Waterbury tenant slow to see warning signs of housing scam
Ashley Baron was living with her boyfriend and her three sons in a small condominium and wanted something bigger. So she looked on Craigslist for a home to rent.
In March, she found a large house that they would be able to afford near family and friends in Waterbury. When they responded to the ad, they were contacted by a man named Jimmy from New Haven Investments, who said the company had purchased the property as an investment.
Baron said she and her boyfriend liked the Fillmore Street home and signed a one-year lease. They wrote a check for $1,350 to New Haven Investments, care of Bradford Barneys, an attorney, to cover the first month's rent, and paid extra in the following months to cover the additional $1,350 security deposit.
"I should have known something was wrong when they didn't do a credit check," Baron said.
She said Jimmy told her that she would be responsible for cosmetic repairs like painting, but that he had a large crew that would handle any more serious repairs.
Baron said the kitchen sink leaked so badly that water ran down the walls and damaged the ceiling tiles in the basement. The family couldn't use the main bathroom because the toilet wouldn't flush properly. The oven didn't work. Black mold was forming in the basement, creeping up the walls.
"I have two kids with asthma so I was really concerned about how the mold would affect their health," said Baron. "I would call and they would eventually send someone, usually around rent time, but they would just take inventory of what needed to be done or say they needed to order a part."
Baron said she started to wonder whether Jimmy really owned the property.
And there were other red flags, too.
She noticed a "for sale" sign buried in the bushes. Mail for someone named George Bulgin kept being delivered. One day a letter was taped to the door asking Bulgin to contact his bank about his mortgage.
Bulgin, a retired pastor, had moved to Atlanta in August 2013 after struggling to maintain his mortgage payments. Bulgin said that in January, he received a letter from Saunders Associates signed by Pat Riley, who said he was a private investor interested in buying the property and that he would pay cash and close quickly.
Bulgin spoke with a man named Bill. He never met Bill in person but did sign some documents that he thought would allow Saunders Associates to talk to Wells Fargo Bank and buy the house.
"I couldn't afford the house," Bulgin said. "He said he did 40 homes like mine a year and that he would work with the bank. I'm always trusting. I'm a minister."
The Day discovered that "Bill" from Saunders Associates and "Jimmy" from New Haven Associates are the same person - Timothy William Burke. Burke was convicted in New Jersey in 2003 for renting foreclosed properties he did not own and diverting tens of thousands of dollars per month in rental income.
Court records show that the bank foreclosed on the Waterbury property on July 29 and Fannie Mae took over the property in a quitclaim sale on Sept. 22. Renting the house since March, Baron was unaware of both actions.
Bulgin said he never heard back from Bill and never received money from him. He was shocked to learn that someone had been living in his house and paying rent to someone else for six months.
"I think he was taking advantage of the situation," Bulgin said. "I still get letters from lawyers and he said he would take care of that and that hasn't happened."
Baron said that on Oct. 13, a woman at New Haven Investments called asking for October's rent, but Baron told her she wasn't going to pay because she had learned the bank had foreclosed on the home.
Later that day, she said, Jimmy called her. When she told him about the foreclosure, he told her that he had a property management agreement with Bulgin to rent the property and that the home must have been sold in a short sale unbeknownst to him.
Now, Baron is in limbo.
"I can't just pick up and leave," Baron said. "The kids are in school. I don't know who to reach out to. I guess we have to wait until the bank knocks on our door."
PLACES TO REPORT FRAUD IN CONNECTICUT
• Connecticut Department of Banking: (860) 240-8299
• Office of the Attorney General: (860) 808-5318
• FBI New Haven Field Office, White-Collar Crime: (203) 777-6311
• Connecticut Department of Consumer Protection: (860) 713-6300
• Better Business Bureau of Connecticut: (203) 269-2700
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