By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
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By Angelica Leicht
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By Sean Pendergast
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The Phillipses and Sample were next-door neighbors and longtime friends. Sample claims she didn't know the area was a former oil and gas site until after the community meeting in 2003, but Robert Phillips and many other residents remain skeptical. "She did what she needed to do to turn over houses in that area," Robert Phillips says. "She's no longer somebody I value to have in my life."
The Phillipses offered to release all parties of liability in exchange for $3.5 million, according to Waldner's letter. But they were bluffing. The suit was never filed; no compensation was made.
The Phillipses drew up a short disclosure and moved to Pearland. Their house sold fast, for a modest profit.
For Paul and Cheryl Anderson, leaving Woodwind Lakes was no easy task. Eight realtors declined to even list their property due to liability issues.
John Oyen, the homeowners association president and the Andersons' next-door neighbor, briefly put his own house on the market during the same period in 2004. Oyen claims the Andersons interfered with his house sale by giving realtors stacks of information regarding the environmental investigations. Paul Anderson says he was surprised residents weren't already providing disclosures.
After several months, Paul Anderson sent an e-mail to many of his detractors in which he promised to leave Woodwind Lakes if they could produce somebody to buy his house at market value. Two weeks later -- whether by coincidence or design remains unknown -- a married couple materialized with an offer.
On July 29, 2005, the Andersons finally closed on the sale. They felt euphoric about the prospect of moving away from Woodwind Lakes.
But when the Andersons returned home, they received copies of a mass e-mail sent out that same morning by Marianne West. It read: "Some if [sic] you may already know this, but Paul Anderson's house has sold and they moved out yesterday. I don't have any other information. Of course, there is a lot of speculation as to whether there was a foreclosure or a marital split. Please feel free to spread this news around the neighborhood."
Enraged, Paul Anderson e-mailed Marianne West later that night: "we are still quite happily married, you are wrong on the foreclosure, and the only disclosure we forgot to give to our new buyers was what a wretched vile gossip you are Marianne. Mouth of the South. And Findley, you are a weak man."
A few days later, Findley West shot back with a venomous 2,000-word response:
First, Findley West defended his own manhood: "I am still fairly strong and can still bench-press over 200 lbs even with my long arms..."
Then he assailed Paul Anderson's: "Simply put, you are weak, you are a coward, you are a liar and you are gutless. Oh, I almost forgot........you are a loser."
He defended his wife Marianne: "While you have attempted to destroy Woodwind Lakes, she was there building it up."
Then he accused Anderson of causing the community's environmental woes: "You have done your devilish best to turn Woodwind Lakes in [sic] a cesspool of contamination."
And, finally, he celebrated their decision to leave: "Now you are moving because you can't afford to live here anymore. So sad. But now that you are gone, the air will become fresh again, and the people will revel in your absence."
Six weeks later, the Andersons sued Marianne West in Harris County 157th District Court for allegedly broadcasting e-mails that were slanderous, libelous and intended to expose them to public hatred.
One year later, on August 31, 2006, the Wests paid the Andersons $10,000 to settle the case after already shelling out more than $20,000 in legal fees.
Additionally, as part of the settlement, Marianne West agreed to e-mail a public apology -- ghostwritten by Paul Anderson -- to more than 200 Woodwind Lakes residents, in which she admitted to spreading false rumors "that the Andersons had committed fraud in their formal HCAD property tax protests, that the Andersons had poured gasoline in a [sic] environmental test area to effect [sic] the test results, that they had filed frivolous lawsuits, and that Paul Anderson had assaulted a 12 year old child."
The apology continued: "I know that many of you have come to rely on me as a source of information about the various Woodwind Lakes issues. I am sorry I have let you down and I am embarrassed and ashamed of misleading anyone."
But the Wests say they have no regrets, that they're neither embarrassed nor ashamed. After the public apology, they say, many residents sent e-mails of support thanking them for all their many years of community service.
"We have no intention of leaving Woodwind Lakes," Findley West says. "Why would we?"
Marianne West agrees: "It's still the same great neighborhood."
Today the Andersons live in a Perry Homes subdivision ten miles from Woodwind Lakes, just outside the Beltway. Paul Anderson says he has moved on, but his actions prove otherwise.
He recently returned to Woodwind Lakes and ran into his old neighbor John Oyen, the current homeowners association president.
Anderson had subpoenaed Oyen regarding the HCAD lawsuit, but Oyen refused to accept the certified mail. Though the suit was already dropped, Anderson got the subpoena from his truck and insisted that Oyen take it. Oyen refused. So Anderson threw it in Oyen's yard and called him a pussy.