Way out of foreclosure a dead end
Property owners duped by promises
to clear debt
Eugene McGuire was struggling financially. In 2013, his two Jewett City rental properties were in foreclosure and his wife had recently lost her job.
"The property values dipped in 2008 and it was getting harder and harder to find quality tenants," he said. "I couldn't get a home equity loan to fix up the apartments because the homes weren't worth what they used to be. I couldn't catch up with the bills."
Things were looking bleak when he got a letter in May of that year from Saunders Associates, a private investment company with a Fairfield address. A man who identified himself as Bill Burke came to Jewett City and said he was interested in buying the properties at 115-117 N. Main St. and 39 Talcott Ave.
A couple of months later, McGuire traveled with his wife, Lorri, to Bridgeport, where they met with Burke and Bradford Barneys, Saunders Associates' attorney. McGuire signed several documents, including two quitclaim deeds transferring ownership of the properties to Saunders.
"When we left that office after signing the papers, we went home happy," he said. "We thought things were finally turning around."
But McGuire's financial troubles weren't behind him. Saunders Associates didn't buy the properties, but instead rented out the North Main Street property. Neither the McGuires nor the bank ever received any of the rental income.
An investigation by The Day found more than a half-dozen similar instances across the state - in Bridgeport, New London, Griswold, Waterbury, Plymouth, Portland, Andover, New Haven and West Haven - in which property owners facing foreclosure believe they were misled and taken advantage of by Burke.
Law enforcement officers believe that Burke and his associates sent out mass mailings to people whose homes were in foreclosure - information that is available to the public on the state Judicial Branch website.
One police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity said Burke is known to them as Timothy William Burke. The officer said his department turned over its investigation to the FBI.
Burke, now 63, was convicted in 2003 in U.S. District Court in New Jersey to 60 months in prison for participating in an "equity skimming" scheme. According to New Jersey court records, Burke and his co-defendants told various home owners who were in default of their mortgages that by selling their property to his management company, they could walk away from their debts and other financial obligations. However, authorities said, Burke and his associates rented out the properties and diverted tens of thousands of dollars per month in rental income to themselves, rather than applying it toward mortgage or tax payments.
Law enforcement officials believe that Burke is running a variation of the New Jersey equity skimming scheme here in Connecticut. Burke this time around is getting the home-owners to sign a property management agreement, which allows his company to rent the homes. The problem is that Burke never buys the homes as he promises; in most cases fails to tell the homeowners that he will collect rent on the homes; and instead allegedly uses the money for his personal gain instead of paying the mortgage, taxes and other property-related expenses.
The homeowners The Day has spoken to have lost their homes to foreclosure or are in the process of losing them. The tenants, who found the rental listings on Craigslist, didn't know they were living in houses under foreclosure.
Burke has not been charged in Connecticut. Numerous attempts to reach him were unsuccessful.
In the last three years, the state Better Business Bureau has received 11 complaints against Saunders Associates. The state Office of the Attorney General received five complaints, one of which was referred to the Chief State's Attorney and three to the state Department of Banking.
Some police departments across the state also have received complaints about Burke, whom tenants know as Jimmy and homeowners know as Bill.
Utility bills still coming
McGuire, who at the time was employed as a slot machine attendant at MGM Grand at Foxwoods, said he was given $1,000 to sign the paperwork - including the quitclaims; an indemnification agreement that he thought would hold him "harmless" against mortgage debt and any judgments against the properties; and a management agreement and a third-party authorization letter that gave Saunders Associates permission to negotiate with the mortgage holder, HSBC Bank USA, National Association, to take over the loans.
He was promised another $1,000 once the paperwork was finalized. He never received the second payment.
Now living in Alabama with his wife, he lost the Talcott Avenue property to foreclosure in September 2013, and foreclosure proceedings are pending on the North Main Street property.
The McGuires are still struggling financially, although both are now employed.
But for Eugene McGuire, a fresh start is elusive. He continues to receive bills from the Town of Griswold. In September, he got a $2,182 water bill for the Talcott Avenue property and bills of $943 for water and $821 for sewers for the North Main Street property.
After learning that the Talcott Avenue property was vacant, he managed to have the utilities taken out of his name, but he said he can't do that with the North Main Street property because someone is living there.
After speaking with The Day, McGuire said he was fuming. He emailed Burke, accusing him of lying, and saying that the properties had never been taken out of his name as promised.
McGuire said he got a response that said he was emailing the "wrong guy." He emailed again and got the same response.
The next day he received a phone call from Burke - the first in months. Burke promised he would take the utilities out of McGuire's name.
"I don't believe him," McGuire said. "He's a liar and a crook."