In disclosure forms filed in June, state Rep. Erik Fresen presents a picture of financial health, earning $225,000 last year with just $103,000 in outstanding debts for student loans.
But the Republican lawmaker’s finances are murkier than they first appear. There’s the $29,000 debt to the Internal Revenue Service that remains unpaid. There’s the $10,000 citation for a code violation. And there’s the longstanding foreclosure lawsuit that nearly cost Fresen his Little Gables home.
As Fresen seeks a third term in the Legislature, he is being challenged in the Republican primary by first-time candidate Amory Bodin, who is making an issue of Fresen’s finances on the campaign trail. The two will square off in the Aug. 14 primary in newly created District 114, which stretches from northern Coral Gables through West Miami to Cutler Bay.
“Tax liens are the type of thing you don’t leave hanging over your head,” said Bodin, an accountant who lives a few blocks away from Fresen. “Is that a guy you want handling your $70 billion budget?”
Fresen, a land-use consultant, said the foreclosure stems from a dispute with a mortgage lender over property taxes dating back to the purchase of his home in 2006. He says Bodin seems motivated more by personal grievance than political differences.
“He really hasn’t stated any policy differences besides ‘I don’t like Erik Fresen,’” Fresen said of his GOP opponent. “I feel incredibly confident about the campaign.”
Fresen’s profile in Tallahassee increased last year when he was one of the chief sponsors of failed legislation aiming to allow casino gambling at “destination resorts” — a bill backed by Genting Group, the Malaysian conglomerate with plans for a casino on The Miami Herald site. Fresen also served for about a year and a half as chairman of the Miami-Dade Republican Party.
But Fresen has been dogged by questions about his personal finances since 2008, when a lender filed a foreclosure suit against Fresen, his wife and his mother. The mortgage company filed suit after Fresen failed to make payments in May 2008, court records show.
Fresen says the lender tried to double-bill him for $14,000 in property taxes on the house, taxes he said he paid at closing when he bought the house in 2006. (The home was actually purchased by Fresen’s mother, who transferred the deed to Fresen and his wife a month later, records show.) He says the bank sued after he refused to pay the extra amount.
“They would not accept anything but the total amount,” said Fresen, who calls the lawsuit a “legal nightmare.” Fresen said in court papers that he tried to “cure” the default before the foreclosure suit was filed in 2008.
In 2009, a judge ordered the sale of Fresen’s house to pay off a $641,000 judgment, court records show. But in February 2010 — only days before the scheduled sale — the judge rescinded the order because the bank had failed to notify other parties with claims against Fresen and his mother, records show.
No new sale date was ever set, though the foreclosure suit is still pending, court records show.
Fresen said the case has been slowed because the mortgage has transferred among several banks, but he’s confident the case will be settled soon.