit card debt. 


Oliver did not respond to a VoxPopuli request for comment.


Karen Mcneil, candidate for Winter Garden’s District 3 city commissioner, also filed for bankruptcy in 2012 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Orlando. Court documents show she had $48,749 in assets and $211,586 in liabilities at the time. She told VoxPopuli that the bankruptcy  resulted from “debts belonging to an ex-spouse after a divorce case.”


Iliana R. Jones, running for Winter Garden District 2 city commissioner, also filed for bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in the Middle District of Florida. At the time, in 2013, she owed $140,000 on a home in Horizon West and $30,000 on a 2010 BMW, according to court documents. She stated her monthly income was $2,500 and her expenses were $2,381 and that she had $160 total cash on hand in a credit union account. When asked for more information about why the filing fee should be waived because she could not pay it in full or in installments, Jones wrote “my salary, income has been reduced.” 


Still, Jones did not follow through with the bankruptcy. Two weeks after her petition was filed, the case was dismissed for her “failure to file information” about who her creditors were. She was billed a $306 filing fee. 


Lori Patton who served as the bankruptcy trustee on Jone’s case, but who did comment on her case specifically, told VoxPopuli that she has seen cases where people file for bankruptcy to get a case number so that their creditors know they are protected by bankruptcy provisions, but then they don’t follow through, and the case is dismissed 14 days later. Patton said creditors typically get wise and come looking for them again, and the bankruptcy filing still shows up on credit reports. 


Jones did not respond to VoxPopuli’s email request for comment. 


Loan Defaults & Unpaid Rent

Chloe Johnson, who's running in Winter Garden’s District 3 for city commissioner, defaulted last March on a loan from OneMain Financial Group for $2,198.72 with $514.66 in interest. OneMain sued her in Orange County Small Claims Court for the original amount plus $245 in court costs and $600 in attorney fees for a total of $3,558.38. Johnson was able to work out a settlement, filed March 10, 2023, in which she agreed to a pay $108 in monthly installments until the balance was paid. 


But a month later, on April 20, OneMain’s attorney was back in court, saying that Johnson had defaulted on the payment plan and the full balance was due. OneMain Financial would not comment on whether payment was ever made.    


Johnson told VoxPopuli in an email that she took out a loan in 2020 “because our house flooded, which required us to move out for several months. Shortly after, I then lost my job due to covid (sic).” She said she had insurance, but while waiting for the claim to be paid, her loan was sent to collections. “Though I was assured my loan would not be sent to their law firm for collections, it was. I continued to cooperate and provide all requested paperwork, but my file got stuck between the bank and the insurance company, waiting for my insurance to cover it.”


In her email she said she felt frustrated and helpless because she "follow[ed] all the rules and [met] my end of the bargain only to experience the opposite of what I was assured would not happen."


In April 2016, Johnson narrowly missed getting evicted from the three-bedroom, two-bathroom she shared with her husband and two children at the West Point Villas Apartments for not paying rent, according to court documents. 


West Point Villas is an affordable housing community, according to Dorca Hernandes, the community director. Rent is due on the first of the month; it’s late by the third day — with a $100 penalty and a $75 penalty after 10 days. After 30 days, management starts eviction proceedings.


For Johnson, the rent on her family apartment was $929. She received an eviction notice on April 5, 2016, which stated $1,029 was owed. On April 29, 2016, court documents show, an agreement was reached where $1,502 would be paid, which included late fees, court costs and attorney fees. The $1,029 was to be paid immediately; the remaining $473 would be paid in three installments of $157 made on the 15th of the month.

 

Johnson would not comment on what led to the near-eviction, stating only that her family continued to live at West Point Villas for two more years. “There was no eviction,” she said in her email. 


Mcneil defaulted on a $3,755.80 credit card loan from the home furnishings company, W.S. Badcock Corp., according to court documents. In an email to VoxPopuli she said, the “credit card loan default occurred from not being employed in 2020 due to the closure of businesses from Covid-19.”


The company sued Mcneil in Orange County Small Claims Court on June 24, 2021. She didn’t attend a pre-trial meeting in December 2021 — in her email, she said she was out of state for a family emergency — and the court ordered her to pay the original debt plus $370 in court fees for a total of $4,125.80. The case was closed in April 2022. Mcneil said the debt was not paid because it was “discharged by a 1099 form and is not valid any longer.” 


In 2010, Robertson defaulted on his CitiBank credit card account of $3,992.04, according to documents filed March 10, 2014, in Kentucky’s Jefferson County District Court. A settlement was reached May 8, 2014, in which Robertson was ordered to pay the full amount owed, plus 12 percent interest and court fees for a total amount of $4,586.04. He was to pay $75 each month until the debt was satisfied. 


Robertson told VoxPopuli in an email that the default was the result of medical debt and was “paid in full years ago.” 


“I am not unlike most Americans who have had personal financial challenges at some point in their lives and this was a time when we were faced with many challenges,” Robertson said in his email. “Our oldest son had a stroke at birth in 2009, and due to that unforeseen medical challenge, we were saddled with many unexpected medical bills for services and treatments that continued well beyond his birth. I'm pleased to report that he is now a happy & healthy 15-year-old teenager, and we are so blessed to have in our lives.”


At A Glance ...

Graphic by Jessica Ziegler

 

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