Reporter's Notebook: Nothin' But Trouble
The story of Brandon Flavin's adventures in real estate is complex and quite unusual. He is young like most of his associates--all of them under 30. And the Internet evidence of their business and lifestyle pursuits is rich.
When we first started reporting the story, we quickly came upon a yacht for sale on Craig's List. Flavin listed his name and number in the ad. We looked into it a little further and learned the yacht was called the "Nothin' But Trouble" and its registered port of call was Compton, California.
A few weeks later Flavin was advertising a "LIMO PARTY BUS!" FOR $9,999. The ad, again on Craig's List, went like this:
Interior has been gutted and the entire structure has been built for a limo/party bus. Built to carry approx. 30 people. There are 2 booths up front, storage, a large bathroom, 4 mini bars and wrap around seating in the rear, with the back built out for a large flatscreen TV. Please only serious buyers inquire.
Flavin has registered at least a half-dozen companies with the Minnesota Secretary of State--some of them real estate and some of them not. Taken together, the undertakings suggest a pattern sweeping claims and disclaimers. Here is a sampling:
GO FAT RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
Flavin incorporated Go Fat in 2007. The company's website, gofatpatch.com, went live this year and initially listed the address for Flavin's real estate companies as a point of contact. The site offers a weight loss patch and intimacy enhancing drugs for women (among other devices and elixirs), and looks something like this:
The disclaimer is a study in how to avoid product accountability:
The information provided on this site is provided for informational purposes ONLY. We at gofatpatch.com do our best to provide accurate and timely information. However, at times there may be inadvertent technical or factual inaccuracies and typographical errors for which we sincerely apologize. GOFATPATCH.COM reserves the right to make, edit, replace or otherwise remit changes and corrections at any time, location and or otherwise noted, without prior written and/or oral notice.
INVESTMENT PROPERTY ADVISERS
Flavin incorporated this company in 2007 at the same time as Go Fat. The company's site, realtycashflow.net, is the home to Flavin's Mississippi Go Zone project.
Advertising for a seminar on the project, Flavin posted the following in 2007 on the Minnesota Real Estate Investors Association website:
Largest tax break in US history My name is Brandon im a Broker here in Mn. I have a seminar on November 15th 6:30 pm at the Ramada Inn Mall of America. There will be food and drinks. This seminar is going to cover the Mississippi Go Zone and the huge tax incentives the goverment is giving to people that want to help rebuild Mississippi were looking for investors and accountants that would familiarlize there selves on this topic and would like more business. Our website is realtycashflow.net click on the gozone tab and seminar Brandon flavin
In another post on the Minnesota Real Estate Investors Association site, Flavin has this to say:
Builders with Inventory My name is Brandon I am a real estate broker here in MN. Over the past 2 years I have purchased close to 200 homes from builders. I am still doing this I am looking for builders that have good discounts on there properties. I would love to get started in Wisconsin as soon as possible also. I come across new Investors all the time that are interested in the new home market. I am also interested in building homes with builders that are approved for financing to build homes. Thank You! Brandon flavin
UNITED MANAGEMENT GROUP
Flavin created United Management Group to manage the properties acquired through investors teaming up with his National Investment Group. The company offered a rent-to-own program that doubled as a path to credit restoration--the idea being that a tenant would pay rent on time for two years, thus establishing better credit, then try to qualify to buy the property at the end of the two year period.
In more than a few cases, tenants were stripped of the dream of homeownership when the home they thought they were renting-to-own went into foreclosure.
According to Flavin, United Management Group is "phasing out" of the property management business. Still, the website is up with a number to call.
Want to be sure you don't get tangled up in a mess like this? Attorney Nathan Hobbs of Patrick Burns & Associates in Minneapolis emphasizes asking the tough questions. And be sure you lay eyes on every piece of paper. Linda Clewette's loan applications, for all six properties she was investing in, had "primary residence" and not "investment" checked:
And on on each application, filled out by Flavin's mortgage facilitator of choice, American Wholesale Lending, her income was inflated from the roughly $27,000 she was making to $96,000:
And it when you are deal with real estate types or loan agents, it wouldn't hurt to check if there are any lawsuits or convictions. You can do that here.
Then there are the contracts and even the fliers. When investor Joseph Addie visited the offices of National Investment Group around December 2006, he was given a flier that stated the following:
Our company has been managing and investing in real estate for over 5 years with a history of excellence.
The property management company that manages our properties has a track record of success.
A quick check of the Minnesota Secretary of State's online database of registered companies contests these claims. Searching "National Investment Group" reveals it was only registered with the state in July 2006, making the five year "history of excellence" impossible. Searching "United Management Group"--Flavin's property management company with the "track record of success" just one month before Addie was handed the flyer.
Charges have not been filed against Flavin, and he insists he has done nothing wrong and that he is a victim of the real state market who is "barely making it" himself. The investigation, begun by a Minnetonka detective in October 2007, is ongoing.
REAL ESTATE FRAUD RESOURCES:
FBI Field Office, Mortgage Fraud
White Collar Crime Supervisor
111 Washington Avenue, South, Suite 1100
Minneapolis, MN 55401-2176
Phone: (612) 376-3200
Office of the Attorney General
Consumer Complaint Form
1400 NCL Tower
445 Minnesota Street, Suite 1400
St. Paul, MN 55101
Phone: (651) 296-3353
HUD Field Office
Minneapolis Field Office
Kinnard Financial Center
920 Second Avenue South
Minneapolis MN 55402
Phone: (612) 370-3000
Fax: (612) 370-3220
Minnesota Department of Commerce, Real Estate Division
85 7th Place East, Suite 500
St. Paul, MN 55101
Phone: (651) 296-4026
Enforcement Division – Real Estate
85 7th Place East, Suite 500
St.Paul, MN 55101-2198
Toll-Free: (800) 657-3602
Phone: (651) 296-2488
Fax: (651) 297-1109
Better Business Bureau
2706 Gannon Road
Saint Paul, MN 55116 -2600
Phone: (651) 699-1111
Fax: (651) 699-7665
You'll find still more here.