Quiescent county Web site stirring suspicions
April 4, 2008
By KAREN VELIE and DANIEL BLACKBURN
A Web site maintained by San Luis Obispo County’s Clerk-Recorder’s office – which provides property deed transaction data and other public information and is routinely updated weekly — has been dormant for 36 days.
The site’s lack of relevance quickly became a cause of concern for some investors who have placed funds with a troubled Paso Robles hard money lender, Estate Financial.
Clerk-Recorder Julie Rodewald attributed the site’s inactivity to a missing technician and promised a quick fix. But the site had not yet restored to a current status by midday Thursday.
The Web site contains general information on the Clerk-Recorder’s office as well as a searchable database to allow public access to official county records.
The situation raises a question of conflict of interest, according to several investors who talked to a reporter. Roderick Rodewald, the clerk-recorder’s husband, is a San Luis Obispo attorney whose clients include Estate Financial and its president, Karen Guth.
UncoveredSLO.com posted an article March 14 reporting the apparent unraveling of Estate Financial and actions and practices of its two top officers, Guth and her son, Joshua Yaguda . That article detailed the alleged loss of millions of dollars by a large number of investors, many of whom said they had been hindered in their efforts to contact others with funds in Guth’s hands.
Three days after that article appeared, several hundred EF investors expressing deep concern and growing anger met at San Luis Bay Inn to exchange stories, loan data, phone numbers and action plans.
“At a time when Estate Financial is not forthcoming with investor data, the Clerk-Recorder’s office is one of the few options investors have,” said one person who has been regularly monitoring the Web site’s lack of progress, wrote in an e-mail to UncoveredSLO.com.
Numerous individuals allege that Estate Financial has sold properties and failed to repay investors. Consequently, many investors rely on the Clerk-Recorder’s Web site to follow activity or changes involving their properties. The site provides information showing if any reconveyance (loan repayments) have occurred; or if Estate Financial is foreclosing on specific properties.
Investors might be unaware that the site has been outdated during the month-plus dormancy, and as a result may be relying on stagnant information during a period when numerous Estate Financial transactions might be occurring.
Julie Rodewald said she has been out of the office on personal matters and has not been able to facilitate updates.
“Our system is not a county standard system,” she told UncoveredSLO.com, “and our IT guy is out. The (county’s Information Technology Department) doesn’t manage our AS400 (computer program). That we are trying to deny access to documents because of Estate Financial is absolutely not true.”
A source in Information Technology said any one of more than two dozen county technicians could have easily and quickly handled the usual updating. Other computer experts contacted by UncoveredSLO.com said keeping the county Clerk-Recorder’s site current is not a complex undertaking, suggesting the site’s update is virtually a push-button exercise.
Julie Rodewald said this week she would have nothing to gain from trying to affect the Web site’s current status.
“This begs the question, can he or I do anything?” Julie Rodewald said when asked if her husband’s work for Estate Financial has created at least the impression of a conflict of interest. “Our personal lives are separate from our professional lives. All recordings are public record.”
Roderick Rodewald, too, scoffed at the suggestion of a conflict.
“How in the world could I assist Karen Guth through my wife’s office?” he wondered recently. He also noted that he and his wife have “heard the allegations” but insisted no conflict exists. He disavowed any involvement with Estate Financial other than providing legal counsel.
One of Roderick Rodewald’s counsel chores was to chastise Myron “Mike” Knecht, who placed an advertisement in local periodicals seeking to locate and organize other EF investors. The lawyer wrote in a Sept. 2007 letter and e-mail to Knecht that his ads were having “an adverse affect on our clients’ business.”
Roderick Rodewald added, “Your advertisements have a chilling effect on both further investments in the mortgage fund and on the fractional loan investments, with corresponding harm to your fellow investors and my clients’ business. I would urge you to discuss this with your attorney… as such statements could expose you to significant legal liability.”
Knecht said he checked with his own attorney.
“By Karen Guth’s own admission, ‘investment capital will not be returned at any time in the foreseeable future,’ (so) my statement was not actionable. Something about the truth being a defense,” Knecht wrote in a reply to EF’s lawyer.
Some EF investors have also questioned an apparent new practice at the Clerk-Recorder’s requiring names and addresses of people seeking deed information.
“Sometimes we may ask for a person to sign, sometimes not,” said Julie Rodewald. “There’s a form to fill out. You don’t have to sign it. We are not keeping tabs on people who come into the office. Every little thing becomes a conspiracy.”