Farmer blames tax problems, foreclosure on ‘bigotry’

Southwest Michigan

PAW PAW, Mich. (WOOD) — A man is suing the Van Buren Country Treasurer’s Office, claiming it took advantage of him because he doesn’t speak English well and caused him to lose his family’s blueberry farm.

“I believe he’s been the subject of bigotry,” attorney Donald Rump said.

In a FaceTime interview Thursday, Rump told News 8 he is representing Pedro Hernandez of Bangor, who accuses the Van Buren County Treasurer’s Office of discrimination because Hernandez is Latino.

“He asked for help and was told he didn’t understand English and that he should go back to his (expletive) country,” Rump said.

The civil lawsuit does not name the person in the treasurer’s office who is alleged to have made the statement.

Rump said Hernandez went to the treasurer’s office Sept. 28, 2017, to pay $3,431.03 he owed in property taxes. He did his best to write a check for the amount in English — with no help, Rump said. Hernandez thought he was in the clear, but he wasn’t.

“Somehow, that check, which would’ve payed his taxes so he didn’t lose it (the property), mysteriously disappeared,” Rump said.

Foreclosure notices started pouring in a year later. In October 2018, Rump said Hernandez made another attempt to pay taxes on his family’s farm. The lawsuit claimed a different representative from the treasurer’s office told Hernandez he owed $4,000 and drafted his account for the money. Rump said Hernandez really owed $4,345, but no one in the office made him aware of that.

“He lost $4,000 and he lost the property,” Rump said.

News 8 went to the Van Buren Country Treasurer’s Office Thursday, hoping to speak with Treasurer Trisha Nesbitt to set the record straight. She wasn’t at work, but a representative in the office said she would be back next week. News 8 left contact information and will wait to hear back from Nesbitt after she returns. News 8 also went to Nesbitt’s home seeking comment, but she wasn’t there.

Nesbitt was not in office in 2017 when this issue began but currently holds the position of county treasurer and is named in the civil lawsuit.

She is married to state Sen. Aric Nesbit, R-Lawton. He provided this statement to News 8 Friday:

“It’s sad when people resort to false, vicious attacks. Trisha Nesbitt is a person of high character who goes above and beyond to help people and protect the taxpayers of Van Buren County.”

Rump said Hernandez’s property was auctioned off and bought out of foreclosure in August. As he works to get it back to Hernandez, he’s hopeful the justice system works in his favor.

“All he’s looking to do is get his blueberry farm back and the judge could actually do that,” Rump said.

He explained the judge could overturn the foreclosure, which would allow Hernandez to regain ownership of the property. If that happens, Rump said the man who bought the property out of foreclosure would get his money back from the county.

**Correction: A previous version of this article stated Nesbitt did not help Hernandez with his check in 2017. She was not the treasurer in 2017. The person accused of not helping is unnamed in the suit. We regret the error, which has been corrected.

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