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Vanishing in the Night

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By sonnypage
June 9, 2008

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Workin on our night moves
Tryin to make some front page drive- in news
Workin on our night moves
In the summertime
In the sweet summertime

.........Bob Seger (Night Moves)


Everyone here on our Metar board knows by now that my wife and I are Realtors as well as associate brokers. Between us, we have now thirty five years of experience in residential real estate here north of Atlanta. After a while, you think you have seen it all; then something like this comes along. I have thought of almost nothing else over the past few days. As always, I never use anyone's real name in any of my posts.


We first met Kyle and Becky about four years ago when we helped them buy a home in Alpharetta. As with most of our clients, we have stayed in touch in the years since. About six weeks ago, Becky called my wife to say that they were ready to do what she knew we had done, which was buy a second home up on Lake Lanier where they could eventually retire. We had convinced them that now was a great time to buy because of the depressed market. They really wanted to take advantage of the market to try and nail down a foreclosure or a distress sale. We started our search and had shown them several homes by the time the latest possibility came up last week. My wife called the listing agent to get showing instructions and was told it was appointment only, no lock box. That was fine and not that unusual in a high price range; but then the agent asked for the names of our buyers, which is very unusual. My wife complied but asked why; the agent said she would explain when she met them.

My wife and Becky met Joyce, the listing agent, the next day at the property. After they walked inside, Joyce told them a truly incredible story. A month earlier Jake and Danni, the young couple who had owned this home, still lived here, but they had by then already filed for bankruptcy. The bankruptcy proceedings were well underway. Then something happened that caused Jake and Danni, in the very middle of the night, to quickly flee their home. A few hours later, shortly after dawn, the FBI along with local law enforcement had forced entry and was searching the home. It seems that Jake and Danni were most probably involved in a very elaborate, and very sophisticated, Ponzi scheme that had defrauded a large number of victims. Two days after my wife and Becky first toured the home, they went back for a second look. This time I was with them, you could not have kept me away. The home was almost exactly as its owners had left it except that yellow and black signs were everywhere stating that this was a crime scene and that nothing was to be disturbed. Everything was pretty much neat and in order but for an unmade bed in the master bedroom. Joyce, the listing agent, repeated that we were not supposed to touch or disturb anything. The home had been staked out by a private investigator for a week on the chance its owners might try to return to retrieve something. That was also why Joyce had been required to ask the names of our buyers. Then she told us what she had seen and been told the first time she walked through the home a couple of weeks earlier with a local sheriff's deputy. First of all, that deputy told her that when his department went through the home with the FBI, a shelf in the closet in the master bedroom held a stash of cash and gold coins which had by now been confiscated. They must have indeed been forced to leave very quickly, but also just as likely, they knew there was much more than what they had left somewhere else, somewhere safe. What they had escaped with however, probably far more valuable, were their laptops with their hard drives.


We were being guided through the home by Joyce who was busy being a Realtor and pointing out the features of the home, but all the while I was intensely interested in trying to piece together more of what had taken place here. In the basement were Jake and Danni's his and her offices. In hers, glossy reprints of a magazine interview of her complete with glamour photos. The few sentences I was able to read were her answering questions about diet, exercise and life style choices. On the shelf near her desk, a box of her expensive business cards with an upscale New York city address. On a wall in the game room a picture of the two of them at some black tie charity event with Danni dressed and coiffed to the nines. In Jake's office, several wall hangings had been removed by investigators, but one that had not stood out. There was a picture of Jake and Danni and another attractive young couple on a sailboat docked out on the lake. Danni and her friend looked stunning in bikinis and would have drawn plenty of second looks; Jake and his buddy both looked fit and obviously spent plenty of time at the gym. The four of them smiled out at an unseen photographer. Also on Jake's wall, framed, was a long newspaper article, with a picture of him. It was in Spanish so I have no idea what it was about. That's pretty much it, small but tantalizing bits and pieces to a large jigsaw puzzle that I will never have the other pieces to, a puzzle that may be put together yet by someone else but not by me. My curiosity is intense and can't be satisfied.


The trustee for the bankruptcy court is asking a million point three for the property. Jake and Danni bought it in 2003 for a million and twenty thousand; even in a soft market lake property north of Atlanta is doing well. It's a nice home, but not a million point three nice. But then, as you walk out onto one of the two top and bottom decks on the back, you understand. There you have a view to die for. The woods slope down to the lake perhaps a hundred yards away. The woods between the home and the lake are army corp of engineers' property and can never be disturbed. You are on a high bluff overlooking the woods with Lake Lanier beyond. Farther out still, in the distance, a spectacular view of the north Georgia Mountains. The view is truly breathtaking. I could imagine Jake and Danni sitting out here at dusk taking it all in after a long day.


The bankruptcy court, I have learned, will be dealing with judgments of at least ten million, possibly quite a bit more than ten million before all is said and done. All of those stolen assets have vanished except for that small stash of cash and gold found in the bedroom closet, plus perhaps a couple of hundred thousand in equity in the home that had not been refinanced out. Where are you now, Jake and Danni, and more importantly, I will bet, is who are you now? I suspect that" Jake and Danni" were parts that you played to perfection. I picture the two of you now in a villa, perhaps in Costa Rica, with a view of the Pacific as spectacular as the view you gave up here in north Georgia. Did you pull it off? Are you living large and well? I find part of me almost hoping so.


Sonnypage