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Foreclosure auction nixed

Karen Gargamelli, of Common Law, helps guide nonviolent protesters through the foreclosure process.
TimesLedger Newspapers

Protesters looking to disrupt a foreclosure auction with song were tuned out when a sudden bankruptcy filing forced the cancelation of the auction at Queens Supreme Court in Jamaica Friday.

At least four auctions were scheduled on the docket, but a defendant filed for bankruptcy, blocking the proceedings. A representative for the court said it is not uncommon for cancellations of this kind, but did acknowledge it was odd for the auction to be canceled on a day protesters were in the courtroom.

“I don’t believe the banks had any wind of the protests,” the representative said, referring to the banks that foreclose on residential houses and put them up for auction.

Members of Judson Memorial Church and students at Union Theological Seminary were there to lead the singing protest with Common Law, a nonprofit legal group.

“We are using a nonviolent, peaceful resistence to shut down these unfair auctions,” said Karen Gargamelli, a foreclosure prevention attorney with Common Law in Woodside. “The larger cause is for a moratorium on all foreclosures and an end to these auctions.”

Gargamelli said predatory loans and high interest rates are “immoral banking procedures” and “every American that pays taxes should be absolutely disgusted.”

According to Gargamelli, southeast Queens is one of the hardest hit areas in the country for foreclosures on residential properties. She said she has numerous clients in the area who are either in danger of losing their homes to banks or already have.

“One of the most disgusting parts of the foreclosure auctions is that homeowners and all of us gave our tax money to these big banks to bail them out,” she said. “Trillions of dollars in tax money and in exchange all the banks had to do was decide if they would make more money selling our homes or modifying our homes.”

The groups met around the corner from the courthouse at Rufus King Park to practice their song, “Listen Auctioneer,” and to decide who among them would not mind being arrested for the cause.

About half of the group of more than 20 protesters said they were willing to be arrested if it meant drawing attention to a system they see as “fraught with inequities.”

“I’ve been routinely disgusted by the cruelty of foreclosures and this is one of the few instances where there’s actually a discernible action you can take where it’s not surrounded by paperwork,” said Lucas Milliken, a student at Union Theological Seminary. “I haven’t been arrested before and I think it’s time to put my body on the line.”

When the time came to enter the courtroom, the protesters spread themselves out in an effort to make corralling them as difficult and as time-consuming as possible. As the clock struck 11 a.m. and the auction was set to begin, a court clerk said a bankruptcy filing had caused the cancellation of the auction.

At least one attendee, who was there to bid on the foreclosed properties, thought the cancellation had more to do with the protesters than bankruptcy, as their efforts have garnered some publicity at an auction in Brooklyn in January.

“The bankruptcy excuse was just that — an excuse,” said the attendee, who preferred to remain nameless. “In my opinion, the judge didn’t want that scene.”

More protests are in the works for the rest of the five boroughs.

Reach reporter Steve Mosco by e-mail at smosco@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

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