County Sells Wachovia Bank For $16,900 For Failure To Pay Taxes

When Wachovia closed its bank branch in Shoemakersville, PA, last month, a spokesperson made it sound like it was part of a normal review of locations. Local newspaper the Reading Eagle, however, found out that the bank lost the branch last September in a tax sale, when a local company bought the building for only $16,900.

Berks County Recorder of Deeds Frederick C. Sheeler doesn’t understand why the bank didn’t protect the Shoemakersville site from tax sale.

“I found it to be incredible that the bank can let property worth a couple of hundred thousand dollars just go up from under them and not preserve the assets of the account holders, the stockholders and the money the government put into Wells Fargo,” Sheeler said.

The tax collector for the county told the paper that she was surprised Wachovia ever let it go so far: “They (the notices) basically threaten them that if they don’t pay, eventually your property could be sold. People usually pay attention.”

“Tax woes spurred closing of Shoemakersville bank” [Reading Eagle] (Thanks to Ed!)
(Photo: skyliner72 and Webdesign-guru.co.uk)

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  1. takes_so_little says:

    Wow, that’s quite an investment. Even if it had been bought by a regular schmuck like me, dip into savings, buy it for 17k and, hell, even just put it up on the e-bay and I’m bound to make a healthy profit.

  2. jklug80 says:

    There has to be more to the story. No company in their right mind would give up a $240000 building for $16900. I’m betting it was really a lease or what they owed on the building was more than its value.

    • takes_so_little says:

      @jklug80: You make sense, I get that. But think about it, is it even possible, in light of recent events, to underestimate the acumen of a large bank?

      • jklug80 says:

        @takes_so_little: True but something else had to have happened. For example maybe the letters were sent to the branch and not the company HQ. Someone at the branch didn’t send them to HQ or to the higher ups at the branch. I highly doubt any company would just ignore a tax bill and lose hundreds of thousands of dollars. Something in this story has to be missing.

        • MaytagRepairman says:

          @jklug80: Alternatively, the branch sent them to HQ addressed to some guy that was laid-off and there was no one around assigned to pick up the pieces. Or the original notices were addressed to the laid off guy.

          There are many corporate black holes out there. I’ve seen sales organizations so badly run that they would lay somebody off and not follow up with a single customer in that guy’s region until a customer called up and complained that they hadn’t received their order that was supposed to have been delivered two weeks ago.

        • MinorAnnoyance says:

          @jklug80: I once believed that no company would bundle highly questionable mortgages and sell them, leading to the ultimate collapse of most of our economic system.

          The point being… never underestimate the propensity our larger financial institutions have rightfully earned for being either stupid, crooks or stupid crooks.

        • Bs Baldwin says:

          @jklug80: The letters that the tax collector sent would have been certified, so the bank did get them. When the last final notice letters came in the mail, the manager would have been given them. Also, the bank would have done whatever they could to stop this. This is how much Wachovia sucked at business.

    • bluewyvern says:

      @jklug80: If your property is seized and sold at auction, I’m pretty sure you have the right to show up and bid on it like everybody else. So whatever they owed, Wachovia could have settled it for $16,901 if they had placed the winning bid.

      I’m leaning towards something got lost in the bureaucracy and they just didn’t know about it.

      Like when my father went home to Nevada for his wedding, and as he was at the county office getting the marriage license, the clerk said, “Hey, aren’t you the Mr. Wyvern whose land is being auctioned next week?” Oops. Close call!

    • hellinmyeyes says:

      @jklug80: I hear what you’re saying, but there’s no telling the myriad problems that could’ve happened here. Usually, these official notices are addressed to “WACHOVIA INC, % TAX DEPT, PO BOX 12345″ etc etc, and (if they even had the correct address in the first place, which is not always true, especially if HQ moves or re-addresses) they end up getting lost in some poor schmuck’s office who probably couldn’t give two shits because he knows, in this economic climate, he’s going to lose his job anyway. Official notices almost exclusively go to the address on file with the tax collector, and there’s never a notice delivered to the physical branch or a notice posted on its door until the deed (so to speak) is done.

      It’s sad, really. Those employees live with the axe hanging over their heads because of the corporation’s health, then they get the big boot because of something so stupid as this. Great deal for the investor, though. There are guys out there buying these tax certificates and government-foreclosed properties all the time who have GOT to be making bank through eagle-eye investing.

    • wkm001 says:

      @jklug80:

      Ha! They had to walk away from their mortgage. How does it feel?

    • wkm001 says:

      @jklug80:

      To bad they don’t understand they had more to do with devaluing that property than anyone else.

    • rhys1882 says:

      @jklug80: Welcome to the real world. Operative term being “right mind.”

    • twophrasebark says:

      @jklug80:

      Yeah, it would be as crazy as Wachovia lending all their money to people who had no way to pay it back.

      Welcome to reality.

  3. scoosdad says:

    I’m not surprised at all. Wachovia has gotten so big they don’t even know anymore what they own and what they don’t.

    For a few years now I’ve been getting my home equity loan serviced through Wachovia. When I called the 800 number on my statement recently to ask them a question about my loan, they denied that I even had a loan with them. It took three more sessions on the phone with them spanning a week and a half to finally get through to someone who knew about my loan.

    So yeah, I can see how this building could have fallen through the cracks. Too bad my statements keep on coming every month. And if you think I’m going to set up auto-pay with them, you’re nuts!

    • flipnut says:

      If your loan was from Golden West, or has been “determined” to be subprime, it’s being cut off from the west of Wellschovia, and will be sold/given to a new company.

  4. ironchef says:

  5. 49USBPorts_GitEmSteveDave says:

    I wonder if they managed to clean out the safe before the sale. I would totally spend a few weeks learning how to crack the safe or trying different combos. It’s like the worlds largest woot! Bag-Of-Random-Crap.

    • hellinmyeyes says:

      @49USBPorts_GitEmSteveDave: Wow, I hadn’t considered that. I bet there’s no amount of liability insurance they could’ve purchased to cover customers’ lawsuits if this happened. I wonder if they were allowed to remove all the tangible property (safe deposit stuff, computers, etc) before the sale was completed.

  6. HomersBrain says:

    The reason Wachovia let this go was simple…they found out the buyer was buying the property using his Wachovia credit card and so they calculated they’d actually make more in fees and interests on the loan than they would continuing to operate the bank

  7. Shoelace says:

    Never underestimate the power of incompetence. It sounds like Wachovia was warned at least several times and ignored them. I wonder how they’re going to write off the loss.

  8. econobiker says:

    From the article I got the sense that they let the thing fall through the cracks and even when someone sent a check for the taxes it was overdue and didn’t include penalties etc.

    It was interesting to read about the multiple corporations that shelled the property ownership for Wachovia.

  9. H3ion says:

    The local jurisdictions (MD, DC, VA) have a period after the tax sale when the property owner can redeem by paying the tax sale buyer whatever he paid plus some interest and fees, so, if Pennsylvania law is the same, Wachovia may still be able to get the property back. Also, a tax sale buyer takes subject to outstanding mortgages. If the property was under water (say, Wachovia borrowed against it), it might make sense to let it go. Don’t know all the facts.

  10. mavrick67 says:

    Banks normally don’t own their branches, and according to the story the building was owned by a Meridian Properties, not Wachovia.

    • Anonymous says:

      Meridian Properties is a part of Wachovia. It goes like this.
      Meridian bank was absorbed by Corestates, Corestates bought out by First Union. First Union eaten by Wachovia and now Wachovia is owned by Wells Fargo. It might say Meridian properties but for all purposes its still Wachovia/Wells Fargo

  11. There's room to move as a fry cook says:

    Mr. Shotkus must be an important man. He uses his middle initial.

  12. tbax929 says:

    I grew up just south of Shoemakersville and haven’t thought about that place (or the crappy Reading Eagle newspaper) in years. The town’s a dump. I think $16K for a building there is overpriced.

  13. working class Zer0 says:

    I live about 5 miles from this bank. It is a beautiful old building that has had a lot of work put into it in the last 10 years or so. The people that bought it are probably ecstatic…..$16,900!!!!!!
    There has to be more to the story.
    According to the article Wachovia owns Meridian properties/NFPS.

  14. Blueskylaw says:

    Bailiffs seize bank’s cash

    A bank customer who was angered by the refusal of his branch to refund thousands of pounds of charges responded by sending in the bailiffs.

    Customers at the branch of the Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) in North London were stunned to see debt collectors that were hired by Declan Purcell seize four computers, two fax machines and a till filled with cash.

    The branch manager agreed to refund Mr Purcell his £3,400 charges after being told that otherwise the seized items would be sold. Mr Purcell, 48, said that he was following an example set by the bank. The London Underground employee, from East London, said that he had unfairly accrued the charges while running a motorcycle dealership.

    After his demand for a refund was refused, Mr Purcell applied through the county court to get the money back. In December it ruled in his favour but the bank still refused to return the money. The court gave him a warrant of execution, allowing the debt collectors to reclaim items from the bank.

    A spokesman for RBS said that it was investigating the incident, adding that it appeared to have been caused by an administrative error.

    The Office of Fair Trading is investigating whether banks are implementing charges fairly. Customers pay an estimated £4.5 billion in charges annually.

    [www.timesonline.co.uk]

  15. PollyHaerk says:

    There may be aspects of the story missing, however, when a property goes up for “tax sale” (due to unpaid taxes) , the winner of that auction/sale effectively purchases a “tax certificate” that is a lien against the property. The actualy owner of the real estate has a typically lengthy period of time to “redeem” that certificate, effectively, pay the lien -holder off. Informed people go to tax sales not because they think they’re buying properties, but because they profit greatly off of the interest charged to the owner when the owner redeems the sold tax certificate.
    For the party who bought $16,900 in taxes to have ended up sole title holder of the property, a good amount of time would have had to have passed and multiple notices of “tax sale/tax certificate sold” would have had to have gone out to Wachovia.

    Just wanted to clarify this before any of you rush to the next tax sale at the courthouse…

  16. nacoran says:

    I bet the vault door was worth that much.

  17. RCheli says:

    I dated a girl from Shoemakersville, PA.

    Not that that has anything to do with the article, of course.