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LA County seeks Smith 'in a haystack'

LOS ANGELES, Jan. 6 (UPI) -- Tax collectors in Los Angeles County are looking for a certain D. Smith who has failed to pay taxes on a vacant lot since 1980.

The Los Angeles Times got curious about the hunt when Doug Smith, an expert on computer-assisted reporting at the paper, got first one, then two and then three certified letters asking him if he is the D. Smith in question. He isn't.

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John McKinney, head of the Secured Property Tax Office, said 1,180 certified letters were mailed to D. Smiths in what he calls a "superhuman effort."

The county is antsy, McKinney said, because in 2002 it sold a house for back taxes that was still occupied by an 85-year-old man.

The mysterious D. Smith owes more than $33,000 in back taxes and penalties on the lot in South Los Angeles. If the owner fails to come forward a non-profit group has offered to buy the property for construction of a house to be sold at an affordable price.

Since Smith remains the most common surname in the United States, there is a 1 percent chance the home's owner could be named Smith.

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