PUEBLO WEST — News 5 Investigates first broke the story earlier this month about a Pueblo West man claiming county officials took his land and gifted it to someone else.
Now, Pueblo County Assessor Frank Beltran and Clerk and Recorder Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz are sitting down on the record to explain what happened.
County officials were not happy when our original story aired and after sending multiple emails back and forth seeking comment about what we uncovered, Ortiz and Beltran eventually agreed to talk on-camera.
Matthew Anderson, a Pueblo West homeowner purchased a parcel of land next door to his home for $12,000.
Anderson showed us tax records and a Bill of Sale showing the property was his.
On record, everything appeared "fine" until a few months ago when the Assessor's Office removed Anderson's name as "owner", and returned the property back to the original seller.
It may seem like a simple clerical error with an easy solution---but it's a little more complicated than that.
"I register (record) my deed and think it's a proper deed," Anderson said. "A year and a half later they (the Assessor's Office) said it's an improper deed and I can't find the homeowner."
The document which Anderson says he thought was a good deed, actually turned out to be a Bill of Sale, according to Assessor Frank Beltran.
"I don't doubt that he bought the property," Beltran said. "He has the Bill of Sale on the property, but I cannot transfer it by state law without a legal deed."
Beltran admitted a clerk in his office made the "mistake" of using a Bill of Sale as a legal document to transfer property from the seller to buyer (Anderson).
"She (the clerk), didn't know that a Bill of Sale doesn't transfer property," Beltran explained.
In other words, the property was transferred "prematurely" without having a proper deed on file.
"I thought everything was good until a year and a half later when they decided it wasn't a good deed," Anderson said. "If they would have told me (it was) a bad deed within a week or something, I would have easily been able to get a hold of the fellow (seller) and have it fixed."
Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked Beltran, "Why not just say, 'Look, we made a mistake, let's find a way to make it right?'"
"I did that," Beltran said. "We all talked with Anderson and told him this is what we can do. The only other option you have is a quiet title and that's in front of a judge. That's in front of the courts."
Since Anderson cannot locate the seller, he has to apply for what's called a "quiet title decree"---a fancy term for filing a court case and letting the judge decide who is entitled to a deed.
"Once we get a court order, we will change it," Beltran said.
"Telling someone to apply for a quiet title is a foreign language to some people," Ross told Beltran. "If I were to go outside and poll 10 people and ask them to explain what a quiet title decree is, how many people do you think will know what that is?"
"I can't answer that," Beltran said. "I don't know how knowledgeable people are."
Anderson says he's recorded few deeds in his life and did not have an attorney familiar with real estate law assist him with this land transaction.
"I feel like I've been robbed because I've made all these payments, I've paid the taxes which were coming in my name and I'm trying to do what's right," Anderson said.
Beltran says he's sympathetic to what's happened here, but said by law, the property was incorrectly transferred into his name without a proper deed.
"$12,000 is a lot of money and I don't disagree he doesn't own the property---it's his," Beltran said. "Until the deeds are filed correctly or this goes through the courts, I can't change it."
The agency that records multiple types of records, including deeds is at the County Clerk and Recorders Office.
"Especially with a deed, there needs to be certain things done so that the deed is proper," Clerk Gilbert "Bo" Ortiz said.
Deeds contain specific language like "sell and convey" per Colorado Statute, but you should not rely on the Clerk's Office to tell you that information.
Chief Investigative Reporter Eric Ross asked Ortiz, "Does your office tell customers when they come in to record a document that you do not make sure this document is legal and that you simply 'record' what you bring us?"
"No, we have signs that say that," Ortiz said.
Ortiz clarified that no employees in his office will provide any legal advice or review documentation you bring in.
Anderson alleges he only found this information out after his recorded document (Bill of Sale) did not meet the qualifications to be considered a deed from the Assessor.
Anderson also claims he was told that the Clerk's Office will record a piece of toilet paper if you pay them the money.
Ross asked Ortiz, "Can you register a document on a piece of toilet paper?"
"Absolutely not," Ortiz said.
News 5 Investigates then presented the statement the Assessor's Office sent us.
"The Assessor said quote, 'I could sell you this courthouse on a piece of toilet paper and if you want to pay to have it recorded, they will record it,'" Ross told Ortiz. "This is the email we received."
"When I read that, to me it's a saying," Ortiz said. "You know what I mean? You can write anything on anything. It's a legal phrase in my opinion, or I don't know how to put it---a cliche. He's not being literal. A piece of toilet paper would not go through our system and we wouldn't accept a piece of toilet paper."
"I guess I didn't understand the sarcasm," Ross said.
Ortiz says while he too sympathizes with what's happened here, his hands are also tied.
"Because we recorded the document, it doesn't make it a certified or a proper deed because we've recorded it," Ortiz said.
Following our interview, Beltran told News 5 that his office is attempting to get a hold of the original seller to resolve this matter.
If not, News 5 does plan to meet with Anderson again during the week of September 23 to assist him with filling out the paperwork needed to apply for a quiet title decree.
Shortly before our original story aired, News 5 was alerted that Anderson suffered a medical emergency and was hospitalized.
We have since learned he is doing much better and will be in contact with him on Tuesday.
Tips to avoid a situation like this:
Although you can type up a Bill of Sale and deed on paper, you may want to have a licensed real estate agent or attorney familiar with real estate draft these documents.
Many office supply stores and companies sell pre-produced templates for selling property. However, it never hurts to have a second set of eyes look over the documents prior to recording them.
The Clerk and Recorders Office reminds people that their agency does not give legal advice or check documents to ensure they meet legal requirements set forth under Colorado law. They simply record documents that are brought to their office.