With one man behind bars, was another threatening me? Did he have a gun? … Is this what all complex real estate deals are like?
… and now comes Episode 3 of the eerie tale of a young man who suspected another commercial real estate agent of criminal activity, and how it played out.
I happened to be that young man, 28 years of age; married for just two years with a young wife, who was expecting our first child in January of 1978.
It was the late fall of 1977 that I had taken a listing to market a farm that had just received preliminary plat approval for 49 single family lots.
As covered in Episode 1 of this series, it did not take long for a very fair offer to be submitted from another broker, but as it turned out it seemed that in the early stages of the negotiations that other broker fumbled with “misremembering” his own name.
By Episode 2 of this dark tale, it was clear to me and the investigators at the Maryland Real Estate Commission, that shifty character was a convicted felon by the name of Mr. Kelley, who seemed to be up to his old real estate tricks. In our first meeting and subsequent conversations he used the name “Mr. Burke,” a licensed real estate broker in Prince Georges County.
That chapter ended with yours truly playing a pivotal role in a sting operation that resulted in a handcuffed Kelley being hauled off to comfortable jail cell.
In the midst of the excitement of playing a real life game of cops and robbers, there was still a real estate transaction that my client Mr. Sugar (the property owner) and the buyer, a builder/developer, (whom I will call “Mark”) wanted to complete.
So, with his commercial real estate agent now behind bars, I was hopeful that my real estate life would get back to normal. I reached out to Mark in order to gain his acceptance of the counter that Mr. Sugar made several days earlier.
With guidance from my broker Charles “Rick” Wolfe, we decided to assume that Mark was an innocent by-stander in Mr. Kelley’s befuddled game of charades.
We met in the sales office of his model home at another of his projects in southern Frederick County. Dressed very casually in ball cap, t-shirt and jeans, the 40ish Mark greeted me with a large enthusiastic and teethy smile brimming through a face of black hairy stubbles. It seemed that Rick and my assumption was spot on, as Mark anxiously read through the contract and signed off on all changes to seal the deal.
As we got comfortable, I made a brief mention of Mr. Kelley’s arrest, and he just blew it off with a simple remark of “Well, you never know about people, do you?”
The terms of the contract called for an April 1, 1978 closing, after a brief study period. Yes, boys and girls, believe it or not, land development contracts on properties with a mere preliminary plat approval could be fully processed back then in less than 6 months!
It seemed that all was falling in place: the bad guy was behind bars, and the contract was executed. The seller was thrilled to have an eager buyer, and I couldn’t have been happier!
The Christmas and New Year holidays came and went, and it wasn’t but ten days later that my wife Nancy and I were blessed with the birth of our first child. It was a cold a snowy winter that year, and we didn’t even notice with total focus on our new addition.
It was in early February that I learned that Mr. Kelley had been released fairly quickly after his arrest, and a trial date had been set at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Rockville, Maryland for sometime in May of that year. The officials at the Real Estate Commission informed me that I would be the star witness in the case against Mr. Kelley for carrying out real estate brokerage activity with a revoked license.
I asked Rick Wolfe if I should be concerned for the safety of my family and me. I was assured that Kelley was not a violent person … there was nothing to worry about. That aside, Rick told me that I should focus on getting the the land development deal to closing.
He also informed me that the brokerage fee would be held in escrow until after the trial. I was okay with all that, and pressed on. The unexpected benefit was that if Kelley was found guilty, it was likely that the entire fee would come my way.
The roar of the lion that brings in the month March was apropos for what was up next.
Mark and I had been in touch a few times as I checked in with him to see how things were progressing on his side of the transaction. We had waived his feasibility contingency and increased his deposit as called for in the contract. Things were looking good.
But it was a call that I got from Mark a few weeks before closing that seemed a bit odd. He wanted to cover a “few loose ends” with me at the sales office of that model home where we had met the previous month. I asked what those “loose ends” might be, and he responded with “Oh … just stuff.”
Despite the vagary of his response, I agreed.
The meeting was set for late that Thursday afternoon. It was a dark and dreary day with several inches of snow on the ground from a storm a few days earlier. As I drove up to the garage converted into a sales office, I noticed three cars in the driveway. All the shades were drawn on the windows, as well as the entrance door that also displayed a crooked “CLOSED” sign from the inside.
Not all that sure whether anyone was inside, I cautiously knocked on the door. The 15 seconds that it took before Mark opened the door seemed more like an hour, as I began to get an uneasy feeling.
I was once again greeted with that big smile and a hardy handshake.
But I could not help but notice how dark the room was with a single lit desk lamp off in the far right corner of the room. And as I panned the room to the left, I saw two other men sitting in the shadows.
My trepidation grew, but the brightness of Mark’s teethy smile invited me to a large deep leather lounge chair just a few feet from the front door.
“Have a seat, Rocky,” Mark said, as I sunk beneath the arms of the recliner. He then proceeded to the other side of the room and sat between the two silent men in the shadows.
The room was cold and all three men were still wearing their overcoats. Through the darkness I was able to recognize the tall and slender man sitting to the right … it was Mr. Kelley!
The other man, balding and heavy set, was dressed in a dark suit with a white shirt and tie. I had never seen him before, but I had an idea to whom I was about to be introduced.
“So … what’s this all about, Mark?” I tried to ask without showing any evidence of my escalating level of discomfort and fear.
“Rocky, I thought it was about time that we help you with your memory,” Mark stated in a different and firm tone of voice.
He continued with, “Now the (heavy set) man here to my right is Mr. Burke, and you know the man to my left is Mr. Kelley.”
As my heart began to race to a higher pace, I responded with hesitation: “Okay?”
“The part that you have been very confused about is that Mr. Burke here, IS the real estate broker with whom you have always been dealing,” continued Mark. “That is … up until that day that Mr. Kelley met you to ‘drop off the contract’ on behalf of Mr. Burke” (that being the day Kelley was hauled off in the paddy wagon in his shiny new handcuffs).
The intensity grew within me, as I sat silent with my hands tightly gripped to the arms my chair. Prepared at any moment to leap toward the door, I wondered “Is there a gun under his jacket? … This really cannot be happening … but it is!”
Then Mr. Burke spoke in that familiar deep and gravelly voice. I had only heard it once in a telephone conversation, in my pursuit of attempting to understand if Mr. Kelley was actually Mr. Burke or visa-versa.
“Let me make myself perfectly clear, Rocky,” Burke stated emphatically, “Kelley, here was only running errands for me, as he does not have an active real estate license and has done nothing wrong … You have only been dealing with me since the beginning.”
I was sure that the three could hear and see my heart pounding rapidly out of my chest, as I expected a hand gun to be made visible and pointed at me any moment.
He ended with: “You are a very nice young man, and I hope you understand that at your age, it is easy to get confused in complex transactions … Do you understand, me?”
My response was very clear. As I stood up from my chair trying to hide the enormous amount of fear beneath my skin, I stated, “Gentlemen, this is not a meeting I wish to be a part of any longer.”
I turned quickly, opened the door and closed it behind me, as a let out an enormous sigh.
Slick roads and dreary weather conditions did not stop me from using the accelerator to hasten the drive back to the basement apartment where my wife and new born awaited my arrival.
Of course in this day and age, I would have been on my mobile phone calling my wife and then my broker to share my experience. Ah, but alas that was before the everyday consumer knew what was coming. As I sped away checking rear view mirror every fraction of a second, the only two words I repeated incessantly to myself were: “Oh, Shit!”
What had I gotten myself into? One more Episode to go before this case is closed!
The author: Rocky Mackintosh, President, MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. His articles also appear in TheTentacle.com.