Progress 2011: The Minnesota Closers

Published 12:00 pm Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The same day authorities began conducting a search warrant at the former Albert Lea Abstract Co., business down the street at Minnesota Abstract & Title Co. was forever changed.

Minnesota Abstract & Title Co. employees from left back are Beth Tuberty, closing specialist, Eric Frydenlund, site inspector, Judy Jackson, closing assistant and JoAnn Sorensen, abstractor. In front from left are Dawn Rozinka, closing assistant, Debrah Ohm, abstractor, and Barb Wichmann, post-closing agent. -- Sarah Stultz/Albert Lea Tribune

Lisa Magnotta, owner of the company, said within a few hours following the closure of Albert Lea Abstract and the arrest of its owner Linda Tuttle, the phones at Minnesota Abstract & Title started ringing off the hook.

“In essence, our business tripled,” Magnotta said.

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Realtors and people who were scheduled to close on real estate transactions that day — June 22, 2010 — or sometime in the near future, were panicking that the abstract and title company that they had put their trust in was now at the center of a criminal investigation.

“Being such a small community, it caught everybody off guard,” said Brad Abrahamson, operations manager of Capitol Lien Records & Research Inc., the corporation that owns Minnesota Abstract & Title.

Tuttle, who at that time was also a Freeborn County commissioner, has since been charged with theft and racketeering in Freeborn County District Court and wire fraud in federal court for allegedly diverting money from escrow accounts at her business for personal use.

Magnotta said she was surprised at the degree of Tuttle’s alleged actions, but noted that there had been signs that “business wasn’t conducted ethically and in the client’s best interest.”

She said there had been several instances where people who had been at a closing at Albert Lea Abstract decided to walk down the street and switch to Minnesota Abstract & Title at the last minute because things weren’t going well.

When the influx of calls began on June 22, 2010, staff from the corporation in St. Paul and Fairmont came to the Albert Lea office to help. Extra staff spent two or three weeks in Albert Lea to aid in closings, research and title work that needed to be done.

“Pretty much we delegated work out to meet the deadline so folks didn’t have to wait too long to get theirs done,” Magnotta said.

She said Minnesota Abstract & Title was not able to help people who had closings the day Tuttle was arrested — because they already had money into Albert Lea Abstract Accounts — but people who had not deposited any money were easily able to be handled by Minnesota Abstract & Title.

Magnotta said staff started to get used to the new volume of customers by the end of August.

After the Fourth of July, the company interviewed four or five people who had worked at Albert Lea Abstract and extended offers to two people. Those people declined and instead started with North American Title Co.

Since, Minnesota Abstract & Title has hired one closing assistant, Dawn Rozinka, and one abstractor, JoAnn Sorensen, who had previously also worked at Albert Lea Abstract.

“Obviously hiring two people with experience, they were able to jump right in and help us with the demand,” Abrahamson said.

Now, more than six months after Tuttle was arrested and the pace quickened for Minnesota Abstract & Title, Magnotta said she wants the community to know her company is ready to take on any business the community needs completed.

“We’re here to stay,” she said. “We’ve been here for 10 years, and we plan on sticking around.”

She noted with North American Title Co. moving into town, she welcomes the competition.

“The community is big enough to support more than one title company,” she added.

She reassured the public that what happened at Albert Lea Abstract will not happen at Minnesota Abstract & Title.

Magnotta said she originally — and coincidentally — began business in Albert Lea after purchasing Southern Minnesota Abstract & Title from Tuttle in January of 2000.

She switched the name to Minnesota Abstract & Title, so the business wouldn’t be restricted to just southern Minnesota.

In 2008, the business moved into its current location, the former Carnegie Library, after some renovations.

More renovations were completed in 2010 in the basement.

There are currently seven employees at the Albert Lea office.