City Paper: Council hears how slumlord’s empire came to sit in the hands of Philly banks.

Yesterday, City Council’s Committee on Housing and the Homeless, at the behest of Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, heard from the victims of slumlord Robert Coyle, the Kenzinger whose empire of low-value homes in Kensington and Port Richmond once numbered in the hundreds — until Coyle defaulted on millions in mortgages he had borrowed from local banks.

He is also accused  (accused, that is, by his former tenants — more than a year since Daily News reporters Barbara Laker and Wendy Ruderman broke the story, no charges have been filed) of enticing “buyers” of his properties with bogus “rent-to-own” agreements — in some cases written, in others  simply verbal. Coyle is now rumored to be living in New Jersey.

Last summer, City Paper investigated the mechanisms by which Coyle built his fortune, turning an inventory of run-down, in some cases barely habitable houses into millions of dollars — including the role played by the local banks who loaned Coyle so much money, and who are now sitting on his vast inventory.

Among our findings were emails, included in a lawsuit filed against Coyle by Republic Bank, which suggested that the bank, while loaning him vast sums of money, was also trying to steer customers’ title insurance business to Coyle’s own title insurance company: In a November 2007 e-mail, for example, Coyle’s accountant asks about “the title business promised before and after the [June 29, 2007] closing.” Then-President and Chief Operating Officer Louis DeCesare, who has since left the company, responds, “We have been very slow in new loan closings, but I think things will pick up soon.” DeCesare adds: “I thought a good next step would be to have you and [Coyle’s accountant] meet with … me to make sure work starts coming your way.”In January 2008, in response to an e-mail from Coyle, Republic First Assistant Vice President Ramzi Dagher writes, “I am doing everything in my power to get you title work.”

Another finding: the bank had valued the houses far above what they appeared to be worth.

Steve Culbertson, director of Housing for the nonprofit Impact Services, spoke to this point yesterday before Council: Impact Servies, he said, had secured money to help one tenant purchase one of the Coyle houses from the bank — but the bank valued that property on its books at $80,000 — though Culbertson says it’s worth $20,000.

“My opinion is the banks are complicit in the activities of Mr. Coyle,” Culbertson said. “They made a lot of money on these loans they took and put these loans on their books at very high values, based on Mr. Coyle’s own appraisals.”

Councilwoman Quinones-Sanchez, in whose district many of the houses are, agreed: “I think the banks already made their money on these loans,” she said.

As things stand, more than a hundred properties remain in limbo — the banks have not been eager to sell them individually and advocates and the city are doing what they can to stop a mass sheriff’s sale of the properties, an imminent possibility.

Article originally posted on February 18th by Isaiah Thompson to The Clog

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