CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. (AP) —
Residents of a Tennessee mobile home park are suing two property managers who were previously charged with theft and conspiracy after they were accused of stealing tornado relief meant for the residents, the Chattanooga Times Free Press reports.
Kimberly West, 49, and Steven West, 64, were arrested in late April after Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office detectives seized more than $60,000 in relief items meant for residents affected by a deadly tornado that tore through the community on Easter Sunday.
Kimberly West is also charged with coercion after residents said she asked them to sign a document stating that they had received the aid. West told the Times Free Press on Friday that the two were unaware of the lawsuit and declined to comment otherwise.
The $4 million lawsuit was filed on Thursday on behalf of former resident Hilda Yanes, whose home was destroyed in the tornado. It claims Yanes and at least 44 other residents paid the Wests $20 per month to insure their homes, but the Wests “failed to purchase homeowners insurance. Instead, (they) converted the money for their benefit."
According to a lease provided to the newspaper, insurance was supposed to be obtained by the residents, but many residents said they were unaware of that clause and instead paid the Wests for coverage. The newspaper spoke to 15 current and former residents who shared accounts of being threatened with deportation and eviction if they didn’t pay fees and sign questionable documents. None of the residents interviewed had seen any paperwork from an insurance company or knew what company was supposed to be insuring their homes.
The suit also alleges the Wests would not allow relief agencies and volunteers onto the property after the tornado because the managers were trying to hide health code violations, “including open sewers that ran underneath some of the mobile homes."
And the lawsuit accuses the Wests of demanding residents May’s rent before it was due or face deportation and attempting to charge double rent when two families moved in together after the home of one family was destroyed.
The Tennessee Attorney General’s Office has joined an investigation to determine whether the managers violated the Tennessee Consumer Protection Act. The Wests are expected in court on Aug. 4.