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Father, daughter accused of real estate fraud

July 6, 2009 6:53:19 PM PDT
The ABC7 I-Team has uncovered a statewide, multi-million dollar real estate scheme that ruined credit scores for dozens of Bay Area investors.

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Investors told us the man who masterminded the deal lived a lavish lifestyle at his East Bay ranch, with expensive sports cars and helicopter rides to Las Vegas. He even spent a million dollars to produce a Hollywood-style horror film.

Jim McConville bankrolled a slasher film due out this fall called "Red Velvet." He and his daughter, Nicole, are listed as producers. They even appear in a music video for the movie. McConville plays an instructor at a school for assassins.

However, it is another family business that has the McConvilles facing lawsuits, an FBI investigation and questions from the I-Team.

Nicole McConville is listed as CEO on several real estate companies set up and run by her father. According to several investors and lawsuits filed against him, Jim McConville offered investors $10,000 if they would help him with a "straw purchase." He would use their names and good credit to take out loans to buy undervalued condos up and down the state.

He promised to renovate the condos, sell them, and in some cases, split the profits with the investors.

"I said, you know, 'Well what if you default on the loan?' And he said 'I'll never default on the loan. I would never do that. I've never done that. I've been doing this for 30 years. It's completely legal.' And those were his words, quote unquote,'" said former investor Cristy Voss.

Voss says McConville took out loans for nearly $700,000 in her name to buy two condos at a San Diego complex. But at the end of last year, she started getting default letters; McConville had stopped the mortgage payments. The bank foreclosed and Voss's finances are in a shambles.

"You know what? Honestly, I'm? I'm devastated? because I think a lot of other people can speak the same, but you know, I'm a very credible person. I mean, I had a credit score of 770. Now it's down to 570," explained Voss.

People who worked for McConville tell the I-Team he pulled the same thing with nearly a thousand properties the past few years.

"He was collecting the rents and sticking them in his pocket and not paying the mortgage," said Jack Thomas who worked for McConville.

Thomas headed the construction crews, rehabbing McConville's condos. He became an investor himself. McConville used his name and good credit to purchase 11 properties worth more than $10 million -- all of them now in foreclosure. "I get phone calls; I get at least 15 phone calls a day from banks," said Thomas.

McConville appears to have bought some condos at deliberately inflated prices, getting substantial kickbacks from the sellers and leaving investors on the hook for the mortgage.

A document from last year's sale of one condo in San Diego shows it went for $310,000 -- much higher than market value. From that loan, the seller paid McConville's 3 Mac Corporation a $180,000 marketing fee.

"He used me," said former investor Charlene Lujan. "He used me for my friends, my family."

Lujan got swept up in McConville's scheme and she got 40 friends and family members -- including her husband -- to take part, as well. All of them are devastated financially.

"I'm 39 years old, and it's really hard to start all over again," said Lujan. "And you know your credit's screwed for 10 years."

The I-Team tracked down Jim McConville at his lawyer's office. He refused to answer our questions, and so did his daughter Nicole. We caught up to her at Alameda County Superior Court. An $800,000 default judgment against her and her father has been temporarily set aside. An investor claims to have lost nearly $2 million in deals with the McConvilles.

Despite repeated phone calls, we have received no answers from Jim and Nicole McConville or their attorneys. The civil lawsuits may be the least of their worries.

The I-Team has confirmed the FBI has launched a criminal investigation. At issue -- who helped the McConvilles? Are any appraisers or lenders responsible? Where is all that money -- the marketing fees McConville collected and the rent on all those properties?

"I would like to see justice served and to see everything that he's bought, you know, his Lamborghinis, his Cobras and all his expensive hotrods and his art returned to people that he owes money to," said Thomas.

Which takes us back to "Red Velvet." The upcoming release of McConville's horror movie is a slap in the face to investors who lost money and had their credit ruined in his real estate deals.

"He spent a lot of someone else's money on that," said Thomas.

McConville used to call himself "the West Coast Donald Trump." Now he is being described as a small-time Bernie Madoff.

"He has ruined my life," said Voss. "He has ruined my life and everybody involved -- absolutely."

"I want the properties out of our names, people's names, my friends, my family, anyone that was a victim," said Lujan. "I want their credit fixed and I want Jim McConville behind bars for the rest of his life."

It turns out McConville had to get people to let him use their names. He could not buy property himself because of a $1.2 million tax lien he got hit with in 1993.

For more of the background on this story, including McConville's criminal record, read the I-Team Blog.

Have a tip on this or another investigation? E-mail the ABC7 I-Team or call 1-888-40-I-TEAM.

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