Pastor Cleveland Garrison claims he let a group called Kaleo Ministry use his church and everything in it while they paid for the property. (WRDW-TV / July 2, 2012)
Georgia tops nation in foreclosures
Georgia has the highest foreclosure rate in the entire nation. At leat that's the word from the experts at RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure service based in California.
The latest numbers are not good. Research shows foreclosure rates soared 33 percent from April to May in the Peach State. This means Georgia has now leaped in front of Florida, Arizona, California and Nevada.
Researchers say about one in every 300 Georgia homes is repossessed. Nationally, that number is one in 639.
News 12 at 6 o'clock / Monday, July 2, 2012
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Cleveland Garrison is feeling as empty as his church.
"I didn't know what to think. I couldn't believe what I was seeing, " he said as he looked around his stark sanctuary.
When News 12 came to get a look, he couldn't even offer us a seat. His church doesn't even have pews.
Pastor Garrison claims he let a group called Kaleo Ministry use his church and everything in it while they paid for the property. He claims he sold them all but the building that houses the sanctuary with plans to sign it over to them once the debt was settled. That never happened, which surprised him.
But what he says happened next shocked him.
"First of all, they took up all the pews up," Garrison said.
Then, he said they took some more items he thought belonged in the church.
"They took the faucet off the kitchen sink," he said. Just down the hall, he noticed more than hardware missing. "See where they cut the sink off the wall?"
The pastor's room is bare bones, too.
"I had a real nice desk, nice furniture, computer table and all of that. They cleaned me out, but they left that," said Garrison as he pointed to an old television set. "Probably because it's a black and white," he assumed.
But he assumed there weren't any gray areas when it came to his church. He believed he was the victim of a crime, so he called Richmond County deputies to report a burglary.
According to the incident report, Kaleo's leader, who calls himself "Prophet," told deputies he didn't need to be out of the church for a few days. He said he had a "verbal agreement he was allowed to keep anything in the church that he fixed or put money into." He claims "he and his followers refinished the pews, so they were keeping them."
"When you call an officer out for a situation, at that point ... I know he only had the power to do so much, but at that point, he should stop everything until he's 100 percent sure they can do this," Garrison said. "And I don't think the Richmond County police did that."
The deputy told both sides it's a "civil" matter, meaning if Garrison wanted the church pews back, he would have to hire an attorney and take Kaleo Ministry to court.
Garrison was hoping investigators would at least investigate.
Garrison: "He didn't look into it. He just took their word for it because, I don't know."
News 12's Meredith Anderson: "So you feel like you were brushed off?"
The security deed says that Kaleo Ministry could not "demolish, destroy or remove any permanent structure now existing on the premise or make any alteration thereon that would constitute change without the written consent of the grantee."
Garrison says he thought that meant that Kaleo Ministry couldn't take the pews, the sink or the desk and chairs.
But he might have been wrong.
We showed the documents to several local real estate attorneys and asked who is right in this case. It is against Georgia law to dispose of a lender's collateral without permission, but those charges require proof of criminal intent. According to the incident report, Kaleo Ministry thought they had every right to everything they took.
Attorneys also tell us a judge will have to decide what is and isn't a fixture. Fixtures, or items affixed to property like counter-tops, usually have to stay with the building. However, trade fixtures, or fixtures normally associated with a business being operated on the property, are allowed to be removed.
So are pews trade fixtures? Attorneys say that would be up to a judge.
We went to Kaleo Ministry's new church home to try to get "Prophet's" side of the story, but the gate was locked. We were able to get in touch with him by phone. We asked about the pews, and he told us to call his lawyer. We did. That was weeks ago. We're still waiting on him to call us back.
But before the call ended, he told us the church was in such bad condition when his congregation bought it, he thinks it should have been demolished. He says his congregation fixed it up. He told deputies he cold "remove property from the church that he had paid for."
When Garrison saw how much property was missing, he called his insurance company.
"When they calculated it out, it came to be $130,000," he said.
He's filed a claim and says he's confident he'll get his money back.
His faith in the system? He says he's not sure he'll ever get that back.
We did speak with Garrison's attorney, Georgia Rep. Ben Allen, but he refused to go on camera. He told us he'd be happy to talk about politics, but this was something the courts should handle.
That goes back to why Garrison is frustrated.
However, he says he'll be fine because he believes he'll get his money back because he had insurance and that's something important to mention here. Property disputes are actually not uncommon, so the only way you can protect yourself is to have insurance.