Sheriff Penzone speaks on the home seizure of disabled vet Jim Boerner at press conference on July 17, 2019, in the Downtown Phoenix.
Arizona Republic

A disabled veteran whose mobile home was seized over a few hundred dollars in back taxes paid the bill seven days before his home was sold at auction — the county sheriff just didn’t know it.

Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone confirmed Wednesday his office didn’t learn about the payment until after Jim Boerner’s home was sold. 

If you think the payment is enough to unwind the sale, you’d be wrong. For now, county officials are waiting for Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery to decide if a Boerner’s home was legally seized and sold or if the auction should be reversed,

Meanwhile, nothing is stopping the new owner from throwing out Boerner.

Boerner’s plight captured national attention after a story by The Arizona Republic detailed how he lost his home and now faces eviction over a few hundred dollars in back taxes.

The question of whether Boerner gets to keep his home hinges on a $405.70 tax payment he made on June 13, seven days before the sheriff’s office sold his home.

There’s no question Boerner paid a portion of his delinquent taxes a week before the auction. And in most circumstances, that payment would have been enough to keep his home off the block.

But the Sheriff’s Office, which is charged with seizing and selling property to cure delinquent taxes, said officials weren’t aware of the payment until after the home was sold to a buyer on June 20.

Sheriff Paul Penzone said his office followed proper policy in auctioning off the property, which was handled no differently than any other sale. 

“We recognize these circumstances affect real people … we don’t have the luxury to be arbitrary or partial,” Penzone said.

The Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office, which collects and administers taxes, says the payment was legally processed and the outstanding debt was paid on June 13, whether the sheriff knew about it or not.

What’s more, the treasurer said Boerner received a “final notice” stating he had until June 30 to pay off his total tax bill, including $405.70 from 2017 and another $235.97 for 2018. 

“In reality, it was paid seven days before (the home) was sold,” Deputy County Treasurer Ron Bellus said. “We believe the sheriff is on good grounds. He can reverse this sale.”

The sheriff and the treasurer are trading blame over whether the situation was mishandled and what should be done to address it. Boerner said Thursday he is trapped in a terrible bureaucracy.

“Why are there not double- and triple fail-safe procedures for this?” he said, fighting sobs. “When you’re talking about taking away a man’s home? Why isn’t there better communication between the treasurer, who had my money. and the sheriff, who auctioned off my home? It is not my fault.”

County officials, including Treasurer Royce Flora, have been trying to assist Boerner since his home was auctioned. An opinion on whether the auction and sale are legal and binding is expected soon from Montgomery. 

Penzone and Deputy Chief Henry Brandimarte reviewed the sequence of events at a news conference Wednesday, painstakingly laying out the timing of the Boerner’s taxes, the due dates and notices.

Boerner had a year to address his tax delinquency because he was given a notice of sale in 2018 for nonpayment of his 2017 property taxes, Penzone said.

The property was scheduled for auction June 20. Boerner made a $405.70 credit-card payment June 13 — the full amount he owed on his 2017 taxes. But Penzone said the payment didn’t show up in county records systems on the day of the sale.

Had the Sheriff’s Office known that the $405.70 had been paid on June 13, the auction would have been delayed, Penzone said.

Penzone said knowing now that the bill was paid before the auction doesn’t change that the house was sold and the new owner could evict Boerner at any time. He stopped short of saying the legal questions could stay an eviction. 

Penzone laid blame for the situation on miscommunication to Boerner from Maricopa County call center officials, saying the treasurer’s office provided misinformation to Boerner in the days leading up to the sale.

Bellus denied the allegation, saying Boerner had the right information and acted accordingly.

Boerner said the dispute is maddening.

“I’m exasperated and exhausted,” Boerner said. “My mind is doing a million things.”


Deputy Maricopa County Treasurer Ron Bellus says disabled veteran’s house never should’ve been auctioned on June 20.
Robert Anglen, The Republic |

Home sold at auction

Boerner is unable to work because of spinal and brain injuries he suffered during a training exercise in 1991 at Keesler Air Force Base in Mississippi, he said. 

He bought his mobile home in Mesa two years ago.

He said he applied twice to a Maricopa County program that reduces property taxes for people with disabilities and limited incomes. He thought he had been accepted.

The county has no record of his application either in 2017, when a sheriff’s deputy first arrived to tell him he was late on his property taxes and his mobile home could be sold at auction; or in 2018, when a deputy told him he was “perilously close” to losing the home and advised he pay the tax soon, Boerner said.

He called the county June 13 to make a payment. Two county employees told him the deadline was weeks away.

“There’s nothing serious you would need to be worried about as far as the home being in any danger or anything like that,” a county call-center employee told him, according to a recording made by the county.

When Boerner asked the amount he needed to pay, he was transferred to another call center employee.

“Are they going to kick me out between now and June 30?” Boerner asked.

“I would imagine not. I would always advise paying as quickly as you can, but I don’t see anything in my comments saying they’re going to,” the employee replied.  

That wasn’t true.

Boerner’s account with the Sheriff’s Office included notes that his home was scheduled for auction June 20, documents show.

The home was sold at auction for $4,400.

Although he initially offered to sell the home back, new owner Lester Payne has asked Boerner to leave.

How tax-lien auctions work

From all accounts, it appears Payne legally purchased Boerner’s home and has the right to take over the title.

Tax-lien auctions help local governments collect unpaid property taxes that are needed to fund schools, law enforcement and roads.

In the case of single-family homes, owners have two years to pay delinquent taxes before the tax lien is auctioned. And an auction winner has three years to collect the tax payment, plus interest, from the taxpayer before being allowed to foreclose and take ownership of the home.

In the case of mobile homes, state law allows an auction to be held the day after a tax payment is due. In practice, there’s a little bit of a delay.

The Maricopa County Treasurer’s Office allows mobile-home taxpayers 30 days after a tax payment is due before declaring it delinquent and another 30 days before notifying the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office decides which mobile homes to auction.

A detective visits the home to confirm its location, notifies the delinquent taxpayer, explains where to make a payment, warns that failing to do so could result in an auction and leaves a notice of sale, said spokesman Sgt. Bryant Vanegas. If a deputy can’t serve the taxpayer, the Sheriff’s Office publishes a notice in a newspaper.

Once a mobile-home tax lien is purchased, the buyer owns the home and can evict the tenants.

GoFundMe account for Boerner

Calls to help Boerner have been pouring from around the world. People have expressed outrage the county sold the home out from under a wounded veteran, whatever the reason.

A GoFundMe page was established for Boerner this week. In the past 48 hours, 39 people have donated $2,637.

Need help? Call for Action can assist

Have you been scammed? Do you have a complaint against a business or government agency? The Arizona Republic/ and Call For Action can investigate. We’re #HeretoHelpAZ.

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Fill out this online form, text HereToHelpAZ to 51555, or call 602-444-2255 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday through Friday to talk to a Call for Action volunteer.


Jim Boerner, a U.S. Air Force veteran, may lose his Mesa home over a problem with his property tax payment. Boerner says he paid the taxes but his home went to auction anyway.
Tom Tingle, The Republic |

Robert Anglen investigates consumer issues for The Republic. If you’re the victim of fraud, waste or abuse, reach him at [email protected] or 602-444-8694. Follow him on Twitter @robertanglen

Consumer reporter Rebekah L. Sanders investigates issues of fraud and abuse involving businesses, health-care entities and government agencies. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter at @RebekahLSanders. 

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