In Warren, N.H., Trying to Ignore Foreclosure
This Warren, N.H., home has been foreclosed upon and the former owner, Michael Formica, is no longer there. (Valley News — Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
A sign posted outside a foreclosed Warren, N.H., home. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Purchase photo reprints »
Warren, N.H. — For the past several months, Grafton County Sheriff Doug Dutile and his men had braced for a situation that they feared could have blown up at 8: 01 a.m. Friday.
At that moment Michael Formica, who for the previous months ignored home foreclosure proceedings against him, challenged the sheriff’s legal authority, raising consternation in this town of 900 residents, that there would be a confrontation with police.
While Dutile’s office processes dozens of evictions a month, the sheriff acknowledged that the case against Formica, a father of three who lives off disability checks is fond of quoting the Bible, had been especially problematic: Though the bank has owned the home since October, and he has been served three sets of eviction papers and had a last-ditch appeal rejected by a judge, Formica had refused to budge from his home, a shuttered church and rectory on the green, claming he didn’t answer to the law.
In May, he explained why.
“God’s got all that handled,” Formica, 42, said when approached at his home by the Valley News. “Whether the Sheriff wants to play Moses or Pharaoh, that’s his choice. If God is with me, who could be against me? Most people would say, ‘You should leave.’ My job is to be obedient to God’s will. He hasn’t told me to go.”
Last week, the Sheriff’s Office posted a notice on Formica’s fence, notifying him that he had to leave by 8 a.m. yesterday morning, or face arrest and be charged with tresspassing.
On Friday, Warren Police Chief John Semertgakis said the home appeared empty, and Formica apparently had left some time after Wednesday, destination unknown, apparently complying with Dutile’s order.
It was an anti-climatic end to a saga that had captivated Warren for months: Dutile, Semertgakis and other local officials said that residents have repeatedly expressed a fear of Formica, who, according to documents filed in Haverhill Circuit Court, has claimed to have a serious mental illness and was likely armed.
Concern in town was fueled when an a listing was posted online by U.S. Bank National Association, part of banking giant U.S. Bancorp, offering Formica’s home for sale. The otherwise prosaic announcement to would-be buyers also noted that tours of the property would not be available, and included a peculiar disclaimer.
“Seller does not represent or guarantee occupancy status. Buyer is responsible for obtaining possession of property upon closing. DO NOT DISTURB OCCUPANT.”
“There are all kinds of rumors from the post office to the store to the people at the school,” Dutile said before Formica vacated the property. “But we have not had any difficulty to this point so far, and hopefully, it stays that way, because you don’t want anybody to get hurt ...We’ve heard all kinds of stories down there (but) he hasn’t been a problem at all. I think it will be peaceful.”
Formica declined to comment about his situation in recent weeks and could not be reached for comment Friday.
But on a May afternoon, as he took a break from working in his yard to discuss the situation with a stranger standing on the other side of his fence, Formica declined to say whether he would leave voluntarily. Thickly built, with close cropped hair and dark sunglasses, Formica said he lives in a fashion that is “quintessentially American,” growing his own food and home-schooling his twin 12 year old sons and his 11-year-old daughter. He recently bought a mule, he said, and had no backup plan if evicted.
“Plan A is working, why would I worry about Plan B?” Formica said. “I will pray for those who persecute me, and forgive those who persecute me.”
Formica wouldn’t talk about his past, though court documents filed in Grafton and Sullivan County shed some light on his life in recent years.
Formica and his former partner, Siobhan Formica, now 49, purchased the Warren home in 2004 from the Catholic Church for $150,000, according to town documents: They live in the old rectory, attached to a long-shuttered chapel. Before that, they lived in Sunapee for several years.
(Though they share the same last name, Michael Formica said they were never legally married, and court records do not refer to them as spouses. Siobhan Formica, who now lives in Haverhill, did not respond to several messages seeking comment, and her former attorney, Stan Brinkman, of Woodsville, declined to comment for this story.)
Formica would not say why he left Sunapee and came to Warren, N.H., a central Grafton County town known for a decommissioned NASA rocket that stands improbably on the town green.
“I’m trying to go where God leads me,” he said. “And, this was an interesting place.”
But, according to court documents, problems between the Formicas festered, and they were under a financial strain.
In December 2007, Michael Formica filed a request for a restraining order, alleging that Siobhan Formica forced him and the children to “stay out in the cold or only in the basement,” and had previously attacked him with a spatula, and broken plates and doors. The request was approved, and Michael Formica was granted temporary custody of the couple’s children.
They continued to file a flurry of motions with the court, accusing each other of making threats and being poor parents. Eventually, they separated, according to court documents, and Formica was given primary custody of the children. (The current custody arrangement is unclear from the court file.)
Court records indicate that domestic strife was compounded by money problems.
Michael Formica blamed his precarious financial condition on his wife’s unwillingness to pay child support.
“Have her pay some amount of child support,” he wrote to Haverhill Circuit Court. “If so mortgage will not be foreclosed and childrens’ lifestyle will not be jeopardized.”
Beginning in February 2008, Siobhan was ordered to pay $670 a month in child support. Parenting was divided roughly equally between Michael and Siobhan, and they were ordered to transfer their children at the Haverhill Police Department.
The demands of the court didn’t dampen the strain between the couple.
“Mr. Formica has made every reasonable effort to maintain a proper home for his children,” his attorney wrote.
But Siobhan’s attorney voiced concerns over Formica.
“Mr. Formica has indicated that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, a severe mental illness,” Siobahn Formica’s attorney said in court filings. “Mr. Formica has indicated that he received 100 percent disability from the Social Security Administration for this mental illness.”
In the interview, Formica declined to discuss the assertions.
In May 2010, Formica listed his occupation as “homemaker/disabled,” and said he had $50 in his checking account. He said he had $1,870 in monthly expenses, including an $898 mortgage, and only $1,365 in monthly income.
At that time, he owed the town of Warren $6,000 in back taxes. Currently, the town says the property does not owe any back taxes. But Formica apparently could not satisfy his debt with the bank that held the mortgage on his home.
By then, Formica was also coming to the attention of police.
That same month, he allegedly pointed a shotgun at a group of motorcycle riders who stopped at the end of his driveway.
Formica was charged with reckless conduct with a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor, in Haverhill Circuit Court. A hearing was held in July 2010, to determine whether there was enough evidence to merit proceeding with the case. Such hearings usually result in a finding by a judge that authorities have enough evidence to prosecute.
Not this time. The judge ruled “the evidence is not sufficient to establish probable cause,” and dismissed the case.
Then in an unusual move, the Grafton County Attorney’s Office took the case to a grand jury, which indicted Formica on the same charge that the judge had dismissed.
But in June 2011, prosecutors dropped the charge. They offered no explanation, but court records show that at least one of the motorcycle riders might have threatened to harm Formica or his children before Formica brandished a shotgun.
Formica’s public defender in the case, Tony Hutchins, of Orford, declined to comment.
When they had arrested Formica earlier, police took several firearms from his home, including two shotguns, two rifles with scopes, and one handgun. After prosecutors dropped the case, a judge ordered the firearms be returned to Formica, according to court documents.
Semertgakis, the police chief, and Dutile, the sheriff, said they believed Formica still has access to firearms. In the interview Formica wouldn’t say whether he does or not.
“I carry a Bible with me. I carry God’s spirit inside me. If people think that’s dangerous, that’s their choice.”
The Foregotten Many
In New Hampshire, foreclosure proceedings occur outside the judicial system.
Banks are only required to file notice with the county Registry of Deeds Office, and post a notice in a local newspaper.
They do not have to give the court a detailed public accounting of how much the homeowners owe on their mortgage or whether they have made an effort to work out terms with the homeowner.
Korde & Associates, a Massachusetts law firm that represents the mortgage holder in the case, did not respond to a message seeking comment.
In September 2012, the bank filed for foreclosure, and seized the property in October and put it up for sale, according to Warren N.H. property records and Grafton County Registry of Deeds records.
At that point, Dutile said, most homeownersvacate the property. But Formica refused to leave, forcing the bank to engage in a lengthy eviction proceeding.
Siobhan Formica, who now lives in Haverhill, according to court records, is still listed as a co-owner of the home, but notified Haverhill Circuit Court that said she would not oppose the eviction.
Michael Formica remained silent for months, before filing a last ditch appeal in late May that a judge rejected.
Otherwise, there is no record of Formica hiring an attorney, or protesting the procedural steps that led to the foreclosure.
Grafton County Register of Deeds Kelley Monahan said that’s not unusual.
“You don’t say, ‘I’m being foreclosed, help me,’ or hire a high-priced lawyer, because they don’t have any money,” Monahan said. “They are the forgotten segment of our society. People just fade away. There’s human tragedy.”
Formica declined to discuss the court case.
“Things that have value can’t be bought or sold, nor can they be taken by a sheriff,” he said. “What’s going to happen in the future, that’s not a concern of mine. I’m going to continue to live in peace.”
Mark Davis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3304.