Williams Title closes abruptly amid state investigation

June 06, 2016 / Posted in Denver, Real Estate

By | dmigoya@denverpost.com

A 15-year-old Cherry Creek title company under investigation by state regulators has abruptly closed.

Executives at Williams Title Guaranty and Escrow Agency did not respond to efforts to reach them, and the Colorado Division of Insurance that regulates them would not offer details of its inquiry other than to confirm an investigation is ongoing.

It was unclear when the company closed its doors.

“We absolutely can’t say anything more about an open investigation,” said Vincent Plymell, spokesman for the state Department of Regulatory Agencies in which the insurance division sits.

Co-owners Elizabeth Newell-Williams and her daughter, Michelle McCollum, could not be reached for comment, and e-mails to company associates listed on the business’s website went unanswered.

“All things have a season, and after 15 years and an estimated 40,000 closings, Williams Title has decided that it is a good time for us to retire from the real estate title industry,” the pair wrote on the Williams Title website. It offered no detail as to why the firm had closed.

Williams Title’s underwriter, Alliant National Title Insurance Company, offered little explanation in its own statement to The Denver Post, saying it was “aware of the closing of Williams Title.”

“Many affected by the closing of the company may have purchased an Alliant National title insurance policy to cover a home or other real property,” the company said in its e-mailed statement. “Our insureds will be protected by the strength of Alliant National and should contact us if they have a question about the title to their property.”

Williams Title had held the contract on closings for real estate held by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Williams Title said on its website that it was licensed in Utah and Florida, although only a Utah business registration could be found, and that is expired.

Founded in the basement of their home in 2004, McCollum was its chief operating officer and Williams was its president, the website shows.

Court records show the firm had minor financial troubles, specifically a $10,000 business loan from a Texas company that went unpaid since 2013. The company, VCFO Colorado, sued in Denver District Court and on May 24 filed for a default judgment, claiming the defendants had ignored the complaint. The loan was for a variety of business services such as billing and accounting work, court records show.

Williams, 63, and her husband, Theodore, filed for personal bankruptcy protection in 2005, records show. At the time, the couple ran Williams Asset Management and Williams Real Estate Group.

McCollum, 43, filed for bankruptcy protection in 1997 under the name Michelle Hernandez, bankruptcy records show.

Title companies can quickly run into financial trouble with millions of dollars floating between dozens of transactions. In the most recent example, in 2014, American Title Services was forced into bankruptcy when its owner, Richard Talley of Aurora, committed suicide with a nail gun after years of misappropriating more than $2.8 million of company funds was discovered.

American Title’s underwriter, Title Resource Guaranty Service, had uncovered Talley’s conduct during routine reviews and said it was forced to make good on the missing funds, which included escrows deposited by real-estate clients buying property for which American was to handle the closings.

Talley had moved money around between a number of company bank accounts, partly to save the firm from its own financial woes, but also to cover his own lifestyle expenses, records in U.S. District Court in Denver show.