"The person told me, 'You can't pay the bill because the house doesn't belong to you. It belongs to a
The Contra Costa County assessor, who briefly was married to Orr's sister decades ago, had somehow wound up with control over her former 8.5-acre property in
Between 2005 and 2008, Kramer -- the elected official who sets assessed property values in the
In 2010, following an investigation by this news organization, Kramer filed 33 amendments to his ethics forms, detailing land ownership, his involvement in an East County development, and loans he had made that he had not previously made public as required by state law.
The latest case is one of Kramer's most convoluted and curious yet. After acquiring control of the
The perplexing transactions raise flags, two estate law experts say, as to whether Kramer followed his legal duties to act in the best financial interest of the beneficiaries.
"As trustee, of course, it's his fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries," said
Kramer said he became Farago's trustee as a favor to her and he sold the property to his attorney below market value to clear title, consolidate debt on the property and "create some financing". He attributes Orr's complaints to her long-running strife with her daughter.
"I plan to return it to Veronika and she and her mother can continue their blood feud," Kramer said in a phone interview Wednesday. "My grandmother told me, a long time ago, 'No good deed goes unpunished.' "
'Stupidest thing I've ever done'
"So I went along with it and it was the stupidest thing I've ever done. But I wanted to support her," Orr said.
Farago declined to speak publicly for this article, and it's unclear how well she knew Kramer or how often she kept in contact with him after he and her aunt divorced. Kramer said she asked him to be a trustee.
"That was a horrible blow. If I knew he was lurking in the shadows ... I would never have handed that over," said Orr, who now lives in
"My house is the only thing I had, and worked very hard to obtain, if you feel that you are entitled to it, we have nothing more to say," she wrote. "I feel that you both took advantage of the fact that she was desperate for a place to live and I was struggling at the time."
She said Kramer never responded.
"Kendall tried to tell me her story of woe and I told her I'm not getting into a dispute between her and her daughter," Kramer said.
Siskiyou County arrest
The next chapter of the story unfolded with Farago in a difficult situation. On
According to an article by the Redding Record Searchlight, Siskiyou County Sheriff deputies arrested Farago after she allegedly used gasoline to torch a home, a truck and 27 acres of dry grass northeast of Yreka. Siskiyou County District Attorney
She has been charged with four felonies and could face 14 years in state prison if convicted. Two out of three psychologists found her competent to stand trial, Andrus said. Farago, who pleaded not guilty and is out on bail, faces a preliminary hearing in December.
A month after her arrest, while she sat in jail, Kramer listed the property for
"He was kind of pushy and it was a 'Quick, let's get this done' type deal," Olson said in a phone interview.
"When I go to sign the papers, I just wanted to make sure that the money would go to Veronika and they assured me Gus would take care of that," she said.
The deed was recorded on
View this document on
Reached by phone
The Cal law professor said the whole deal raised multiple red flags.
"(As a trustee) you are normally selling to an unrelated third party not to someone known to the trustee. That becomes suspicious," Rakowski said.
"Why is he lending his attorney money and possibly selling his property in a sweetheart deal?" Rakowski also said.
Breach of trust?
Kramer said he only got involved with the
"The house was transferred to
He did not provide details about how the house would be returned to Farago when the ownership is no longer in the trust but instead owned by Zelis. There is nothing in any of the recorded documents surrounding the sale that commits Zelis or Kramer to give back the house.
Records show some of the sale proceeds went to pay off Orr's outstanding mortgage of about
He said the deal had to go through his attorney to "create an insurable title," and he sent paperwork to the
"We are not aware of any paperwork being filed specifically for this property to this office," he told this news agency.
"It strikes me it would do just the opposite," Brown said. The attorney said a trustee selling the property to his personal attorney for below "adequate and full consideration" would potentially cloud the title, not clear it.
A fiduciary duty is the highest level of responsibility under the law, higher than a parent-child duty, Brown said. The Richmond attorney, who spoke highly of the Contra Costa Assessor's Office which he deals with regularly, was surprised Kramer had acknowledged that he knew the property was worth much more money than it was sold for.
"He has admitted to a breach of his fiduciary duty. That's a
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