Madison - St. Clair Record

Sunday, December 8, 2019

Appeals court upholds St. Charles man's conviction over alleged attempt to cloud title on foreclosed properties

State Court

By Karen Kidd | Jul 16, 2019

Chapman and Overstreet

MOUNT VERNON – A state appeals court recently declined to reverse the 2015 conviction of a St. Charles man regarding a lien he attempted to record in Madison County alleging US Bank owed him $400,000 for two properties he lost to foreclosure proceedings almost 25 years ago.

"We conclude that the evidence was not so closely balanced that it threatened to tip the scales against the defendant," the Fifth District Appellate Court three-judge panel said in its 11-page ruling released as an official report on July 10. "As such, we will not apply the plain error doctrine to the defendant's claim of error."

The three-judge panel affirmed an earlier Madison County Circuit Court verdict that said Paul S. Schneider Jr. was guilty of a single count of attempt to unlawfully cloud a title.

Appellate Court Judge Melissa A. Chapman wrote for the panel, in which Judges David K. Overstreet and Thomas M. Welch concurred.

The appeals court handed down its ruling in Schneider's appeal of his conviction less than two years ago.

"The charge was based on a lien the defendant attempted to record, which alleged that a bank owed him $400,000 for two properties he had lost in foreclosure proceedings more than 20 years earlier," the appeals court said in the background portion of its ruling. "He claimed that the bank owed him this debt because its predecessor illegally took the properties from him in court proceedings."

Two properties formerly owned by Schneider, now 72, were the subject of foreclosure proceedings in 1990 and were purchased by Alton Banking & Trust Company following foreclosure, court filings said.

"In 1994, the defendant recorded a document with the Madison County recorder’s office purporting to claim a lien against 'all assets owned or held in the name of' Alton Banking & Trust," the opinion said. "The defendant claimed in the document that the bank owed him $400,000 due to 'the wrongful taking of properties under color of law' in the 1990 foreclosure proceedings."

In 1996, criminal charges were filed against Schneider related to the 1994 lien.

"We note that the statute at issue in this appeal, proscribing unlawful clouding of title, was not enacted until 1997," the ruling said. "It is not clear what offense the defendant was charged with in 1996. In any case, however, that charge was subsequently dropped."

In May 2013, Schneider tried to record a lien in reference to the two properties, again alleging he was owed $400,000, this time by Alton Banking & Trust's successor, US Bank. In that lien, Schneider alleged the properties were "wrongfully, illegally and feloniously" taken by the bank "in collusion with City of Alton and County of Madison rogue officials."

An employee in the Madison County recorder's office "noticed that the lien looked suspicious," and showed it to a supervisor, who contacted the state's attorney's office, which subsequently charged Schneider with attempting to unlawful cloud a title, the ruling said.

The lien was never filed.

In his appeal of his conviction, Schneider claimed, among other things, that evidence in his trial was insufficient to prove he knew that the lien was based on an invalid theory and that his conviction should be reversed because the trial court did not fully comply with precedential requirements.

In support of his appeal and his contention that the evidence at trial "was closely balanced," Schneider "essentially repeats much of his argument concerning the sufficiency of the evidence," the opinion said.

"Although we have already rejected that claim, we must stress that the question of whether evidence is closely balanced is not the same as the question of whether the evidence is sufficient to support a conviction," the ruling continued. "Evidence that is sufficient to support a conviction may still be closely balanced."

The three judge panel did not find the evidence against Schneider to be closely balance, according to the opinion.

"As we emphasized earlier, the defendant admitted that he had gone before the court multiple times attempting to argue that the foreclosure judgment was based on fraud and that he had not been given an opportunity to prove that he had made the payments on the properties," the ruling said. "The defendant unquestionably knew that these claims, which were the basis of his assertion that US Bank owed him $400,000, had been rejected."

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