KELOLAND News Investigation leads to proposed change in law

Investigates

LAKE MADISON, S.D. (KELO) — One of our KELOLAND News investigations has helped push for a potential change in state law when it comes to your property. Last year at this time we brought you the story of the landlord locked out of his lake home.

For nearly three years, Mike Verley had been denied access to the lower level of his Lake Madison home. The government seized it as evidence in the case against Joseph Schmitz, who plead guilty to killing Corina Booth in the basement of the home he rented from Verley. After our investigation into this unreasonable seizure aired, Verley finally got his property returned to him. Now he’s asked a South Dakota Lawmaker to help him make sure this doesn’t happen to anybody else.

“I’m just making a monthly payment on a house that I can’t use. If this can happen to me, it can happen to you. It can happen to anybody,” Verley said on February 20, 2019.

That was what Verly told us last year. Now State Senator Jack Kolbeck has worked with Verley to come up with a new law that would help stop it from happening to someone else.

“I think there needs to be some protection in there for the people of SD, so they can get their real property back–their house,their apartment–whatever it may be–after a crime has been committed that they had absolutely nothing to do with,” Republican State Senator Jack Kolbeck, of Sioux Falls, said

The situation with Verly’s Lake Madison home still frustrates him. He asked the judge in Schmitz’ case for $200,000 in restitution for lost rent, property taxes, damages and loss of value of his home. But the judge denied it, even though Schmitz must pay nearly $500,000 in restitution to the State for the cost of his case.

“I never had a seat at that table. My rights were not advocated for in those negotiations. So I put in for restitution. and it was denied over something I never had a say in,” Verley said.

Senate Bill 176 would allow an innocent property owner to apply for the return of the property 30 days after it was seized. If the prosecutor couldn’t show that holding it was essential to the case, the court may release it to the owner.

Senate Bill 176

23A-37-4. Application for return of property to person with right to possession.
Any person claiming the right to possession of such property may make application for its return in the office of the clerk of courts for the county in which it is being held.
An application for the return of real property may be made within thirty days of the seizure of such real property. Absent good cause shown that the real property contains exculpatory evidence of the defendant’s innocence which is incapable of being preserved by other means, or that the prosecuting attorney makes a showing that the continued seizure of the real property is essential to the prosecution of the case, the court may order the law enforcement personnel in possession of the property to release it to the owner.

“We’ve been working with the attorney general’s office, we’ve been working with the trial lawyers, to work out language. We’re pretty confident that this bill will be passed through the legislature this year,” Sen. Kolbeck said.

Landlord says bill doesn’t go far enough

Verley is glad to see something being done at the state level, but doesn’t think this bill goes far enough.

“The innocent property owner should be compensated after 90 days for holding that property, instantaneously. And that provides some incentive for the state to be motivated too. They have no skin in the game. It costs them nothing to hold that property for 32 months. I was still paying full property taxes on it,’ Verley said.

As if the whole ordeal wasn’t enough, in September, the lower level where the crime took place was flooded with 18 inches of water.

Kennecke: Do you feel like the house is cursed.
Verley: Like I said, I think it has a black cloud over it.

The bill to give property owners the right to try to get their seized property back goes before the Senate Judiciary Committee in the coming days. Verley is planning to testify in that hearing.

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