Mitzi Osborne Sues to Recover Stolen Property

Mitzi Osborne Sues to Recover Stolen Property
This widow of Little Rock businessman Jennings Osborne has filed a civil lawsuit to recover property that went missing from her west Little Rock home before it was sold at auction. (Zac Lehr)

Have you ever come home to find the doors padlocked and your possessions gone?

That's allegedly what happened to Mitzi Osborne, widow of Jennings, about a year ago, according to a complaint recently filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court. What’s more, it’s part of a much larger issue involving managers of troubled properties.

The suit says the incident happened in March 2012, about eight months after Jennings’ death and three months before the auction of most of the family’s property. Breezy Meadows Farm, the Osbornes’ former 9.5-acre estate on Kanis Road in Little Rock, was under the charge of Safeguard Properties Management LLC of Valley View, Ohio. Safeguard is one of the largest companies of its kind.

It’s not unusual for a company like Safeguard to send out a subcontractor to “winterize” an abandoned home. That means it’s inspected for broken windows, the water is shut off, and the entrances are padlocked against vandals and so forth.

Personal property might be removed in the event of a foreclosure.

One day in March, the suit said, Osborne was alerted that the gates to Breezy Meadows had been cut and deactivated. When she got to the property, the entrances to the 6,463-SF home were padlocked.

Inside, she was “astonished” to find that a grandfather clock, a gold mirror, a silver set, decorative knives, crystal ware, vases, multiple televisions, family photographs and various other antiques had been removed.

Stickers on the home identified Cole & Sons Property Management of Hot Springs as Safeguard’s subcontractor.

Osborne’s lawyers Will Bond and Carter Stein of McMath Woods LLC in Little Rock said the removed items were never recovered. Bond said last week that the case was still “in its infancy” and the relationship among Cole, Safeguard and Cenlar Federal Savings Bank of Trenton, N.J. — the loan servicer — was still being worked out.

The Bigger Picture

According to another suit filed in Pulaski County Circuit Court in 2011, a homeowner from Magnolia discovered that a Safeguard subcontractor had similarly winterized her home and removed $40,000 worth of property inside. That case was dismissed, but other property owners across the nation have had similar experiences.

Huffington Post writer Ben Hallman examined Safeguard in a 2012 story, describing at least one situation in which a homeowner in Florida was actually present when a contractor attempted to break into her home. The story noted that break-ins and property removal may be used to intimidate homeowners who are behind on mortgages and are neglecting homes, abandoned or not.

Hallman, who was working on a follow-up article and was aware of the Osborne case, told Whispers that contractors taking items from occupied homes was “not really uncommon, based on my research.”

A Safeguard spokeswoman told Whispers that she couldn’t respond to any specific lawsuit, but said break-ins were “rare, and in those rare cases when they do happen, we are very, very sorry and we work with homeowners to resolve it as quickly and as effectively as we can.”

McMath Woods is seeking damages for the lost property. The defendants have not yet responded to the suit.