Friday, July 29, 2011

Ponzi Schemes and a Notorious Slumlord Intersect at Problem Property

Post, photo, and image by the Hawthorne Hawkman.

When a few concerned NoMi residents got together this week to pick up trash and note potential problem properties along 4th St N, one place that stuck out was 2520 4th St N.  According to the city's website, this house is owned by a mysterious-sounding entity called Entrust Midwest LLC.  Now why is it, I thought, that this name rings a bell for me?  What's significant about Entrust Midwest?  So of course I Googled "Entrust Midwest LLC," but before I could even finish typing, this autopopulated:

"Entrust Midwest lawsuit" is the second item that comes up automatically.
Now, before we start to find out how deep the rabbit hole goes, I'm giving you all a fair warning.  When we start to scratch the surface of such topics, we generally have the same experience as watching a plumber work on your house, or going on a third date with someone who has unresolved daddy issues.  Finding out unwanted, unpleasant information is pretty much a given.  So don't say I didn't warn you about Entrust Midwest, which has been caught up in the infamous...

...Trevor Cook Ponzi scheme.  And then there's this article, about an $8.5-million dollar lawsuit from investors who lost money in a Ponzi scheme as well.  The article doesn't mention Trevor Cook or Crown Forex by name, but I assume that's what's being referenced.  And oh look!  Someone was kind enough to post a pdf of that lawsuit.  It's 109 pages though, so slog through it at your own risk.

Entrust has of course denied any wrongdoing.  "We are a neutral third-party administration and record-keeping company for alternative investments. We sell no investments. We do no due diligence in any shape and form," said owner Todd Grill in the Star Tribune article.  Entrust's case is still pending, but whether they are liable or not, there is no doubt that Cook's Ponzi scheme passed through their accounts.

Now, as fascinating as Trevor Cook's downfall may be, there hasn't been much of a north Minneapolis connection until 2520 4th St N.  So I called Entrust Midwest LLC's office in Plymouth.  I told them who I was, and informed them of a property that shows up as belonging to them in my neighborhood, saying this area and the property in particular are host to a series of problems.  They kindly informed me that they were not responsible, as the property was owned by and individual through an IRA.

This isn't the first time I've discovered landlords buying properties through a complex investment vehicle, but it is a new angle.  According to one article, buying rental properties through an IRA allows the owner to flip the houses and roll the proceeds back into the IRA (or possibly another house) without having to pay capital gains taxes.  Now, which prominent Minneapolis slumlord has a strong aversion to paying taxes?  Ok, that doesn't narrow it down much, does it?

So I asked the representative at Entrust Midwest LLC if she could tell me who it was that was actually responsible for the property at 2520 4th Street North.  She said (drum roll, please)

Bashir Moghul

My next call was to Council Member Diane Hofstede's office, to inform them that we have another Bashir property that might not be on our radar screen.  Furthermore, we now have a whole slew of potential problem properties that may not be associated at all with the correct slumlord.  It's rather likely that Moghul owns at least several properties through this LLC, and possible that other problem landlords employ a similar strategy.  Like I said before, plumbing and daddy issues.

I asked CM Hofstede's aide, "We don't have the ability to search the city website using the owner's name as the search criteria, but I know you can do that.  I'd like to find out how many properties are owned by Entrust, and how many of those are considered problem properties."  Furthermore, with this new wrinkle, who knows how many such properties haven't been associated with the proper landlord?

And once again we see how incomplete the city's website information can be, even before a necessary upgrade.  A year and a half ago, I pointed out a vacant lot near 2520 4th, where cars were parked illegally and the owner of the lot was a company called Global Investment Managers.  (Now owned by Hennepin County through tax forfeiture)  But back then, the address for GIM was listed as 314 25th Ave N.  Similarly, Entrust Midwest LLC is listed as the contact person/entity for our problem property.  In neither case do residents facing the brunt of the problem property know who is responsible or how to contact that party.

On top of being able to do more extensive searches, our city's website ought to require landlords to provide accurate contact information as a prerequisite for obtaining a rental license.  For now, we'll have to settle for finding out more about homes owned through places like Entrust Midwest LLC.

5 comments:

  1. Great Post and good investigation! Cuts right to the heart of the problem of lack of accountability by the City. Makes you wonder how many millions of tax payer dollars are spent on the symptoms of problem properties because the City won't invest in better oversight of investment properties.

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  2. If the city can't seem to nail this slumlord, maybe the IRS will!

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  3. Wow I didn't know an IRA was a "Complex investment vehicle". What do you consider a 401k?

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  4. I would consider a 401k to be a vehicle used by Imperial stormtroopers in a deleted scene from "The Empire Strikes Back."

    IRA's are not that complicated, I suppose. And the use of multiple lines of credit to buy homes (a la Paul Koenig) wound up being more commonplace than we initially thought. The point here is more that we've got a method of purchasing, owning, and managing (I use the last term loosely) rental property that has possibly allowed problem landlords to go undetected.

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  5. Wow. Nobody does the "slumlord rabbit hole" story like you, Jeff.

    Keep digging. I'd like to have me some RABBIT.

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