EXCLUSIVE: Iraq Veteran’s Family Gets Screwed in Land Deal Gone Bad

Posted: Mar 05, 2018 3:00 PM
EXCLUSIVE: Iraq Veteran’s Family Gets Screwed in Land Deal Gone Bad

They could barely believe it. After months of work trying to build up their own business from scratch, they had finally found the right property – a 160-acre expanse of flat, uninterrupted terrain – the perfect place to build a huge motocross park. Located smack dab in the middle of Southwestern Idaho near the small town of Mountain Home, it was far enough away from civilization that the rumbling of hundreds of dirt bikes all day long wouldn’t bring thousands of angry people down on their heads, but it was also right next to I-84 and less than an hour’s drive from the state capital in Boise. Dirt bike enthusiasts from across the Northwestern United States could come there to test out their skills, train up for the next big race, or just have fun riding around on one of a half-dozen or more tracks.  

Andrew and Andrea Anderson could see this vision as if it was already in front of them when they triumphantly planted a sign on their land announcing the grand opening of the Anderson Racing Compound (ARC, for short). As a three-tour Iraq War veteran, Andrew had performed much more difficult tasks than digging a couple of holes in the ground and putting signposts in them, but this was not just some simple manual labor. The Andersons saw it as the beginning of a new life for themselves and their kids.

But there was one big problem – the land wasn’t theirs.

The day after he put up the sign, Andrew woke up to a text message from the property’s real owner demanding that he immediately take it down. Upon speaking with the man by phone, it quickly became clear to the Andersons that something had gone terribly wrong.

After spending tens of thousands of dollars of their life savings purchasing what was supposed to be their future motocross park, it turned out that the real estate agents from Keller Williams (an international American real estate company) who had represented the Andersons in the transaction made a huge mistake. They had actually purchased a completely unusable vacant lot three miles away from the desired site. The property had no regular road access, no power, was cut in two by railroad tracks, and wasn’t even zoned properly for the Andersons’ business.

It was a disaster.

From Andrew’s perspective, it was not just the loss of a moneymaking opportunity. It was the loss of a dream that had its origins in his childhood passion for motocross. Having been born in the tiny town of Moore, Idaho, there wasn’t much else for kids to do there, but there was a lot of open space to ride. 

“It was the one recreational activity that all of us could really, just -- you know, we could go outside, get on our bikes, and you could go ride around town a little bit and hit the mountains, and nobody really cared. That was looked at as a really positive outlet for us kids in that area,” Andrew told me. Growing up with a single mom who had three kids to look after, Andrew was largely on his own in figuring out how to chart his path in life. After graduating from high school in 2001, he decided to pursue a career in the military, ultimately enlisting in the Marines. 

In 2005, Andrew was sent to Iraq for his first deployment as a member of an armored reconnaissance battalion. Having taken a crash course in Iraqi Arabic from instructors in Baghdad, Andrew’s primary job in his unit was not just to roam the deserts of the Sunni triangle looking for IEDs and Baathist militants, but to communicate with the local populations of the towns and villages that he visited. 

“It was more of a war of hearts and minds than anything else,” Andrew explained. Talking to and convincing Iraqis that Americans were not the bad guys turned out to be an enormous task. Even with Saddam Hussein gone from power, U.S. commanders and their soldiers were facing the seemingly impossible job of getting Shiites and Sunnis to stop fighting both each other and American forces. Tens of thousands of people were dying, and the continuing war against American troops still presented serious risks to Andrew and his unit. In early November, this danger struck home when one of Andrew’s close friends was killed when a mine exploded right next to the truck that he was driving. 

PFC Jeremy Paul Tamburello (on left), who was killed in November 2005, and LCP Andrew Anderson (on right) in Iraq.

But such losses did not prevent Andrew from carrying out his duties and continuing on to serve for another two tours in Iraq, once as a Marine during the Surge (2007-8), and once as a deployed member of the Utah National Guard (2010-11). Anderson received multiple medals and awards for his service, including a commendation from the Marine Corps for his first tour.

While he was on leave from active duty in 2009, Andrew first met Andrea through mutual friends at a party. Six months later, they were married. Andrea was with him during his attempt to go to college, which was abruptly interrupted by his third tour in Iraq, and his decision to apply to become a Green Beret. 

Unsurprisingly, becoming a member of the elite Special Forces unit was no easy task. As part of his training, Andrew had to go through a mandatory regimen of SERE (Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape) training. SERE exercises are some of the most demanding courses that American military personnel can take. According to those that have been through the program, the most trying exercises involve actual torture at the hands of U.S. military personnel to prepare troops for being captured and tortured by enemy combatants for extended periods of time.  

Although many soldiers suffer from PTSD after going through SERE, Andrew was simply not able to mentally cope with the strain of the program. Andrea told me that when Andrew returned home, he came back with a slip of paper from military officials saying that while he had PTSD, this was a typical experience and all “should return to normal” in eight weeks. 

But not all was well with Andrew. “Right before the eight-week period was up,” Andrea explained, “he had a mental break with reality. And it was really bad. He had to get hospitalized. He was diagnosed with severe PTSD.” 

Andrew never did return to active service, ultimately leaving the military in 2015, but things did not necessarily get better for him: “I was really not in a great place. I was really struggling to find purpose. And I know that’s a common thing a lot of us deal with when we leave service. But you know, when you have a full mental break, your whole reality gets distorted on what you thought was up and down. So I was really struggling with trying to figure out who I even was.” 

But one day, something important changed in Andrew’s life, and he got the inspiration to pick his childhood hobby back up: 

"And an old high school friend who I used to ride with, his family lives about a half hour down the road, and he came over to help me move some stuff when we were moving in and had invited us out to go riding. And my older daughter was all about it. She was so excited. And I was like: 'Yeah, well I guess we’ll go.' And we went out riding with them. It was kind of crazy. I remember I was just having fun, and it was happy times, and my wife kept commenting on that, how she hadn’t seen me smile like that in months and months.  And my daughter really, really loved it… It really took me back to that simpler time as a child where, you know, just enjoying life was so important.”

Andrew Anderson (13) riding his childhood dirt bike.

Having rekindled his love for motocross and seeing how much his older daughter enjoyed it too, Andrew was determined to find a dedicated place where she and her friends could practice and have fun. But there weren’t a lot of great opportunities in the area for motocross, in spite of significant community interest. Thinking like an entrepreneur, Andrew saw a need that he could fill. 

After receiving thousands of dollars in back pay for disability, Andrew put the money to work on two separate projects. One was ARC, already described above; the other was the Disadvantaged Rider Program. Andrew saw the program as an opportunity to help local kids and their families who didn’t have the money to fully commit to motocross to pursue the sport, train at ARC, and travel to area and regional races to compete against riders from all across the Northwest. 

But these plans hit an impasse in 2017 when Keller Williams and their real estate brokers bought the Andersons the wrong property. Although the Andersons were able to help one family reach the 2017 Loretta Lynn Regional Qualifier race in Washington state, their purchase of the wrong property back in Idaho had hit them hard. 

But help was on the way, or so the Andersons were led to believe.

After discovering that their grand opening sign had been stolen and disposed of, Andrea texted their Keller Williams real estate agent, Melissa Lemp, to look for answers and accountability. “This property is not what we were told we were purchasing at all,” Andrea explained. “This is not a minor mix up. Someone needs to make this right.”

Lemp responded: “Hi Andrea I will make this right…I truly apologize for this and will make the appropriate calls to make it right. Let me call my broker right now and see what our next step will be.”

Lemp and Keller Williams’s “next step” was to spend several weeks assuring Andrea and her husband that Century 21, which had represented the sellers in their real estate transaction, was in the process of reversing the sale. Over the course of several weeks, Lemp repeatedly told the Andersons that they would get their money back for sure and that the trust that sold the property was just working out the logistics of the sale reversal. 

On one occasion, Lemp told Andrea that Century 21 and the sellers were "fine with unraveling the sale and none of the money has been spent. So we will just sell it back to them and get your money back.” On another, Lemp said: “I have spoken with the listing agent and the sellers are still working with their trustee, CPA and attorney to get logistics in place. Everyone is on board and they are just working through the appropriate paperwork on their side with all the siblings involved to get this reversed. I will check in right now and see if they can give me a timeline of how much longer.”

Clearly, Lemp was repeatedly telling the Andersons that Century 21 and the sellers had already decided to buy the property back and it was just a matter of time until the Andersons’ problem was take care of. However, this appears to have been a farce. In mid-June, Lemp texted Andrea to tell her that “the sellers finally consulted with their attorney and are now wanting to not move forward with unwinding the sale.” Lemp went on to encourage the Andersons to sue the sellers of the property, saying that this was the advice of Katrina Wehr, another broker at Keller Williams. 

According to the findings of the Taylor Law Offices, which the Andersons eventually hired to sue Keller Williams for fraud (among other charges) and investigate their case, neither the original trust which sold the property nor any representatives of Century 21 ever committed to reversing their vacant property sale to the Andersons. When Keller Williams agents had proposed such a reversal to Century 21, the sellers’ agent only told them that it would be a complicated process that “would require the buyer selling the property back to the seller.”

After months without significant movement on their lawsuit, the Andersons are now facing the brunt of the consequences of their botched property purchase. They are currently living in a house that they had planned to buy once their business really got up and running, but lacking a significant income stream, the Andersons are now facing eviction on March 17th. They are still working out the details of where they can go next. 

But even with their immense financial troubles, the Andersons are more concerned about allowing people that they believe lied to and manipulated them falling through the cracks of public scrutiny. 

“This project, it was me finding purpose again,” Andrew told me, with Andrea quickly adding: “It was his life.” Andrew went on: “I found purpose in being able to serve my community… That re-ignited that fire inside me, gave me a purpose.” 

The brokers of Keller Williams that could be tied to the Andersons’ botched property purchase, including Melissa Lemp, Katrina Wehr, and Reata Conner, all declined to provide comments to Townhall given the Andersons’ lawsuit against them. 

In further comments to Townhall, Wehr denied that she had anything to do with the Andersons’ Mountain Home property transaction and questioned why the author had called her in the first place.

Reata Conner, who is a designated broker for Keller Williams’s Boise office, added to her “no comment” statement that “there were multiple factors that led to the purchase of that lot,” but she could not get into specifics on the advice of legal counsel.