Aztec, the golden eagle, at Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center in 2018. (Aubrey Wieber/Salem Reporter)

A Salem wildlife refuge center has taken their landlord to court alleging the couple it rented the southeast Salem property from didn’t set up electricity or water, never completed construction on an office space they were paid tens of thousands for, and tried to harass them into leaving.

On Monday, Amy and Dean Yeager and their now-defunct business Jackstone Inc., were ordered by Judge Channing Bennett to pay $60,000 to the Turtle Ridge Wildlife Center after the couple failed to show up in court to respond to the complaint the center brought against them. The center had leased the property on Jackstone Hill Road since January. But court documents show the relationship fell into acrimony, with each side accusing each other in court of breaking the lease agreement.

Despite the apparent legal victory, R. Grant Cook, attorney for Turtle Ridge, said the case is likely to be reinstated so the court can hear the case on its merits. In the meantime, the legal battle has taken a toll on the center.

On Dec. 28, Jessy Gill, Turtle Ridge director, sent out an email to supporters asking them to sign a petition in support and donate to the center. She noted the hardships brought on by Covid.

“A brutal reality that has weighed heavy on my heart.,” Gill wrote.  “Our picture perfect, fairy tale new home turned out to be a trap. A terrible feeling that I would never want to share.”

The complaint, filed in Marion County Circuit on Oct. 3, alleges the wildlife center in January paid Amy Yeager $34,000 for construction on an old barn that was to become an office space, clinic and patient room for the animals the center cares for. Turtle Ridge cares for and rehabilitates about 2,500 animals each year.

DOCUMENT LINK: Complaint

Turtle Ridge entered into a 25-year lease for a 5-acre property on Jackstone Hill Road and paid a year’s rent — $9,600 — in advance.

In January of last year, Turtle Ridge entered a construction contract with the Yeager’s construction company, Jackstone Inc., to convert the barn on the property into an office space. But the construction company had been dissolved by Amy Yeager as a business on Aug. 10, 2018, according to court documents and business filings.

Construction on the barn was supposed to be complete by March but was never finished. The Yeagers kept the money, the complaint alleged.

The complaint also claimed the Yeagers unlawfully put siding over rotten material and failed to follow various Oregon construction laws.

Cook said he got involved in the situation with Turtle Ridge as nearby tenants started to harass the wildlife center’s staff which he believes was an effort to remove them from the property.

“Upon information and belief, the Yeagers have continuously attempted to force plaintiff off the property so they could lease the property to other tenants for more money,” the complaint says. “The Yeagers have violated multiple provisions of the lease, assisted in the harassment of plaintiff, and prevented plaintiff from access to basic utilities.”

On August 20, attorney Keith Andreys took legal action on behalf of the Yeagers in Marion County Circuit Court to evict Turtle Ridge.

Andreys didn’t return a phone or email message seeking comment as of Friday afternoon.

The complaint said that on June 23, Andreys delivered a 30-day notice to terminate the lease alleging that Turtle Ridge had violated the agreement by using more acreage than agreed to, locking access to a breaker box and using the Yeager’s well.

DOCUMENT LINK: Eviction complaint

There is a court hearing on the case on Jan. 14.

Cook said the wildlife center has disputed the claims in the eviction action and the landlords brought their action in bad faith, trying to force the center out in hopes of finding a more lucrative tenant.

The Turtle Ridge complaint said the Yeagers provided them with temporary access to their well until they could install a rain collection system and well. But Cook said the center didn’t want to spend the money drilling a well after being served an eviction notice.

The complaint also stated the landlord failed to set up electricity with Portland General Electric. After Turtle Ridge contacted PGE they were told they couldn’t get electrical service until August 2020. It said the center has been without proper electrical services due to the Yeagers’ conduct since the start of the lease.

“What my client has had to endure from the Yeagers over the past months despite the incredible work it does, I believe is unconscionable,” Cook said in a written statement.

Cook said the center is looking for a new property. Despite all the legal drama they are still holding out hope that they’ll be able to remain at their current space. 

Have a tip? Contact reporter Saphara Harrell at 503-549-6250, saphara@salemreporter.com.

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