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Knock on the door brings two housing scam victims face to face

Henry McDonald thought he'd sold his Andover home;
Marie Ouellette thought her family had rented it legally

Marie Ouellette heard a knock on her door in early July. It was a man named Henry McDonald, who asked her what she was doing in his home.

Ouellette was dumbfounded. A month earlier she had met a man named Jimmy from New Haven Investments, and she and her husband had signed a six-month lease to live in the house on Pine Ridge Drive in Andover.

Ouellette, her husband, Jan, and their son, Lucas, had moved from Florida about a year before and had lived with Jan's family until they were able to find a place of their own.

McDonald was equally perplexed. In April, he had received a letter from Realty Partners Group, saying the management company was interested in buying his property, and would "close quickly with a cash equity payment to you."

His home was in foreclosure at the time, and he thought he had nothing to lose by giving the company a call. He had moved to Watertown with his girlfriend in the winter of 2013.

He said his late wife, Irene, had died in the Andover house in 2011, and he couldn't stand living there. He also was on disability and could no longer afford the house.

McDonald said he met with a man named Bill at the house in May. "He does a quick walk-through and tells me his company buys houses, remodels them and rents them out to different corporate executives. He said he would buy my house and pay the mortgage."

He said Bill offered to give him $2,000 for moving expenses so he could get the rest of his belongings out. At that meeting, he was given $1,000 in cash.

Just like the other property owners interviewed by The Day who had been contacted by Bill, McDonald signed an indemnification agreement that would "hold him harmless" from all mortgage debt; a management agreement; and a third-party authorization letter that would allow Realty Partners Group to talk to Nationstar Mortgage LLC, the mortgage lender.

"He told me that he would buy my house and that my credit would be good," McDonald said.

He said he contacted Bill in June to collect the remaining $1,000, but he was told that Bill was on vacation or that the check was in the mail. The check never arrived.

"Weeks go by and I hear nothing, so I called my neighbor to see if there was any activity at the house. My neighbor tells me that there are people living there," he said. "I couldn't believe it."

The Day's investigation showed that the man named Bill, with whom McDonald had met, and the man named Jimmy, who had rented the house to Ouellette, were the same person - Timothy W. Burke.

Ouellette gave Jimmy a cashier's check for $1,875 - first month's rent and half a security deposit - made out to New Haven Investments care of Bradford Barneys. She had found the home through an ad on Craigslist.

Soon after her encounter with McDonald, Ouellete hired an attorney. When Jimmy's assistant called later in July for the rent, she said she would withhold rent until they sent paperwork to her attorney to prove it was legal for them to rent the property.

They never did, she said.

Ouellette and McDonald remain at an impasse. At first, they tried to negotiate the sale of the home and then a rental agreement, but they couldn't come to terms.

McDonald is now suing the Ouellettes for back rent in small claims court and is trying to evict them.

"I feel like I'm being victimized twice," McDonald said. "My home is still in foreclosure and now someone is living there without my permission."

Ouellette said she and her family are also victims. She thought she signed a legitimate lease and spent money on moving expenses and to fix up the property. She said her family is in the process of finding a new place to live.

"I feel like we were taken advantage of," she said. "It took us a long time to find a place that was right for our family and met our needs."

Twitter: @larraneta


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