MICHELE NORRIS, host:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News, I'm Michele Norris.
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
And I'm Robert Siegel.
In Chicago, bond has been set at $100,000 for a man who was accused of selling properties right out from under the churches and non-profits that owned them.
Philip Radmer, a disbarred lawyer from suburban Berwyn, is accused of pocketing $655,000 on the sales he made. Robert Becker of The Chicago Tribune helped break the story, which led to Philip Radmer's arrest. He says the owners, churches, a homeless shelter and a school, lost more than 20 parcels of land and they didn't even know it.
Mr. ROBERT BECKER (The Chicago Tribune): What Mr. Radmer would do is he would find very small, often very poor, churches on the city's south and west sides and these churches had formed non-profit corporations. But because these are small churches without, you know, big staffs and that sort of thing, they would let their paperwork, which sort of established them as a legal entity, lapse.
And then Mr. Radmer would form a new corporation under the exact same name in which he would be the registered agent and he would then list a bunch of phony names as the officers of these corporations.
SIEGEL: What was it about properties owned by churches that made them any more liable to this sort of alleged fraudulent activity than somebody's house in Chicago?
Mr. BECKER: Well, if you own a house in Chicago, you get a property tax bill twice a year. But if your property is tax exempt, you wouldn't get a bill. So the churches would have no way of knowing, sort of that bi-annual reminder that, oh, you do in fact own these properties. The first time they would really realize that something was amiss would be when the developers showed up with a bulldozer and construction crew in tow.
SIEGEL: Now that, it didn't actually get to that point, I gather, of somebody -
Mr. BECKER: It did not. One of the developers had taken out building permits on one of the properties, but nothing has been built. The way this unraveled is one of the churches, rather than have its parcels tax exempt, was actually paying property taxes on it, on the parcels, and went hey didn't get a bill they went to the treasurer's office and said where's out tax bill? The treasurer's office said, what do you want a tax bill for? You sold the property.
SIEGEL: So a message here to all non-profits all over the country, check to make sure that your local recorder of deeds or tax assessor knows that you still own the property.
Mr. BECKER: Precisely.
SIEGEL: Just to ask you though, when we buy property, at least in most states I believe, you have to in fact, pay for a title search and insurance of the title. You're saying that due diligence was done by the buyers in all these cases? They really did the record search and they couldn't come up with the fraudulent transfer of the property to Mr. Radmer?
Mr. BECKER: Well, you know, you, a title search involves going to the courthouse and looking at the records and, which is what we did, and if you didn't know the resolution that says, you know, the board of directors of First Presbyterian Church authorized the sale of this parcel on this date, if you don't know that the names on that are made up, then it looks rather legitimate to you. So that's presumably what happened in these cases in which the parcels were all sold.
Now a number of the parcels still are held by companies controlled by Mr. Radmer and one presumes that clearing that up would be a lot simpler.
SIEGEL: Did you try to talk to Mr. Radmer to ask him about these transactions?
Mr. BECKER: We did on a number of occasions, we laid it out for him and tried to talk to him about it and he declined.
SIEGEL: Thank you very much for talking with us, Mr. Becker.
Mr. BECKER: My pleasure.
SIEGEL: That's reporter Robert Becker of The Chicago Tribune.
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