An Eau Claire man used small claims court and the U.S. Postal Service to put liens on the property of unsuspecting landowners in 15 Wisconsin counties, and now faces up to 1000 years in prison. Sixty-one-year-old Bernard Seidling had a scam that was almost perfect.
Almost, but not quite says U.S. Attorney John Vaudreuil, "The beauty of the scheme is that the victims didn't know they were being victimized. So he would sue a person who lived in Dane County. He would sue them in small claims court in Sawyer County. He would give an address that he's using in Sawyer County. He would use a fake affidavit that says 'I tried to serve him but couldn't. He would publish in the Sawyer County newspaper of course, so there'd be no service and then he'd get a default judgment."
Vaudreuil says for all his efforts, Seidling didn't get a penny, "As it turns out, we got to it soon enough. It had to be some sort of inevitable plan. He could have filed these as liens, maybe you sell the house in 10 years, let's say somebody dies and your estate is selling it. There's this lien."
Even so, the U.S. Attorney doesn't think small claims courts need to be overhauled, "The small claims system is set up to be quick. You don't have to have lawyers. There's small amounts of money. That's the whole idea of small claims. He simply abused the system that I think quite properly is set up to do what it does and he just happened to abuse it."
Vaudreuil says the year-long investigation included more than 50 cases of fraud. Most of the targeted people lived in northern Wisconsin. Seidling will be sentenced in federal court on March 21. He faces a maximum of 20 years for each count.