Tagged: crime

A Year Ago

On February 19, 2014, a natural gas explosion caused part of 447 N Lakewood Avenue to collapse, with three people taken to the hospital for their injuries. Also, a child died as part of the home fell on him as he was walking by on the sidewalk.  The child, Troy Douglas, was walking home from school, and should have been at a birthday party later that day.

447 N Lakewood Avenue, shortly after the gas explosion that killed one person and send three to the hospital.
447 N Lakewood Avenue, shortly after the gas explosion that killed one person and send three to the hospital. Photo by Shannon Fernandez
Taken just days before the explosion -- natural gas connection at 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Shannon Fernandez
Taken just days before the explosion — natural gas connection at 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Shannon Fernandez

Residents in the home reported the smell of natural gas, and an inspector was dispatched — an inspector who allegedly found no fault with the gas connection or the furnace, despite the photo above, which clearly shows a flex tube that isn’t properly connected. Was this the cause of the explosion?

At the time of the explosion, the property was owned by Marywood Real Estate Investors, who then sold the home for $100 in April, two months after the explosion. The home is currently owned by MBE Properties, LLC, with an address in Kingsville, MD. There are no current permits on file for this property — the last permit was a demo permit to assist fire investigators so they could determine the cause of the explosion.

This is what the home looks like today:

447 N Lakewood Avenue, photo by Reader Rusty
447 N Lakewood Avenue, photo by Reader Rusty
Memorial at the front door of 447 N Lakewood
Memorial at the front door of 447 N Lakewood. Photo by Reader Rusty
Rear of 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Reader Rusty
Rear of 447 N Lakewood Avenue. Photo by Reader Rusty

 

Blighted Baltimore Home Once the Site of a Horrific Murder

Featured on the blog a few days ago, this home on Pulaski Highway was once the site of a gruesome murder in 1994 that left the matriarch of a powerful Baltimore family dead.

On November 16, 1994, Debra Stevens, a Gypsy palm reader and fortune teller, was found dead in her home. She had been decapitated.  Stevens was the daughter of the last of the Gypsy kings — King Dick Stevens, who died in 1959.  According to his obituary, the Gypsies Stevens were the once the most powerful Gypsy tribes, since the 1920s.  They were based in Baltimore.

The man accused of beheading Ms. Stevens, apparently tried to kill himself several times after committing the crime — first jumping in front of an Amtrak train, and then in front of a police car twice.  It was later determined the man, Douglas Thomas Clark, was a customer of Ms. Stevens, and was also mentally ill. He was committed to a state mental facility by Circuit Court Judge Clifton J Gordy, Jr., in 1995.

Peter Hermann wrote a great article in the Sun in 2009 about this story and the people involved.  It’s definitely a worthwhile read.

Link Roundup

Haven’t done one of these in a while, so there are lots of random interesting links!

Oh, the things people do in and around vacants…don’t let your kids read this one.

The Chicago City Council approved a measure that offers renters protection if their apartment building goes into foreclosure.

While many residents are pleased with the project at Uplands, in Baltimore, not all are happy with the restrictions.

So far this year, Baltimore has seen 10 fire fatalities, more than in all of 2012.  The man who died in this fire in South Baltimore was one of them.

Lots of arson in Detroit, including this vacant fire.  I guess the arsonist wanted to make sure it REALLY REALLY burned.

I remember Gary, Indiana being a mess when I was a kid — apparently decades later, it still is.  For many of the same reasons that plague Baltimore.

The battle continues over the proposed Royal Farms in Hamilton, according to this article from Baltimore Brew.

A Baltimore Sun letter to the editor regarding the city’s $107 million tax giveaway — very well done, Jeff Singer from Baltimore.

It’s nice to see property owners and developers in other cities can come up with ways to creatively use vacant properties.  Turning them into homes that aren’t over-improved, and renting them for a reasonable, appropriate rent, is a sure way to build stronger neighborhoods.  Kudos to this Cleveland developer!

Richmond’s 9th City Council District is apparently a blighted eyesore, thanks to city-owned blighted property and vacant lots.  Hmmm…

Some Chicago kids may have to walk past even more blighted vacants on their way to school, and it’s not making the parents happy.  Can’t say I blame them!

Milwaukee Fox 6 reports that police are seeing an uptick in scrappers stealing siding from homes, particularly in areas with a lot of vacants.

Shelterforce has been on a recent roll lately with the good blog posts.  This one taught me a new word:  “Metropollyanna”.  Don’t be one of those people.

Also from Shelterforce — do artists have a place in the public planning process?

Nice to see this vacant building in Station North will finally get a facelift after so many years of neglect.

Link Roundup

Lots of good stuff in the news this week!

In the Baltimore Sun, Luke Broadwater reports the Housing Authority of Baltimore City has disbanded and laid off its Housing Security Unit.  These were the folks responsible for “investigating illegal occupants, nuisance activity, unsecured vacants and vandalism”, according to the article.

Developer Mark Manzo wanted to demolish part of a historic 19th Century church to make way for a parking lot for his new townhouses in Butcher’s Hill.  According to this Baltimore Brew article, the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) denied the petition, as several neighbors, and District 13 Councilman Warren Branch protested the effort.  One neighbor called the townhouses “boring”.

Vacants are everywhere, including Japan, says Business Insider.

Since you can’t talk about vacants without mentioning Detroit… S&P has downgraded Wayne County’s credit rating to two steps above “junk”, says Bloomberg.  That’s gotta hurt.

You can’t really talk about vacants without mentioning Baltimore or HUD, either — and the Baltimore Sun reports that HUD is shrinking its Baltimore office staff by one-third, as part of a consolidation effort.

In the UK, investors and landlords are being targeted by mortgage scammers.

Speaking of the UK, Britain’s biggest mortgage fraudster was given an extra four years in prison for conspiring to defraud two banks of £61 million, according to the London Evening Standard.  One of his previous scams was selling bogus manorial titles to Americans.

Dozens of homes in New Orleans were moved and then left to deteriorate, at taxpayer expense, according to WWLVT Channel 4.  The nonprofit in charge of renovating the homes, Builders of Hope, is no longer involved in the project.  If you recall, the Baltimore Sun reported back in 2012, the same nonprofit was supposed to partner with Ray Lewis to renovate 500 homes in Baltimore, and that seems to have gone nowhere.

You know life has taken a bad turn when the feds are busting down the door, looking for your 40+ year old son who’s living in your basement.  Van Smith from the City Paper reports on former deputy mayor and state delegate Salima Siler Marriott’s latest woes.

And speaking of the feds — Philadelphia’s notorious “Slumlord Millionaire” Robert Coyle is on his way to the pokey after defrauding a couple of banks.  Nevermind the fact that he’s allegedly swindled people in his “rent to own” schemes, and forced citizens in the Kensington neighborhood of Philly to live next to his blighted nasty homes…oh, and how about the fact that he treated his tenants worse than animals and forced some of them to live without plumbing or heat?  But hey — he defrauded a couple of banks, so off to the clink he goes!

Because sometimes I like to save the best for last…

The man who raped a 13 year old girl in a vacant home (owned at the time by disbarred attorney John Reiff) has been sentenced to four life sentences.  Count ’em — 1-2-3-4.  I would say justice has been served quite nicely — I hope he also has to pay for the counseling the survivor will need to be able to move past such a horror.

 

Slumlord-Owned Property Raided By Police As City Demolishes Another

Police raided a home at 2615 Miles Avenue yesterday, owned by Syed Shah, who also owns the Pizza Boli’s chain.  The raid was part of a joint effort by the Baltimore City Police Department and federal law enforcement.

Mr. Shah owns several blighted properties in Remington, where the raid took place, and has earned a mention in this blog more than once.

According to an article in the Baltimore Sun, the City was planning to demolish 2605 Miles Avenue, which had no roof and structural cracks.  The home next door, also owned by Syed Shah, is in bad shape but its currently occupied.

Perhaps it’s time the City sends a clear message to Mr. Shah that his activities are not welcome in Remington, or anywhere else in Baltimore.

Link Roundup

If you live in Baltimore City, you won’t want to miss this important meeting regarding the second round of proposed irresponsible cuts to the fire department.  Your home and family could be at risk!

Yet another mortgage fraudster who operated in a low-income part of Philly has been caught and charged with fraud.  Slumlords and scam artists think if they prey on people in low-income areas they won’t get caught — WRONG!

Speaking of mortgage fraud — a Baltimore man won’t be tasting freedom for a while after scamming several lenders out of over $1 million for his “shabby” houses.

A Clinton, Maryland woman has been found guilty of mortgage fraud.  Despite receiving income from the District of Columbia Housing Authority (Section 8 rent payments), she allowed the mortgages on all of her properties to go into default and pocketed the money.

Congrats to Poppleton residents for rallying around a neighborhood park, saving it from a stalled City development plan!

Henrico (Richmond, VA area) neighbors were up in arms over two vacant properties managed by an out of state firm — Channel 8 news investigated and got results.

Hamilton residents — you’re getting a new Royal Farms whether you want it or not.  [I have to say, I agree with “HS” who left the comment “That’s the problem with one party politics–they don’t even have to pretend that they work for you.”]

Money-laundering charges were suddenly dropped against the owner of multiple blighted properties in Baltimore, Stewart Sachs.

 

 

Link Roundup

Changes coming for BCFD firefighters — the mayor’s budget calls for longer hours, and a loss of 100 to 300 positions due to attrition (depending on which media source you read, the number changes).  This equates to longer hours for what amounts to less pay.  Unfair and unwarranted, how about giving other city employees the same rotten deal, not just the ones who are charged with saving lives?

A sad commentary on public housing in Baltimore.

More suspected arson fires in Detroit, firefighters “pushed to the limits”.

The fight over the city’s new casino project continues.

The Atlantic Cities examines why skyrocketing rents are actually bad for the economy.

A Maryland attorney was indicted on nine counts of wire fraud, stemming from his real estate investment scheme, according to the FBI.

Speaking of fraud, Stewart Sachs, a slumlord we’ve written about several times, has now been charged with money laundering — specifically, a drug dealer’s loan payments.  And they say slumlords don’t commit other crimes…

A bit of drama over at the Annapolis Housing Authority — they’re not sure whether Carl Snowden, a former city alderman, will be allowed to remain chairman of the Housing Authority’s board after he’s released from jail.

The Baltimore Brew asks whether we should house the homeless in the city’s many vacants — what do you think?

While the comments flew after this story in the Brew about liquor stores, Pennsylvania was busy working to end its stranglehold on liquor sales, while in Baltimore…we want the government to have even more control.

Good news-bad news in Cleveland:  The number of vacant homes has increased, despite a decrease in foreclosures.

Milwaukee has decided to use a new strategy to beautify its vacant buildings:  artistic boardups.

Good news for Detroit, too:  Lead poisoning in children has dropped 70 percent, though you have to wonder — have property owners gotten better, or have more people simply left…so there are less children living in lead paint-filled homes?

Link Roundup

ABC 2 News reports a vacant caught fire and burned in SW Baltimore — according to state and city tax records, the address in question doesn’t exist.

Harriet M Taylor of Ellicott City was sentenced to two years in prison and five years supervised release for her role in a mortgage fraud scheme.

Steve Kilar from the Baltimore Sun listed all of the housing-related bills before the Maryland Legislature so far — a few look good, and a few…not so much.

The City plans to sell off the “Superblock” properties at a fraction of their actual worth, says Baltimore Brew.

Interesting discussion about the Housing Trust Fund in the New York Times — should the mortgage-interest deduction turn into a tax credit for middle- and low-income homeowners?

Five people from Maryland and one from Virginia were indicted for conspiracy in a $4.5 million mortgage fraud scheme.

Detroit revealed its 50-year redevelopment plan.  Great planning ideas, but sad to think that some of the folks who developed those ideas will never live to see them carried out.  Should cities create plans that far ahead in the future?

Last Link Roundup of 2012!

A recap of all the newsworthy links in 2012.

January

Early in 2012, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was grilled by the MD Legislature about the status of the city’s lead paint judgements.  The city was refusing to pay, saying the judgement would bankrupt the city — a shame they didn’t think about that before allowing children to live in lead paint-filled homes.

A Federal judge sided with the City of Chicago in its fight to hold banks accountable for maintaining and securing vacant homes.

Business Insider had this to say about Baltimore’s neighborhoods — apparently some are just not worth saving.  Is your neighborhood worth more to you than it is to your elected officials?

February

Maryland property managers got their knickers in a bunch over being asked to pay what amounts to $4 a month for lead paint insurance.  Still seems cheaper than a multimillion dollar lawsuit.

March

Lots of articles have been written about squatters and takeovers of foreclosed and abandoned homes.  This one from the Chicago Tribune, wrtten in March, is particularly good.

Also in March, WBAL suggested development along Baltimore’s waterfront could suffer due to a loss of tax breaks for developers.  What were they thinking??

In Chicago, a young girl was raped at gunpoint between two vacant homes in the West Englewood neighborhood.  Neighbors say the vacants are more than just a threat to property values.

Instead of paying lead paint lawsuit judgments, the city’s Housing Authority was paying for take-home cars for its employees, according to WBAL’s Jayne Miller.

Metro Dream Homes owner and founder Andrew Hamilton Williams, Jr. was sentenced for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme that cost numerous people their homes, and bilked them out of $78 million.

Philadelphia rejoiced upon hearing that Robert Coyle, the “Millionaire Slumlord” was charged with defrauding banks of $10 million.

I can’t tell you how many emails I’ve gotten in the past year from people who have major problems with their “rehabbed” homes, due to the fact that the “contractors” never bothered to get permits.  Here’s a story from the Baltimore Sun about one such homeowner (he’s also my neighbor, and a stand-up guy.)

April

Another article on rehabs without permits appeared in the Baltimore Sun in April.  This time, the owner was threatened with jail time.  I guess since it happened in Canton, the city decided to get tough.

The Detroit Free Press did an excellent series on keeping schoolchildren safe on their route to school — something most people take for granted.  Unfortunately, in some major cities — kids have an unsafe walk, passing vacant homes that are a magnet for criminal activity.

Travers and Tremayne Johnson, two brothers who were accused of setting a dog on fire, were found not guilty by a Baltimore jury.

BCFD wasn’t meeting NFPA standards for response times, according to an article by Baltimore Brew — yet the mayor and Chief Clack continued with their plans to close three Baltimore fire companies.

Detroit experienced a rash of arsons back in April — 16 fires in all, on the city’s east side.

Baltimore experienced a few vacant fires in April, too.  Most notably the fire on Yale Avenue in the city’s Irvington neighborhood.

According to a Baltimore Sun article, Builders of Hope, a North Carolina-based nonprofit chosen by Ray Lewis, was supposed to be renovating hundreds of homes in Baltimore City, near Johns Hopkins University in East Baltimore. Since then, we’ve heard nothing about the project — or the organization, except news of their ongoing dispute with the City of New Orleans and two contractors, allegedly for nonpayment of invoices.

April and May brought the mayor’s proposed cuts to the fire department — including the removal of truck and engine companies that serve our city’s poorest neighborhoods.  Thankfully, one truck company was spared the axe.  Two were not so lucky.

May

Speaking of the fire department, May saw quite a few arson fires — including more than 12 in Youngstown, OH.

Firefighters in Huntington, WV let a vacant home burn after being called to the same address multiple times.

And a fire in the 1100 block of Barclay Street in Baltimore may have been arson, according to this Baltimore Sun article.

June

And in the “It’s not just you, Baltimore” category:  In June, DC City Council Chairman Kwame R. Brown was charged with mortgage fraud.

Also in June, Florida topped the list of states with the highest incidents of mortgage fraud and an Ohio State trooper was sentenced to 50 months in prison for fraud.

July

In July, the head of Baltimore’s housing authority continued to justify the agency’s refusal to pay court-ordered lead paint judgements.  While Paul Graziano was busy refusing to pay these judgements, a DC man was scamming the Housing Authority of almost $1.4 million.

American Banker discussed the pros and cons of using eminent domain as a way for municipalities to get vacant homes out of the hands of banks.

Two big storms hit Baltimore City, and the mayor and fire chief still wanted to cut our fire companies.  This didn’t sit will with the two IAFF Local presidents.

BCFD Chief Jim Clack received a hostile reception from IAFF members at July’s Firehouse Expo.

Habitat for Humanity and the Home Depot Foundation expanded a home renovation program for veterans.

August

WBAL asked if Baltimore City would pay for residents’ flooded basements, or will these residents once again get stuck with the city’s tab?

After being called to aid an injured man, a Baltimore City EMT and the patient fell through a hole in the front porch of a vacant home, into the basement.

Also in August, the Hip Hop Chicken on Hillen Road, a place where some swear you could get the best chicken ever — caught fire.

A fair housing case that dates back to 1995 was finally settled, giving some Baltimore families the right to move into safer housing.

September

Lots of housing-related crime happened in September. Kenneth Koehler of Baltimore pleaded guilty to wire fraud, in a scheme that left mortgage lenders holding the bag for over $1 million in debt.  Six Upper Fells Point homes went into foreclosure as a result of this scam.

Lorain, Ohio used an interesting method to move vacant homes to demolition — search warrants.

Los Angeles City attorney called US Bank and Deutsche Bank “slumlords”, accused the banks of neglecting foreclosed properties.

Detroit Crime Commission tackled crime by going after large-scale slumlords, vacants, and arson.

An Ellicott City woman pleaded guilty to stealing $1.5 million in a mortgage fraud scheme.

Also in September, a series of arson fires did some major widespread damage to Detroit’s east side.

October

I was in Baltimore Magazine in October.  Spending four days or more with a journalist is like therapy (only cheaper and more fun). I highly recommend it.  I also did a Q&A with Technically Baltimore — they appeal to my data nerd side, and who doesn’t like talking about data?

Edward Ericson, Jr. from the Baltimore City Paper wrote about the debacle with the Prisoner’s Aid Association-owned properties that have been condemned, foreclosed on, or are in foreclosure.  It’s definitely worth reading both articles:  First Article  Second Article.

The Baltimore Sun reported that former District 2 councilman Nick D’Adamo was given a cushy job as a “Special Assistant” to BCFD Chief James Clack.  Hey…wasn’t Squad 11 in D’Adamo’s former district?

Speaking of dumb moves by government — Wayne County, MI (yeah that’s Detroit) is apparently got rid of its ability to investigate and prosecute arson cases.  In Detroit.  A city with probably more arson than any other city in the world.

Just as BCFD Chief Clack finished crowing about his impressive fire statistics in front of the City Council — five people, a grandmother and four children, were killed in a house fire. As much as people like to bandy about impressive stats and data — actions still speak louder than words.

November

ProPublica published their “Living Apart” series in November.  The series is about fair housing in the US, and how things went terribly wrong, despite the best intentions of lawmakers on both sides of the fence.  You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

Baltimore City demolished a block of vacants in West Baltimore — I hope it turns into something that benefits residents.   You can see how the block looked before demolition here.

Baltimore Brew was quick to report on the community impact grant money our city gave the casino developers — money that was earmarked for poor communities like Pigtown, Sharp-Leadenhall, and Westport.

In Milwaukee, WI, foreclosed and abandoned homes continued to be a problem — yet Wisconsin’s governor Scott Walker used settlement money received from a federal mortgage abuse lawsuit to balance the budget.

Want to buy that vacant foreclosure next door before it becomes a neighborhood nuisance?  That may be harder than you think.

Louisville, KY created a registry of vacant homes, and a plan for what to do when owners don’t maintain them.

Foreclosed home caretakers sued a Bank of America affiliate in California, claiming the company cheated them out of overtime and wages.

December

As you can imagine, folks in Cleveland are tired of slumlords, too.  And they had some words for an absentee slumlord who lives in Florida.

In New York, an attorney was convicted on multiple counts of mortgage fraud, but the NY Attorney General lost a few counts, despite testimony from the attorney’s employees.

An office building in downtown Baltimore will be converted to apartments — however, it looks like no affordable units are planned.

ABC2 News reports that an Owings Mills Man will be spending the next 25 years in prison for his role in a mortgage fraud scheme.

Even more apartments coming to downtown Baltimore, according to Steve Kilar at the Baltimore Sun.  It’s unclear whether any of the buildings will include workforce housing.

A rather bizarre interview with the CEO of Wells Fargo about the economy, mortgage fraud, and board conflicts.

DSNews and CoreLogic report that mortgage fraud is on the rise again, with increased short sale fraud expected.

Howard Park is still waiting for their ShopRite Supermarket — what’s the holdup?

Interesting to see that Johns Hopkins is pledging millions of dollars to fix up the neighborhoods surrounding its Homewood campus — what about all of the lead paint-filled blighted homes owned by the Bloomberg School of Public Health near Johns Hopkins Hospital in East Baltimore?

Speaking of mortgage fraud, three people were indicted for their role in a fraud scheme that concentrated around houses in the Reservoir Hill neighborhood.

PG County has seen its fair share of mortgage fraud, too.

Brighter days ahead for one Detroit neighborhood — thanks to the residents who live there.

While steel shutters might be great for keeping vagrants out of vacants, they pose a challenge to firefighters and might result in greater property loss, according to Chicago Fire Department Chief of Special Operations Michael Fox.

TODAY, December 31, is the last day you can file your Maryland Homestead Tax Credit application.  If your application is not postmarked by today, you will not receive the credit — file now!

Maryland home values fell 7% in 2012, according to this article in the Baltimore Sun.

Reader-Submitted Blight: 1118 N Milton Street

Reader Rusty is on a roll!

Property Address:  1118 N Milton Street, Baltimore, MD 21205

Property Owner:  William Lewis, 4018 Balfern Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21213/PO Box 20819, Baltimore, MD 21239

City Council District and Contact: District 13, Warren Branch

State Senator: Nathaniel McFadden

State Delegates: Talmadge BranchCheryl GlennHattie Harrison

1118 N Milton Street
1118 N Milton Street
Yes that's a Stephanie Rawlings-Blake campaign sign along with a lead paint inspection sign.
Yes that’s a Stephanie Rawlings-Blake campaign sign along with a lead paint inspection sign.

This property was foreclosed on by a Florida company, Fidelity Tax, LLC.  The LLC shared the same address with BankAtlantic in Ft. Lauderdale, until its address changed in 2011 — less than a year before BankAtlantic’s CEO and Chairman, Alan Levan, was charged with real estate fraud by the SEC.  Fidelity Tax LLC’s resident agent was Stan Linnick, BankAtlantic’s Senior Vice President and Enterprise Risk Manager.

Until 2006, BankAtlantic’s CEO was the registered agent for a now-defunct Florida corporation, Fidelity Tax Corporation, which became Fidelity Tax, LLC, without Alan Levan’s name in the company’s ownership documents.

The foreclosure was handled by none other than now-disbarred Baltimore attorney, Anthony DeLaurentis, who is also a partner in the LLC that owns 1120 N Milton Avenue, next door.