Scheme ruins war veteran's credit score

August 24, 2009 7:09:56 PM PDT
The ABC7 I-Team has been investigating a statewide, multi-million dollar real estate scheme that ruined credit scores for dozens of Bay Area investors, but one man's story stands out.

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He's a Navy officer who just volunteered for a tour of duty in Afghanistan. The condos he bought for more than $1 million are now virtually worthless. But even worse, he says, he can't be deployed overseas because of the huge drop in his credit score.

"Knowing that you could die but you still want to go, it's because someone has to do it," said Andre Todd.

When Todd was getting ready to deploy to Kuwait and Iraq in 2007, he wanted to make sure his wife and two daughters would be provided for if he got injured or killed. So when a friend in the military told him about an investment opportunity with real estate developer Jim McConville, he said he was interested.

"I said show me an opportunity where I can buy some real estate at a discount, and I can own it," said Todd.

Todd says McConville's pitch was simple -- he needed investors to help him buy undervalued condos across the state. He'd renovate and sell them for a profit.

McConville even offered to cover the mortgage payments. He'd hire an on-site property manager to collect rent and make sure the bills got paid.

"He reassured me that there would not be any problems, and I said OK, then we can possibly go forward," said Todd.

So Todd got 100 percent loans for five condos at a development in Fresno for $225,000 a piece -- no money down. Back from Kuwait, Todd volunteered for another tour of duty, this time in Afghanistan, and received his commission as an officer.

"I think the reason I received it was because I was willing to go where no one else would go," said Todd.

But late last year, he got a default letter from a bank. Then a call from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service saying his security clearance was under review. That's because his credit score had dropped from more than 800 to around 500. McConville had stopped making the mortgage payments, and Todd's deployment was on hold.

"In the service we're doing a job that no one wants to do. We don't want to, but we do, and now my hands are tied because I can't go or do the job that I'm trained to do," said Todd.

Dozens of other investors across the state say McConville did the same thing to them.

"He has ruined my life. He has ruined my life, and everybody involved," said former investor Cristy Voss.

Jack Thomas, a former employee, believes McConville was keeping the money for himself.

"He was collecting the rents and sticking them in his pocket and not paying the mortgage," said Thomas.

McConville's attorney declined to comment for this story and McConville refused to answer questions for our first report when we tracked him down at his lawyer's office. So did his daughter Nicole.

She's listed as CEO on several real estate companies set up and run by her father.

Earlier this month, a judge upheld an $800,000 judgment against her as part of a lawsuit from an investor who claims he lost nearly $2 million in deals with the McConvilles. Her father has been ordered to post a $375,000 bond pending a civil trial.

Real estate appraiser Todd Lackner says a big problem for investors has been that McConville got inflated appraisals on his condos.

"What they were doing is selling properties at a very high amount, extremely high amount, I should say, well more than twice what they were worth," said Lackner.

Todd paid 50 percent more for his condos than one of McConville's companies bought them for just six months earlier.

"Every appraiser I talked to in the area said there's no way that property could have been assessed at that value," said Todd.

He hopes he can still leave for Afghanistan in December. But he says he won't be able to go unless he can fix his credit score.

"This is my best way of giving back, and now my hands are tied because of this situation," said Todd.

Almost all of the 106 units in that Fresno complex are now in foreclosure. Even so, Todd's been able to find a developer willing to buy his condos for $22,000 each in a short sale. He's waiting to see if the banks will accept the deal.

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