Note: An earlier version of this story said that the home in question was in Bastrop. Elgin is in Bastrop County.
Frank Vickers of Elgin was on the couch watching “Jeopardy!” when there was a knock on the door. Before he could get up, a Bastrop County Sheriff’s deputy was standing in his living room, ready to evict him.
After renting the same property for almost a decade, Vickers was kicked out of his home in September. Twisted up in this eviction was an elected official, his attorney daughter and the sheriff’s departments of two counties. Jody Barr is part of Austin NBC affiliate KXAN’s investigative team that uncovered the story. Barr says powerful local officials intimidated Vickers.
“The deputy comes into the house and says, ‘You need to leave the house; it’s been sold,’ [but] Vickers did not leave that night. Then, he got a call the next day from Bastrop County Commissioner ‘Bubba’ Snowden. Snowden left a message that says, ‘Make it easier on both of us. This house has been sold. I’m going to put a sign up in your yard.’ Basically ‘Get out,’” Barr says.
On the sign was the name of the new property owner Tracy Ortiz – Commissioner Snowden’s daughter. But Snowden doesn’t own the property, and the county has no record of the sale of the house to Ortiz.
“[KXAN] was going through every office that would have any public record or any hand in selling a house. The day we ended our research and visited all of these county offices, up pops a sheriff’s deed at the [Bastrop] County Clerk’s office,” Barr says. “You could call it coincidental.”
The sheriff’s deed came about from the landowner of Vickers’ home, Francine Lankford. Lankford also owns a property in Lee County, and was sued by a fencing company after Lankford failed to pay that company for fencing it installed there. Lankford didn’t properly deal with that lawsuit, which was filed first in Bastrop County and then in Lee County. Lankford claims her attorney, Rosanna Abreo, didn’t properly advise her on the matter. As a result, Lee County gave the Bastrop County constable – who also happens to be Abreo’s husband – the authority to seize Lankford’s other properties to settle the debt. That’s where Vickers’ house comes in.
“There’s a document known as a writ of execution. That is, Lee County gave this constable in Bastrop County, Mr. Abreo, the authority to seize property that belongs to Lankford,” Barr says.
But there’s a catch: Barr says the date that Constable Abreo says he got the document was months before the document existed. Lankford’s attorney claims the document is fraudulent.
The sign left in Vickers’ yard by Commissioner Snowden is still up. Vickers and Lankford have filed a lawsuit to get the property back and for the wrongful eviction against Vickers.
“You can’t take property if it’s not properly noticed, and this property that this landowner had had a homestead exemption on it,” Barr says. “If the process was followed, this likely would not have happened. I’m very interested to see if we could ever answer the why – why this piece of property? Why the constable and his attorney wife? Why were they interested in this? How did they know about it?”
Written by Brooke Vincent.