Home repairman gets trapped in legal web

Steve Korris Mar. 31, 2005, 1:03pm

Kevin Link, a home repairman in Granite City, got caught in a legal web.

From Armettia Peach's purse: $20,000 in $100 bills used for downpayment on 9 Briarcliff Dr. in Granite City.

In the course of helping people improve their lots in life, Granite City home repairman Kevin Link was caught in a legal web strung by an opportunistic plaintiff and her attorney.

For 14 years Link has fixed rundown homes and rented them with options to buy. Link said Tuesday that about two dozen families have bought homes after renting from him.

From the start, he believed that if he did quality work and conducted business in an honest manner, nothing could bring his business down.

Link's naivety--he was voted "class naive" at Granite City High School, class of '81--eventually caught up with him.

Three years ago, he offered to rent 9 Briarcliff Drive to Armettia Peach with an option to buy. He said Peach wanted to buy it and she agreed to pay $68,900. (See related story).

When asked for $500 down, Peach--whose brush with the Madison County justice system includes an arrest for writing a bad check, bankruptcy and filing a class action lawsuit against an insurance company--reached into her purse, handed over a bunch of $100 bills and told him it was $20,000, Link said.

“I was kind of speechless for a few seconds,” Link said. “It’s hard to explain the feeling of having that much cash in your hand all at one time.”

He said he took it home, spread it out and photographed it.

Link said Peach proposed to pay the balance in cash.

“Twenty thousand was like really neat,” he said, “but then I thought I shouldn’t take any more money.” He said he told her to bring a check or money order to the closing.

At the closing, he said, Peach arrived with a person named Chad Carpenter. Link said Peach told him they would put the house in his name.

There is a pending class action lawsuit in Madison County against Nissan Motors in which the named plaintiff is Chad Carpenter.

“I never heard another peep out of her until I got notice of a lawsuit," Link said. The suit alleged that the roof leaked and it charged him with fraud.

Link said he had guaranteed the roof for a year. “If she had called me I would have fixed the roof,” he said.

He said he went to Peach’s attorney, Thomas Maag of the Lakin Law Firm in Wood River.

The Lakin firm represents Carpenter and Peach in their class action lawsuits.

“I thought if he was honest and sincere about truth and justice, he would understand that this suit was totally out of bounds,” Link said. “If he was dishonest, at least he would check it out and drop it.

“I guess I was kind of naïve," he said. "It didn’t matter to him if I was innocent or guilty.”

According to Link, Maag told him he would not drop the suit because that was how he made his living.

“I asked him if there wasn’t maybe a better way to make a living," Link said.

Maag offered to settle.

“He talked to me like he was my friend,” Link said. “He told me it could drag out six years and the legal fees would add up.”

Link said he hired an attorney, and Peach dropped her suit against him.

Court records show Peach moved to dismiss Link, but Judge Andy Matoesian said he would not grant the motion until he has issued a final order against Granite City in the same case.

Last year Matoesian entered judgment against the city for $104,259.17. According to Peach, Granite City should not have issued an occupancy permit for the house. The city has asked Matoesian to stay execution of the judgment.

“Even if the city wins, how much is it going to cost them to fight it? The money they are spending on that, they could fix the sidewalks," he said.

Link said he spent more than $1,000, “just to say that I am innocent.

“Apparently there is no requirement to do any research before filing a lawsuit," he said.

Carpenter owned the house for seven months. He transferred title to Peach in 2003 by quit claim deed. Peach sold it for $40,000 last October, to a limited liability corporation.

The corporation sold it for $57,000 in December, to Laurie Selph--the sister-in-law of Granite City Mayor Ron Selph. She said Tuesday she did not know about the lawsuit until she read about it in a local newspaper in February. She said she hired an attorney and was advised to say no more.

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