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A Broke Rapper, A Mystery Donor And An Empty House

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A Broke Rapper, A Mystery Donor And An Empty House

A Broke Rapper, A Mystery Donor And An Empty House

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/151774259/151807396" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "CBS THIS MORNING")

MITT ROMNEY: Gasoline's too expensive. Higher education is too expensive. Putting food on the table is difficult. The price of health care has gone up and up and up, despite promises to the contrary. People are having a real hard time in this country.

DAVID KESTENBAUM, HOST:

Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm David Kestenbaum.

ROBERT SMITH, HOST:

And I'm Robert Smith. And that was Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney you heard at the top. He was speaking on "CBS This Morning."

Today on the show, we will profile three men dealing with trouble. One of them gave away a lot of money. The other one spent too much money. And the third - the third was there to clean up the mess when the money went away.

KESTENBAUM: A special three-in-one show featuring stories that aired on the radio but collected here for the very first time.

SMITH: But first, the PLANET MONEY Indicator with Jacob Goldstein.

JACOB GOLDSTEIN, BYLINE: Today's PLANET MONEY Indicator - nine. At least nine countries in Europe are now in recession.

KESTENBAUM: Name them.

GOLDSTEIN: (Laughter) OK. The U.K...

KESTENBAUM: One.

GOLDSTEIN: ...The obvious ones - Greece, Italy, Ireland, Portugal, Belgium, the Netherlands, I think Slovenia. And then the latest one - the one we just heard this week - Spain.

KESTENBAUM: One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine - yeah.

SMITH: He did it.

GOLDSTEIN: OK. Spain - that one is really important right now. We already knew things were bad in Spain, but a recession - remember - it means things are getting worse. It means the economy is shrinking.

SMITH: Now, we've seen this coming for a while because Spain's on the frontline of the European debt crisis. It's gotten more and more expensive for them to borrow recently. And they've been trying to solve all these problems by cutting government spending. And as we know, that can create more problems.

GOLDSTEIN: Yeah. I mean, there is this argument you're hearing a lot right now, which is cutting government spending, which is to say austerity - that's kind of the big word everybody throws around here - that can actually be counterproductive if it sends the economy into a recession because, of course, when you have a recession, when your economy shrinks, it gets harder to pay off the debt you already have.

SMITH: So we have a country here that has too much debt - and that's worrying - but is also slipping into recession - and that's worrying. How does Spain balance those two things?

GOLDSTEIN: I don't know, right? It's sort of an impossible problem because, on the one hand, they're cutting government spending, which is supposed to make it easier for them to go out and borrow money. But on the other hand, their economy is shrinking, which makes their debt problems worse. And so this may well come down, once again, to the European Central Bank, which, Robert, as you've reported before, is sort of the backstop of this whole thing - is the one institution right now in Europe that in a pinch, in a crisis, can basically step in and start lending money to Spain.

SMITH: I'll be preparing another show on them soon. Thanks, Jacob.

KESTENBAUM: Thank you, Jacob.

GOLDSTEIN: Thanks, guys.

SMITH: All right. Onto the show. Every once in a while, we like to collect together some of the other PLANET MONEY work we've been doing that did not air on the show. Stories that appeared on NPR, on the radio, we'll collect together and bring it to you.

KESTENBAUM: And today, we bring you a fine selection of people in trouble - money trouble, of course. And we start with a man who had it but lost it. Zoe Chace has this cautionary tale of what happens when you do not pay your taxes.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: Some musicians like to brag they have a lot of nice stuff.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SHORTY WANNA RIDE")

YOUNG BUCK: (Rapping) Shorty want to ride with me, ride with me.

CHACE: This is Young Buck. And he did have nice stuff, like nice wheels on his car.

YOUNG BUCK: (Rapping) I could show you I'm a rider - the 600 Coupe with the old-school wider - Giovanni rims with Pirelli's on the tires.

CHACE: Young Buck used to be a part of G-Unit, the very successful label founded by rapper 50 Cent. As part of that group, he sold millions of records. He's from Nashville. And in his dining room, he had eight white leather dining chairs. In his bedroom, he had some blue cufflinks, some skull chains. In the basement, a poster of Scarface, a craps table, a tattoo kit. What do all these things have in common? Ask the Internal Revenue Service.

BRANDON GEE: I think the common denominator for all of them is they are things that the IRS believed could have been easily liquidated.

CHACE: Brandon Gee reported on Young Buck's situation for The Tennessean newspaper. He says one Saturday morning, IRS agents showed up at Young Buck's house. He owed six figures in back taxes.

GEE: It's very methodical. As things are being boxed up and taken out, they're being inventoried on a list...

CHACE: And then stored nearby at Young Buck's expense. His lawyer, Robin Mitchell Joyce, told me he thought his taxes were being handled by his business manager. They weren't.

ROBIN MITCHELL JOYCE: Is it just a hip-hop problem? No. It's an entertainment - a music industry problem.

CHACE: Horace Madison is the business manager for stars like Lil Wayne.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "A MILLI")

LIL WAYNE: (Rapping) A millionaire - I'm a Young Money millionaire tougher than Nigerian hair.

HORACE MADISON: I wish my clients want 35 or even $50,000 cars. That's what they spend on watches.

CHACE: I asked Madison about Young Buck's situation. Why would someone who makes a ton of money get behind on their taxes?

MADISON: Most entertainers and musicians - they receive their money on a gross level with no taxes taken out of.

CHACE: Even athletes, Horace Madison says - they're paid a salary. Musicians aren't. And big entertainers make big money - $25,000, $50,000, $100,000 a show - sometimes much more. In a couple of months, you're a millionaire, right? No. Madison says about half of what big stars earn goes to pay people that work with them, not to mention the lights, the sound, the tour buses and then...

MADISON: On that half a million dollars, you need to make an estimated tax payment of $200,000.

CHACE: Quarterly. That's no joke. And on top of that, if you're an entertainer, what's a business expense can seem really murky.

MADISON: You're living this lifestyle where you're spending money that you think is tax deductible. And no, it's not.

CHACE: Madison has tried to deduct the watches, saying it's a necessary business expense for his client to have a certain look. The CPAs at his company threw it back. The IRS loaned Young Buck his refrigerator back and a few other things, but most of his stuff is still stored in an undisclosed location. His music catalog is up for sale May 14. Even his moniker, Young Buck - that might be sold, too. There could be a new Young Buck running around. Willie Nelson - he had the same kind of problem.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WHO'LL BUY MY MEMORIES")

WILLIE NELSON: Who'll buy my memories of things that used to be?

CHACE: So he released an album to pay back the IRS. He called it "The IRS Tapes."

(SOUNDBITE OF WILLIE NELSON SONG, "WHO'LL BUY MY MEMORIES")

SMITH: That was PLANET MONEY's Zoe Chace, and we came upon that story when we were looking at a list of Young Buck's possessions for the IRS and just going through them. And I have to say it is fascinating and sad to read a list of someone's life on an IRS form. I would hope that they would never have to list off the stuff that I (laughter) have. It just seems so pathetic...

KESTENBAUM: I know (laughter). I was imagining my own list.

SMITH: It sounds so pathetic. Three public radio mugs, two public radio T-shirts...

KESTENBAUM: Lots of unworn socks sitting in a drawer.

SMITH: See? Sounds sad.

KESTENBAUM: Yeah.

SMITH: All right. Onto our next bit of trouble. And this one is a story that I did, David, about the donors to superPACs.

KESTENBAUM: SuperPACs are those political organizations. They've been in the news a lot. They provide a - basically a back door for funding political campaigns. SuperPACs can take any size check and run any sort of ad for or against a candidate just as long as they don't directly coordinate with that candidate.

SMITH: Yeah. They have almost no rules. I mean, they could take money from corporations. They can take money from people. But there is one major requirement. SuperPACs are supposed to tell everyone - they're supposed to report where they got the money from.

KESTENBAUM: So given that, you heard about this really interesting, little mystery. There was someone who'd given a million dollars to a superPAC who was trying to stay hidden, trying to use this crazy name that sounded like some button on a computer keyboard. And you went on the hunt for this person on MORNING EDITION.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

SMITH: Go down the list of people who have given a million dollars to a superPAC, and you realize that a lot of them are not shy about their wealth.

PAUL SEAMUS RYAN: They're happy to give. They're proud to give. They want public recognition for having given.

SMITH: Paul Seamus Ryan is a lawyer with the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center. We read off the names together. There's lots of Bobs and Bills, John, Sheldon, Peter.

RYAN: A lot of the early money in are from those good ol' boys that you've just mentioned, and we do know who they are.

SMITH: But on the list of all these humans, there is a strange name. It looks like the kind of slang you'd see in a teenager's text message. F8 is the name of the donor. F-8.

RYAN: I had no idea who the entity was.

SMITH: And yet F8 in Provo, Utah, had given a million dollars to the superPAC supporting Mitt Romney, Restore Our Future. And right next to it, another unknown name to our campaign expert - also for a million dollars, also in Provo, Utah - Eli Publishing.

RYAN: Completely foreign to me - unknown to me.

SMITH: Now, this does not necessarily mean that something is fishy here. Corporations are allowed to donate to superPACs. Perhaps a couple of rich Utah companies just wanted to support Romney, but it turns out that even Utahns didn't recognize these companies.

MAX ROTH: Never heard of either - I had never heard of either.

SMITH: Max Roth is the political reporter for Fox 13 News in Salt Lake City.

ROTH: A publisher that has the kind of margins to give a million dollars to a political campaign and a publisher that is located in Utah - you'd think that you would have heard of this company.

SMITH: So Roth started to do a little research. Neither company appears to sell anything. The publisher has no books on Amazon. Both companies had the same address - in fact, the same suite, number 420 in the same generic office building in Provo, Utah. So Roth drove down there. No mention of the companies in the lobby and no evidence at all of a suite 420.

ROTH: Yeah, we went up to the fourth floor, and we walked around the hallway, and there's no - you know, there's nothing with either name. There's nothing with that suite number.

SMITH: The office accepting the mail for the missing suite and the mysterious companies had no idea what they were. This is when the Campaign Legal Center got really interested in these donations. You see, you can't funnel money through someone else's name. I can't give a million dollars to a toddler and make him give it to a superPAC. Paul Seamus Ryan says F8 and Eli Publishing may be a corporate version of that clueless child.

RYAN: It immediately raises the question, well, where'd the money come from?

SMITH: The Campaign Legal Center filed a complaint against the companies with the Federal Election Commission. Eli Publishing lists Steven Lund as its contact name. F8 is registered to his son-in-law, and both men have connections to a corporation called Nu Skin. It's a multilevel marketing company - a little like Amway - that sells anti-aging creams and vitamin supplements. Lund was one of the founders and a multimillionaire, and he keeps a low profile, except when it comes to his charitable work - feeding children in Africa. On a video from a Nu Skin convention, you can see him strumming his guitar and playing a song he wrote about his trip to Malawi.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

STEVEN LUND: (Singing) We stepped off a plane in Africa. We knew we weren't in Topeka.

SMITH: Lund is prominent in the Mormon Church. And it seems like his relationship with Mitt Romney goes way back. He was an executive at Nu Skin when it sponsored the Winter Olympics in 2002. Romney ran those games. Lund did not respond to requests for an interview about the donations. But he did call up that Fox 13 reporter, Max Roth, after Roth visited the office building. He told Roth that it was his money and that he wasn't hiding anything.

ROTH: His explanation was more about not wanting to be real public about being a part of the campaign.

SMITH: And yet, by using a mysterious publishing company with no actual books, he attracted even more attention.

ROTH: His voice sounded a little sheepish as he was talking about that because, clearly, it did have the opposite effect.

(SOUNDBITE OF VIDEO)

LUND: (Singing) More smiles than tears in Africa. There are more smiles than tears in Africa. There are more smiles than tears in Africa.

KESTENBAUM: All right. Onto our third stop in our tour of money problems. This time, we go to Florida.

SMITH: And we talked before about the signs that the housing market has truly hit the bottom, and it might be getting ready to head back up. And one of the signs is that states are starting to move through the backlog of foreclosures. And there's all sorts of paperwork and legal rulings that have to be worked through. But then there's also the house itself that's been sitting empty and neglected for who knows how long. I mean, in fact, in Florida, it takes an average of 861 days to complete a foreclosure.

KESTENBAUM: Before the house can be sold, somebody has to go and, like, knock on the door and inspect it - see what's going on with the house. Our colleague Chana Joffe-Walt - she went down to Florida, and she met someone whose job that is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHVED RECORDING)

CHANA JOFFE-WALT, BYLINE: Eight hundred sixty-one days. Think about that. That means somewhere in Florida, a homeowner stopped making payments on her house, and then nothing happened for about 861 days. Maybe she's still in the house. Maybe she moved. Maybe she's renting it. Maybe it's full of squatters, wildlife.

MARC JOSEPH: We don't know until we get the assignment. The assignment on this property came out at 2:01 in the morning.

JOFFE-WALT: Marc Joseph is a real estate agent representing the lender, a bank which now owns this concrete block home on Tamiami Court. Joseph stands squinting on the lawn. He's got a digital camera strapped to his belt, earpiece blinking in his ear. And he surveys the place. No broken windows. No lights on. No cars in the driveway. Except there is a red truck parked out front on the street. So he takes a breath and moves towards the door.

JOSEPH: Basically, if I bang on that door, there shouldn't be anybody living in there. If the guy in the red truck is in there, it'll still be a bad deal that I've been out here.

JOFFE-WALT: It's quiet. We stand on the doorstep for a couple minutes.

So you won't go in today.

JOSEPH: We're absolutely going in today.

JOFFE-WALT: Oh, really?

JOSEPH: Yes.

JOFFE-WALT: The front door is unlocked. Apparently, there are tens of thousands of unlocked front doors in Florida. Marc Joseph tells me, as we are entering the main room, that he has never had a hard time getting into a foreclosure.

JOSEPH: A lot of them open either through the sliding glass door or front door. I'm able to get in one way or the other.

JOFFE-WALT: Are we allowed to be in here?

JOSEPH: Oh, 100 percent. This is our assignment.

JOFFE-WALT: Joseph's assignment is to report to the lender what has been going on inside this home that the lender now owns. And on Tamiami Court, evidently not much has been going on. It seems like that red truck must belong to someone else on the block because nobody is inside of this house, which is a fact that seems to please Marc Joseph.

JOSEPH: When I see something like this, I know this will sell immediately.

JOFFE-WALT: Because, he says, it's not trashed. There's no furniture. No one's poured concrete down the drain - he's seen that several times - or ripped out the electrical system.

JOSEPH: I'm obviously going to look in the garage just to double-check there's no car in the garage.

JOFFE-WALT: He's seen that too.

There is no car, just two empty boxes. If there had been someone here, the lender has instructed Marc Joseph to offer people cash, about $1,500, just to leave the place peacefully. But Joseph says sometimes people are so angry that they'd rather just yell at him.

JOSEPH: I really should be your best friend when I knock on the door because I'm there representing the bank trying to do something good. But they don't...

JOFFE-WALT: No, you're there telling them it's the end. You have to get out of the house.

JOSEPH: Correct. But they know that anyway.

JOFFE-WALT: This is the new phase of the housing collapse. Homeowners stopped paying for their homes a while ago. We are just now dealing with that fact. And this is what dealing looks like.

JOSEPH: Sure, it's an ugly business to go out and repo somebody's house. But on the flip side of that, the beauty is affordability is back. Now you can buy that house for $150,000, and you can actually come down and retire in Florida. And as long as that sun is up there shining, people are going to want to come here.

JOFFE-WALT: That, of course, is exactly what real estate agents always say in Florida. But I should note Joseph listed the house on Tamiami Court for close to $150,000, less than half what it was worth five years ago. And three days after he listed it, the bank accepted an offer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVIN' ON UP")

PRIMAL SCREAM: (Singing) Getting out of the darkness. My light shines on. My light shines on. My light shines on.

SMITH: As always, we love to hear what you think of PLANET MONEY. Send us an email - planetmoney@npr.org.

KESTENBAUM: A special note here - Caitlin Kenney, in particular, and the rest of us and some people at NPR have been working hard to put together a PLANET MONEY app for the iPhone.

SMITH: I've seen a prototype. It's pretty cool.

KESTENBAUM: Should be ready next month. I'm David Kestenbaum.

SMITH: And I'm Robert Smith. Thanks for listening.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MOVIN' ON UP")

PRIMAL SCREAM: (Singing) I'm moving on up now, getting out of the darkness. My light shines on. My light shines on. My light shines on. My light shines on. My light shines on.

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