116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — A judge hearing an ongoing dispute over payments surrounding a central Illinois house purchase has ordered some of the wages of Amara Andrews, a candidate for Cedar Rapids mayor, to be seized.
A hearing in the case is set for Monday, the day before the local election in which Andrews is one of four candidates to become the city’s mayor.
In an interview Friday, an Illinois homebuilder said his company will soon seek to collect on money he says Andrews and her husband, Kahlil Andrews, owe for a home the couple built in the state a decade ago. But confusing the issue for all the parties involved in the dispute is what has happened with the wages that were ordered garnished.
In a ruling filed Aug. 7, 2020, a judge wrote that both parties — the Andrews and Illinois company Unique Homes and Lumber — had reached an agreement on the amount owed. The Andrews were ordered to pay $68,746.43, including interest and late fees, plus another $4,367.82 in legal fees, through wage garnishments, court records show.
The dispute started when Unique Homes filed a lawsuit against the Andrews in 2014 over a single-family home they had entered a contract with the company to build in Mahomet, Ill., alleging they owed $223,017.13.
According to the original complaint, the Andrews gave the home back around March 20, 2014, after Unique demanded they make good on unpaid debt. Unique sold the home to another buyer in June 2014 for $540,000.
The parties signed an agreement in March 2016 where the Andrews offered and Unique agreed to accept a $150,000 payment to settle in full, with an immediate delivery from the Andrews to Unique of $10,000. The agreement did not constitute an admission of wrongdoing of either party.
But then on Nov. 4, 2019, Unique asked the court to enter a judgment against the couple for $67,272.61 and to compel them to comply with the settlement, and provide their complete employment information, after alleging the couple had defaulted on their payments.
The Illinois court ruled Nov. 26, 2019, that Unique could proceed with a wage garnishment after the parties agreed the Andrews owed at least $42,294.20 to Unique — an amount that increased later to over $70,000.
Attorneys for both parties are scheduled to participate in a routine hearing Monday to substitute the plaintiff’s counsel. After this, Unique’s Chief Financial Officer Randy Porter told The Gazette, “then it all starts again with a fresh set of eyes and a renewed vigor at them.”
Porter said the wage garnishments had been happening “very, very nicely” for a time, “But for some reason — and again, this is no fault of theirs — on our side, our lawyer had those payments set up to where they were made payable to his law firm. And then his law firm would receive the money, turn around, cut a check to us, so the checks that we actually received were not from her employer or from their garnishment agent, but from our law firm.”
When a wage garnishment order was signed in March 2020, plaintiff’s attorney Matthew Peek was with the law firm Kesler Nelson Garman Brougher & Townsley in Danville, Ill. Earlier this month, court records show, Peek had moved to Rincker Law in Champaign, Ill. The plaintiffs now have counsel from the Thomas Mamer firm in Champaign.
Since Peek switched firms, “we have not been getting those garnishments,” Porter said.
“Now, I've told everybody it's like they may still very well be going on,” Porter said. “The thing is we don't know where the money is going. Of course, that's no fault of theirs. That's not Amara's fault. If her wages are being garnished and the garnishment place is paying the legal team, the way it was set up — why was it set up that way? I don't know. But we're certainly going to go and fix it.”
Marshall Burt, the Andrews’ attorney with the Burt Law Group in Chicago, said it is his understanding that payments have been made “but for some reason they haven’t been cashed since March, which we did not know about until recently, but they were all sent to where they were required to be sent and for some reason they just weren’t being cashed.”
Burt said he had previously asked Peek to provide the outstanding balance “so that we can try and resolve it, but the payments are being made pursuant to the settlement agreement.”
“I think the Andrews are interested in resolving it and putting it behind them as opposed to making payments for however long they have to make them,” Burt said.
Under a March 2020 ruling, Amara’s employer, TrueNorth Companies, was ordered to deduct 15 percent of her non-exempt gross wages each pay period. It did not contain an address for where to send those payments.
According to the settlement, after three late payments, the Andrews had granted Unique the right to seek a wage garnishment to have amounts due sent directly from any employer. It stated, “Unless directed otherwise in writing by Unique, all payments to Unique shall be made to the following address: Unique Homes & Lumber Inc., 2402 S. 18th Street, Charleston, IL 61920,” so it is unclear why payments were going to a law firm.
Burt said, “I don’t know if they were sending them onto Unique or not, but it’s my understanding that the payments were made where they were required to be made, and all that is really outside the Andrews’ control and something that the employer does.”
In an Oct. 19 video response, made after the house payment dispute was first reported by the Iowa Field Report blog and later by KWWL-TV, Amara Andrews said she and her husband were saddled with student loan debt, moving around the country for his medical training during the housing crisis, and they “fell behind like many working-class Americans do.”
Iowa Field Report also noted the Andrews had an outstanding debt of $50,000 to the IRS for unpaid income taxes from 2010 to 2012. The IRS issued a Certificate of Release of Federal Tax Lien in August 2020, indicating that the Andrews’ had satisfied the debt.
“Once we got back on our feet, we made good on all of our debts — a fact we’re extremely proud of,” Amara Andrews said in the video. “However, we know that not everyone in our community and our country can do this. … I'm running for those individuals who find themselves in a financial spiral that they can't seem to shake. We need a leader who can understand and relate to the struggles of ordinary people.”
She cast the matter as an attempt by her opponents to “embarrass me and my family, and hurt my prospects for success,” and said her opponents were using “smear tactics and mudslinging to try to get ahead.” In an Oct. 14 KCRG-TV mayoral forum, she raised the possibility that her opponents had paid for opposition research to dig up this information.
Women Lead Change Chief Executive Officer Tiffany O’Donnell said her mayoral campaign had not conducted opposition research. Mayor Brad Hart said his campaign had some research done on the others in the field, so he knew about Andrews’ financial history. But Hart said he did not disclose the information nor did he direct anyone from his team to share it.
“If I was going to disclose it, we would have done it a long time ago,” he said.
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