Tag Archives: Santa Barbara

Windfall for Lender – Or Will Natural Gas Discovery Benefit Victims of Ed Okun’s 1031 Tax Group Scam?

There’s a new ripple in the story of indicted 1031 exchange scammer Edward Okun, the 1031 Tax Group, and their victims.

Cordell Funding is a Miami-based hard money mortgage lender. Last fall, Cordell Funding sued Okun to recover $17 million it had loaned to Okun before his fraud-riddled real estate empire collapsed into bankruptcy actions and criminal indictments.

Cordell Funding initially sued Okun in a New York state court, but a federal judge transferred the suit to the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Manhattan, where Gerard McHale, the court-appointed Chapter 11 trustee of Okun’s 1031 Tax Group, was selling off Okun’s assets.

As part of that bankruptcy case, McHale turned over the rights to several Okun properties to Cordell. One of the properties that McHale turned over to Cordell was the Shreveport Industrial Park, a nearly empty 42-year-old, 956,735-square-foot Class C industrial distribution building at 9595 Mansfield Road in Shreveport, Louisiana.

It wasn’t worth much — certainly not the $17 million that Cordell said it was owed by Okun.

Then natural gas was discovered in the area. 

In fact, it was discovered that under the Shreveport Industrial Park is the largest onshore natural gas field in North America.   It could hold as much as 20 trillion cubic-feet equivalent of natural gas reserves.

The mineral rights lease for the Sheveport Industrial Park is now valued at somewhere between $30 and $60 million.

And property values for the area have soared.

It looks like Cordell Funding got a windfall from the bankruptcy court. 

But when the natural gas field was discovered, bankruptcy trustee McHale went back to court to have the bankruptcy judge of the 1031 Tax Group vacate the order giving Cordell Funding rights to the Shreveport property. At the same time, McHale has asked the bankruptcy judge to approve a mineral rights lease with PetroHawk Energy for the benefit of the 1031 Tax Group victims.

Now whether Cordell Funding or the hundreds of creditors of the 1031 Tax Group gets the millions of dollars from the Shreveport natural gas discovery will be determined by the bankruptcy court.

UPDATE:

For the latest on Ed Okun (new federal indictments, plus the indictments of Laura Coleman and Richard B. Simring), click here.

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Michael Jackson’s “Neverland” Rescued by Colony Capital

Foreclosure was front page news again today, but not the kind based on subprime loans to people who can’t afford them.

In this case, the foreclosure (almost) happened to ’80s pop star and (alleged) child rapist Michael Jackson.  The property is Jackson’s famous 2,500 acre Neverland Ranch, just outside of Santa Barbara, California.

According to press reports, Jackson owes $24.5 million on Neverland to Financial Title Company, and can’t pay.  The foreclosure auction for the ranch was scheduled for this week. 

Jackson was bailed out today by an investment company that purchased the loan.

We think that the company that bailed out Jackson by purchasing the loan — Colony Capital LLC — made an excellent deal.

The folks who run Colony Capital are exceptionally smart investors, and the Neverland deal fits perfectly with Colony Capital’s philosophy of “cautious contrarianism.” 

As they explain on their website, Colony Capital “employs the entrepreneurial investment strategy which has been successfully executed over the past sixteen years. This strategy is designed to consistently achieve attractive risk-adjusted returns by minimizing competition with other capital sources, while maximizing value through intensive post-acquisition management.”

“Three themes define this strategic approach:

  • Cautious Contrarianism during downturns or secular changes, investing in out-of-favor sectors or markets to exploit capital or product misalignments
  • Exploitation of Inefficiencies capitalizing on information advantages to identify micro-market imbalances and secure investments on favorable terms 
  • Value-added Management to Optimal Exits creating capital appreciation opportunities through repositioning, restructuring, development, and intensive management.”

Both Jackson and Neverland will no doubt benefit from Colony Capital’s “repositioning, restructuring, development, and intensive management” efforts.

Michael Jackson himself is certainly improperly managed and “out of favor.” 

And no doubt misaligned as well.

For those of you who haven’t been to the Neverland Ranch area, take it from us that it is amazingly beautiful, and is certainly worth far more than Jackson owes, especially with proper management.

We also like this remark from Colony Capital’s Founder, Chairman, and CEO Thomas J. Barrack, Jr.  

In an interview with the French magazine Paris Match, Barrack explained the financial crisis that has followed the bursting of the U.S. housing bubble as follows: “Confidence has disappeared because no one knows any longer who owes what to whom, or what it’s worth. It’s as if toxic waste had been sold in cans with ‘gold’ printed on the lid.”

We wish we’d said that.

 

 

$23 Million Settlement Reached with UBS in 1031 Exchange Scam Lawsuit

The plaintiffs in a class action lawsuit who allege they lost over $80 million that they had placed with Southwest Exchange, Inc. (SWX) and several other 1031 exchange accommodators or qualified intermediaries (QIs) have reached a settlement with one of the defendants, UBS Financial Services, Inc. (UBS).

You can read our earlier post about the lawsuit here.

Under the terms of the settlement, the plaintiffs will receive $23 million from UBS.

The settlement was approved by the court on March 28, 2008, and a notice was sent to the class action plaintiffs on April 2, 2008.

You can read the settlement notice sent by the law firm of Hollister & Brace here.

UBS is one of several defendants who are alleged to have participated with Donald Kay McGahn and and others in a scheme to steal the money that had been entrusted to them to facilitate tax deferred 1031 exchanges.

In addition to UBS, the plaintiffs claim that other major financial firms, including Citigroup and Salomon Smith Barney, participated in the scheme.

A criminal investigation continues.

UPDATE:

For more on UBS, click here.

Lawsuit Claims $80 Million Stolen in 1031 Exchange Scheme

More 1031 exchange accommodators are in very hot water.

And millions of dollars that people thought were going to be used for 1031 exchanges are missing.

Last week, Edward Okun and others were indicted in a 1031 exchange intermediary scheme that is alleged to have defauded clients of approximately $132 million.

A class action lawsuit has been filed in the California Superior Court of Santa Barbara County alleging that 130 people from 12 states lost over $80 million that they had placed with Southwest Exchange, Inc. (SWX) and several other 1031 exchange accommodators or qualified intermediaries (QIs).

The QIs are alleged to have been taken over by Donald Kay McGhan and other individuals with the purpose of stealing the money that had been entrusted to them to facilitate tax deferred 1031 exchanges.

The lawsuit claims that a “group of thieves discovered that these Exchange Accommodators were unregulated businesses holding large sums of cash that needed ready access to only a small percentage of the money to operate as going concerns. Pursuant to a conspiracy, these thieves purchased several Exchange Accommodators, gained access to their funds held in trust with the assistance of certain brokerage houses, stole the majority of those funds for personal gain, and caused over $80,000,000 in damages which was exposed when the real estate market finally cooled.”

According to the lawsuit, money held in trust by SWX was funneled to shell companies that Santa Barbara businessman Donald Kay McGhan set up to launder the funds, which were then withdrawn for his and his accomplices’ benefit.

The plaintiffs claim that the exchange accomodators were operated as a ponzi scheme by Donald Kay McGhan and his alleged accomplices.

Because the real estate market was hot in 2004 and 2005, money coming in for new 1031 exchanges could be used to cover funds deposited for previous exchanges that McGhan and his cohorts had already raided.

When the real estate market suddenly cooled at the end of 2005, the number of 1031 transactions declined and not enough money was coming in to cover the embezzled funds, according to the suit.

By April 2006, the scheme began to unravel as SWX faced liquidity problems, the lawsuit states, and by October 2006, approximately $80 million was missing from the trust funds.

The QI defendants in the lawsuit include Southwest Exchange, Inc. (SWX), doing business as Southwest Exchange Corporation and Southwest 1031 Exchange, and Qualified Exchange Services, Inc. (QES).

Individual defendants include Donald Kay McGhan, Jim J. McGhan, Dean A. Koch, Nikki M. Pomeroy, Albert Conton, Peter John Demarigny, Kyleen M. Dawson, and Megan L. Amsler.

Donald Kay McGhan, 73, was the founder, chairman, and president of the McGhan Medical Corporation, maker of silicone breast implants and for many years one of the Santa Barbara’s top employers. McGhan left the company, now called Inamed Aesthetics, in 1998, and the company later settled a fraud suit filed by the Securities and Exchange Commission alleging that McGhan had filed false financial statements that misled investors.  McGhan himself paid a $50,000 fine to the SEC.

Additional corporate defendants include Capital Reef Management Corp., Cennedig LLC, Medicor LTD, International Integrated Industries LLC, Ventana Coast LLC, and Sirius Capital LLC.

The plaintiffs also claim that major financial firms Citigroup, Salomon Smith Barney, and UBS Financial Services participated in the scheme.

There is also an ongoing criminal investigation.

You can see the complaint here.

Our advice:

If you’re planning to do a 1031 exchange, make sure that you perform due diligence in your choice of a QI or exchange accomodator, make sure that the QI is bonded, and make sure that you work with an experienced tax advisor and attorney who can help you navigate the 1031 exchange process. 

And, as we’ve said before, it is imperative that the Federation of Exchange Accomodators (FEA) work more closely with state and federal authorities to establish regulations for QIs that will restore and maintain public confidence.

UPDATE:

A $23 million settlement has been reached with UBS Financial Services, one of the defendants in the plaintiffs’ class action lawsuit.  You can read our post about the settlement here.

California Real Estate Continues Free Fall in Sales and Prices. Realtors Blame Credit Market. KB Home Hit Hard.

California real estate continues to free fall. 

In the latest seismic shock to hit California’s real estate market, the California Association of Realtors (CAR) reported that home sales in the Golden State decreased 28.5 percent in February compared with the same period a year ago, while the median price of an existing home fell 26.2  percent. 

Median home prices fell 27.2 percent from last year’s levels in the Inland Empire east of Los Angeles, 30.9 percent in Sacramento, and 39.1 percent in Santa Barbara County.

The California home price meltdown is more than three times as severe as the national decline of 8.2 percent in median prices reported this week by the National Association of Realtors.  Nationally, prices fell over the past year at a rate of $338 per week, while in California, prices fell at a rate of $2,788 per week.

According to the CAR, “The median sales price of an existing, single-family detached home in California during February 2008 was $409,240, a 26.2 percent decrease from the revised $554,280 median for February 2007.”

The February 2008 median price fell 4.8  percent compared with January’s revised $429,790 median price.

CAR attributed the continuing servere declines to the tight credit market.

“Although sales rose for the fourth straight month in February by 9.5 percent compared to the previous month, they continue to be dragged down by the ongoing effects of both the credit/liquidity crunch and tighter underwriting standards that have reduced the pool of qualified buyers who can obtain a loan,” CAR President William E. Brown said. 

CAR also called for legislative action to increase FHA loan limits, reduce FHA downpayment requirements, and include condominiums.

According to Brown, “It is crucial that FHA reform legislation currently under consideration by congress include higher loan limits for high-cost states like California,” he said. “The proposed legislation also includes a reduction in the down payment requirement for FHA loans and will include condominiums in the FHA single-family program, which will make it easier for buyers in the condominium market to qualify for loans.”

CAR’s Vice President and Chief Economist Leslie Appleton-Young said that the Fed’s recent action to reduce the federal funds rate “will have little near-term direct effect on the housing market.”

Adding to California’s real estate woes, Los Angeles-based KB Home, one of the nation’s biggest residential homebuilders and a major player in the California real estate industry, announced today that it posted a loss of more than $268 million in its first quarter as weak home sales amid a worsening housing market forced the company to take a large write-down related to falling home prices.

Its shares fell almost 4 percent in midday trading.

The average selling price of KB’s homes dropped 7 percent to $248,200 during the quarter, with homes in the West Coast posting the sharpest drop, falling to $392,600 from $470,400 a year earlier. 

”Until prices stabilize and consumer confidence returns, we believe inventory levels will remain significantly out of balance with demand,” Jeffrey Mezger, KB Home’s president and CEO said. ”We do not anticipate meaningful improvement in these conditions in the near term, as it is likely to take some time for the market to absorb the current excess housing supply and for consumer confidence to improve.”