Monday, January 24, 2022

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Civic Skinny

Sheriff sells Tirrell house; his trial is delayed. That $40 million buyers’ club refund explained.


Marty Tirrell Update: The Tirrell homestead in West Des Moines was sold last month at a sheriff’s sale. The sale followed a lawsuit filed against the sports-radio talker and serial defendant by Great Western Bank, alleging the Tirrells took out a $168,000 mortgage on April 1, 2011, and three years later owed $161,814.97 in principal plus nearly $2,000 in accrued interests and other costs. The bank had been unable to collect. The property had both a state tax lien and a federal tax lien on it, according to the lawsuit, as well as a judgment in favor of W West Investments.

The foreclosure decree was issued May 6 when neither the Tirrells nor their lawyers appeared for a scheduled court date.

Tirrell bought the house in November of 2010 for $219,000, according to Dallas County records. The handsome, 1,780-square-foot, white-frame house was built in 1998 and had three bedrooms, two baths and two half-baths and a front porch and a deck. It sits on a third of an acre on 75th Street and was assessed at $211,650; it appears to have sold for around $210,000. The buyer apparently satisfied the mortgage and paid an additional $39,000. The court apparently will decide how the $39,000 will be distributed among lien-holders.

CVA_17 PAGE 8W West Investments, whose registered agent is Thomas W. Baldwin, sued Tirrell in early 2012 and won a judgment of $28,162 a few months later. According to papers in Dallas County District Court, Tirrell never paid the money, and earlier this year the matter was turned over to the sheriff.

Tirrell was supposed to have another court date last week, but Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg has put off until March 15 of next year the fight between the sports broadcaster and Charles Gabus Motors. Rosenberg has a scheduling conflict, and each side has agreed to the delay.


Tirrell, who used to broadcast from the Toyota of Des Moines showroom, sued Gabus — the local Toyota dealer’s parent corporation — last year after Gabus canceled the show, which, according to a recent deposition by Gene Gabus, was costing the company $60,000 to $90,000 a month. (Tirrell says it was less.) Tirrell claimed he had a contract, and he submitted two documents as proof. As Cityview reported at the time:

“Neither is a document signed by Tirrell. Rather, both are ‘To Whom It May Concern’ letters from Toyota. The first, dated in November of 2010, tells ‘to whom it may concern’ that Tirrell at the time had a three-year contract — but that’s probably not very helpful to his case, since it says the contract ran through Aug. 31, 2012. The second, undated, says that Tirrell has been ‘a very valuable asset to business’ and that ‘Toyota of Des Moines has every intention to keep his services for years to come.’ Well, almost every intention.”

In his deposition the other day, Gabus simply said, “I think they’re bogus.”

Toyota responded with two counterclaims: That it gave Tirrell $79,284 to have the broadcaster bring the great football player Troy Aikman to town to do promotional appearances for the auto dealer. Tirrell kept the money, the lawsuit says, but didn’t produce Aikman. Also, the company said, it would be nice if Tirrell paid the $931.40 he owed Toyota for four tires and repairs to his 2003 Mercedes.

The Gabus company has asked for summary judgment in the claims against it. That decision also will be deferred. If summary judgment isn’t granted, the trial is expected to last at least a week. …

Checking the math: The press release from the office of Attorney General Tom Miller and news reports said around 400,000 Iowans would get about $40.3 million in refunds from those buyers’ clubs scams, with most refunds being $5 to $40. But even if all 400,000 got $40, that would add up to just $16 million. Who gets the other $24.3 million?

The answer, says Geoff Greenwood of the AG’s office, is that while most refunds could be in the $5-40 range, there also will be lots of folks who will receive several thousand dollars each. “We have a high degree of confidence that all of the $40 million will be distributed to Iowa consumers,” he says. If there’s money left over, it will stay in the AG’s office and “be available for future consumer-fraud-enforcement efforts.”

Next question: A Faribault, Minnesota, company will administer the refund process. How much will it get? A maximum of $1.3 million, which is 3.2 percent of the restitution fund, “but we expect it to come in considerably under the ceiling amount.”

Next question: The press release says that one of the buyers’ clubs enrolled 864,000 Iowans. How come only 400,000 are getting refunds? Because some folks enrolled more than once, Greenwood says. Some are dead. Some can’t be found. Some lost so little their claims aren’t worth pursuing.

Next question: There are approximately 2.1 million Iowans over age 20. Are Iowans so gullible that 20 percent of the state’s adults — or, using the 864,000 figure, perhaps 40 percent of adult Iowans — can be snookered in a deal like this?

“No,” he says, but it sounds more like yes. “The objectionable practices were that slick, effective, and predatory. A host of careful people who could not be fairly characterized as particularly more susceptible to being taken advantage of suffered losses. This pernicious model…involved developing opaque ways of getting small charges onto the credit and debit card statements of a large number of consumers, and then quietly reaping the benefits as time passes. The victims are typically ordinary consumers, although older Iowans have been victimized at a somewhat higher rate.”

Finally, are the refunds taxable? “We avoid giving tax advice,” Greenwood says, though the AG’s office thinks the refunds are not taxable. CV

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