West no longer owns land

Published 4:17 pm Friday, May 29, 2009

NATCHEZ — A 60-year family-owned Natchez business became the property of a Pensyvannia-based mortgage company on the steps of the Adams County Courthouse Friday.

West Funeral Home, Pine Hill Cemetery and other parcels of land owned by West Enterprises, whose President is Theodore “Bubber” West, were lost in a foreclosure sale.

But West maintains he still owns the property and says he is protected by a Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing done Thursday.

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“Apex (Mortgage) will do what they have to do, and I’ll do what I have to do,” West said.

Properties in bankruptcy, by law, are not eligible for sale and are considered property of the bankruptcy court.

West maintains he filed bankruptcy Thursday as a means to financially restructure the company, not stop the foreclosure sale.

On Friday West was at his desk at the funeral home taking calls and dealing with customers.

“It can’t be sold,” West said.

And while West is still running the funeral home, attorneys representing Apex said West’s failure to pay a $275,000 mortgage resulted in his losing the business and other land.

John Underwood, who owns Underwood Law Firm and represents Apex Mortgage, said West’s property now belongs to Apex.

Underwood said a Sept. 2008 Chapter 13 bankruptcy filing by the company paved the way for Friday’s foreclosure sale.

In the 2008 filing, a bankruptcy court lifted a stay on West’s properties that allowed the properties to be eligible to be sold, Underwood said.

And Underwood said that order applied to further bankruptcies, like Thursday’s filling.

“That’s our position right now,” Underwood said.

In the coming week, Underwood’s firm will seek support in the form of a motion to be filed in bankruptcy court.

While West does not deny September’s bankruptcy, he said that filing was for a personal bankruptcy, not for West Enterprises.

“That did not apply to the company,” West said. “And it was dismissed three month later.”

And West said since only Thursday’s bankruptcy applies to West Enterprises, he believes the company’s properties should not be subject to a foreclosure sale.

And once the court reaches a decision on the matter, West’s property may change owners again.

At Friday’s foreclosure sale Natchez businessman Robert Johnson III bid $275,001 for West’s.

While Johnson’s was the sole bid, he opted not to buy the property until the bankruptcy issue was settled.

In addition to the bankruptcy, an Underwood representative at the sale, said the property has approximately $13,000 in unpaid federal liens and property taxes.

Johnson’s Attorney Bobby Cox said he believes the bankruptcy issue could be resolved in one or two weeks, at which point Johnson would purchase the property.

“Pending the clearance of this legal matter, he’s ready,” Cox said.

Johnson said he would leave the cemetery untouched and sell the other properties on Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

And while Johnson has plans for the MLK Street properties, West said he’s confident the property will remain in his family.

“We’re restructuring debt, just like Chrysler, Donald Trump and Natchez Regional Medical Center,” he said.

Additionally, West said any customer that owns property at the cemetery will continue to own that property and any customers with an account the funeral home will be serviced.

“We’re not running from any debts or obligations,” he said.

West Funeral Home is currently under investigation by the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office for misallocation of pre-need funeral funds.

No hearings have been set in that case yet.