CARLSBAD — Wilsan Baughman isn’t a criminal.
So when men armed with automatic weapons surrounded her home on Dec. 16, she was surprised to find it was all because her landlord allegedly failed to pay his taxes.
Eddy County Sheriff Scott London is now involved, calling the actions of the U.S. Marshals Service, which was seizing Baughman’s home and two other properties in Carlsbad that day for the Internal Revenue Service, a violation of due process.
Federal court records show that a week after the Marshal Service action, on Dec. 23, two appelate judges denied a request by the property owner, Kent Carter, to block efforts to seize the properties while he appealed.
It was around 9:30 a.m. on Dec. 16, Baughman said, when a deputy marshal pushed his way through her front door at 403 N. Lake Street in Carlsbad and ordered her out.
Baughman was at home with her 1-year old son, she said, when she heard and saw armed officers surrounding her home. One even allegedly broke through the back door. “He told me, ‘Get out and get your stuff and do it today or we’re going to lock it up here,'” Baughman said. “I’m just a simple tenant and they treated me like a drug lord.”
Yvette Soto, a public information officer with the U.S. Marshals Service district office in Las Cruces, said that the incidents of that night are still being reviewed.
The drama began in October 2014 when Kent Carter, former owner of Kent Carter Building, a contracting business, appealed a ruling by U.S. District Judge Robert Brack that upheld a previous judgement allowing the seizure and sale of three properties in payment for taxes owed from 1995-2001.
Carter allegedly owes $895,256.71 in back taxes, according to federal court documents. Neither he nor his lawyer could be reached for comment.
Those properties included the Lake Street residence occupied by the Baughman family, and properties at 2608 Tulip Street and 1202 W. Edwards Street.
The judgement by Brack states that the U.S. Marshals Service was tasked to “take any and all necessary actions, including but not limited to the use of reasonable force to enter and remain on the premises” and have “occupants ejected” after a 30-day period.
Baughman’s father, Mark Wilkie, said that when he expressed doubt about the legality of their actions because the judgment was under appeal, the deputy marshal told them he “didn’t care.”
Wilkie said he was proud to see London step in during the seizure proceedings, though he reportedly risked arrest doing so.
London said that the reports of his interaction with the U.S. Marshals Service were somewhat exaggerated.
London said that the officials did cite orders to arrest anyone who interrupted the proceedings.
“Some people have portrayed it as a stand down but it was peaceful communication,” London said. “It was a civil conversation but we did disagree.”
On Feb. 4, London sent a letter to the IRS stating that he would step in to stop the sale of Carter’s three properties, which is scheduled on the U.S. Treasury website at 11 a.m. Feb. 19, if the IRS decided to proceed before the appeal proceedings are resolved.
London said he isn’t disputing Brack’s judgement, but intervened based on his understanding of due process, as Carter’s appeal seemed to be still pending.
In the letter, London cited his oath to the federal and state constitutions, which guarantee a citizen’s right to due process.
In their Dec. 23 ruling, two judges of the Denver-based 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals denied Carter’s request for a stay of the federal court’s order while he appealed. The judges say his appeal didn’t meant the standards for issuing a stay, including showing “the likelihood of success on appeal.”
London is a member of the Constitution Sheriff’s and Peace Officers Association, an organization whose mission is to train and vet police, sheriffs and other officials to “keep their word to uphold, defend, protect, preserve, and obey the Constitution of the United States of America.”
London said he is in the process of verifying whether or not a decision by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals has been issued on the matter, but said he would comply with any ruling from the court on the issue.
Inquiries by the Current-Argus to the Internal Revenue Service regarding Carter’s case went unanswered.
London said he has been in contact with agents from the Treasury Department and lawyers from the Department of Justice regarding the matter, and that they are trying to reach a “peaceful resolution.”
London would not say what actions he would take if the sale proceeds without what he sees as due process.
Carter and the Baughmans both vacated the properties being seized on Dec. 16, London said.
The Baughmans had been occupying the home as a family since September, but her husband had lived in it since May.
She said they were made aware of Carter’s tax issues when they moved in, but said the IRS and the U.S. Marshals’ actions came as a complete surprise.
“I never got a call, they never came and talked to me, just this paper stapled to my door,” Baughman said.
Baughman said a letter had been stapled to their door around the first week of October from the Internal Revenue Service addressed to Carter, informing him of the IRS’s intent to foreclose on the property.
Baughman said she contact her landlord, Carter and London at the time, and both told her that until the appeals process was exhausted that there was no danger of eviction.
“It isn’t a tax issue for us,” Wilkie said. “It is disturbing to see this happen to my daughter who is guilty of nothing and whose only crime is paying her rent.”
Jessica Onsurez can be reached at 575-491-4682.
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