Troubleshooters Track Down Man at Center of Foreclosure Operation - NBC Connecticut

Troubleshooters Track Down Man at Center of Foreclosure Operation

The NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters have uncovered a foreclosure rental operation affecting many residents that seems to lead back to one man. He targets homeowners who are going through foreclosure, gains control of the homes and rents them out for thousands of dollars, pocketing the money. (Published Tuesday, Nov. 18, 2014)

A foreclosure rental operation affecting many residents seems to lead back to one man, who targets homeowners going through foreclosure, gains control of the homes and rents them out for thousands, pocketing the money.

It's a follow-up to a story we first aired in September; we've since found more people affected and managed to track down the man in question.

"I'm Brad Drazen from NBC Connecticut, we have some questions for you."

That’s what we said to him when we approached him at his office a few weeks ago. He wouldn't talk to the Troubleshooters, and in fact slammed the door in our faces.

Troubleshooters Foreclosure Rentals

[HAR] Troubleshooters Foreclosure Rentals
Troubleshooters Foreclosure Rentals
(Published Tuesday, Sept. 23, 2014)

But the man at the center of a statewide foreclosure rental operation has plenty to say to Connecticut homeowners.

"He told me it wouldn't be a quick sale," said Henry McDonald, who owns a home in Andover.

"Jimmy told me he bought the house in a short sale," said West Haven renter Jason Tuma.

They're referring to a man who calls himself both "Jimmy" and "Bill" and represents New Haven Investments, Saunders Associates and Realty Partners Group. We first met him this summer and our hidden cameras were rolling as he showed us a rental property in New London.

The Troubleshooters have learned that that Jimmy/Bill's real name is Timothy W. Burke, and he's been working the same real estate angle for decades.

According to the U.S. Attorney's Office in New Jersey, in 2003, Burke pleaded guilty to several counts of "equity skimming," duping homeowners into signing over the rights to their properties with a promise of freeing them from their debts, then renting those properties out and keeping all the money.

Burke served four years in federal prison. His supervised release was terminated in 2009, and he started his real estate dealings in Connecticut soon after.

Debbie and Gordon Shaw first crossed paths with Burke last winter when they saw a house in Baltic posted on Craigslist. They signed a one-year lease for $1300 per month.

In the spring, Debbie Shaw said a stranger came to the door with news of a foreclosure, but Burke explained it away when she called him.

"What's going on? Oh no, no, no. I'm in a short sale with this house, shouldn't be much longer," Debbie Shaw said, recalling her conversation with Burke.

The Shaws stayed and said they even did extensive work to improve the property until an eviction notice arrived in September. Soon after, Debbie Shaw saw our Troubleshooters investigation.

"I popped right up and said, 'My god, this is Jimmy, this is the voice that I heard. That is New Haven Investments!" she said.

Jason Tuma knew his living situation in West Haven was problematic from the start. He said every month, there's been a manila envelope hung on my door from the bank. After he saw our story, he started doing some investigating of his own.

"I've done research on who owns the house, and Jimmy doesn't own it; someone else does," said Tuma.

The Troubleshooters tracked down the homeowner, a woman who moved to Maine. She said she signed an agreement with Burke in 2012.

When we told her someone was living at her former West Haven home, she was surprised and said she's never received a penny from Burke.

We showed attorney Jim Bergenn the documents Burke has presented to the homeowners, to gain a legal perspective on his real estate dealings.

"They're basically giving up their claim to the property. That's nice, but nobody's relieved them of the bank and pay taxes to the town," said Bergenn.

He said this is fraud, a repeat performance of what Burke was convicted of carrying out in New Jersey more than a decade ago.

"He's stating in the papers that he's going to be their agent to deal with the lender. That would be the crux of a fraud, if people are being induced to believe they are good with their lender," explained Bergenn.

What Burke is doing: collecting rent. Tuma said he's shelled out around $13,000.

"The mortgage isn't getting paid, so that's just money in his pocket, he walks away with," said Tuma.

We've interviewed several renters of the past few months and have calculated that Burke has collected more than $50,000 from just a handful of properties since 2012.

The Troubleshooters tracked down most of the homeowners as well and learned that not one of them has received rental income.

It not clear how many others have the same experience with Burke. He himself told our undercover producer that he has dozens of properties.

"We own 89 properties, myself and my three partners," Burke explained.

Jim Bergenn believes that he could be hauling in some big money.

"If he's got close to 100 properties, he's probably making close to $100,000 a month," said Bergenn.

Burke's operation has expanded to larger, high-end homes in Fairfield County, which he appears to be running as boarding houses.

We found a listing on Craigslist for a one-bedroom suite in a 7,000-square-foot home. We tracked it to a quiet road in Easton, where Burke runs his office from the walkout basement. He wasn't happy to see us and slammed the door in our faces.

Burke lives with his son and several other people at another, larger home about a mile away, neighbors told the Troubleshooters.

According the Easton first selectman, the town wrote a letter to the owner of the first home requesting an end to the boarding house practice. But town officials weren't aware of what was happening at the second house until we told them.

Meanwhile, Debbie and Gordon Shaw's new landlord is a bank, but the attorney seems understanding.

"He said it was foreclosed upon, but as long as I had a lease, the bank would honor that, as long as it was a valid lease," said Debbie Shaw.

Tuma, for his part, has stopped paying altogether, but Burke's threats have continued over the phone.

"He'll start eviction if I don't give him the rent," Tuma explained, but added that the threats may very well be empty "because he doesn't own the property."

Both Debbie Shaw and Jason Tuma have filed police complaints in hopes of getting some sense of satisfaction.

"I'd like to see charges filed against him. I'd like to see the banks go after him," said Debbie Shaw.

"Ultimately, I'd like to see him in jail," said Tuma.

Our first Troubleshooters story prompted the Department of Consumer Protection to open an investigation into these foreclosure rental practices in Connecticut, and while some of the homeowners and renters have filed complaints with their local police departments, none has resulted in any action or arrest.

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