Republished fro Dallas Morning News article - Feb 2020
There are other signs, too — one near the front entrance on Alva Court and another affixed to the side gate along Deloache Avenue that say only “GCOGIC-IM.” That stands for Glorious Church of God in Christ International Ministries, whose website says it offers services ranging from prison ministries to homeless assistance. That website says the church was established in the 1970s “by our very own Reverend and psychologist John Mann” and lists 9410 Alva Court as its mailing address.
But Bank of America says: Not true. It alleges in court documents that Mann acquired it using “fraudulent” deeds filed with the county in the last year.
In fact, one of those warranty deeds bears a July 2018 signature of a woman who hasn’t worked for Bank of America since May 2017.
“It looks like my signature, but that’s not even my handwriting,” Yanneth Ramos-Leyva, a former Bank of America assistant vice president, said Friday morning from her Arizona home after I sent her a deed filed with the county. I wasn’t the first person to ask her about a situation like the one involving the Alva Court house, she said; seems it’s becoming a trend. “And it’s stressful.”
The Department of Justice’s tax division has intervened because of millions in federal tax liens involving a previous owner.
Neighbors have long suspected that this house once on the market for more than $6 million is now occupied by squatters. That includes several women who, residents say, have occasionally been seen on the house’s grounds wearing similar-looking clothing.
“Many neighbors have had concerns with what they’ve seen in terms of the number of people apparently living in the house,” said Leland Burk, the real-estate executive who once ran for Dallas City Council. “And some neighbors worry they may be squatters.”
On its own website, the county warns that according to the FBI, “property and mortgage fraud is the fastest-growing white-collar crime.” The county now allows property owners to sign up for a fraud alert that sends notifications if someone tries to grab their land. Because, it turns out, acquiring a multimillion-dollar house without actually buying it isn’t really all that difficult.
“It’s easy. Very easy,” said Phillip Clark, the Dallas County prosecutor heading up a new deed-fraud task force, which eventually will include local police and federal agencies.
Clark began this work in 2017, he said Friday, and since then has investigated 117 properties worth a combined $30 million involving dummied-up warranty deeds used to wrongfully transfer titles to individuals or their phony companies. One of his cases involves a man jailed late last year for stealing at least 25 properties in Dallas County.
“All of the sudden, every week or every month, I was getting more and more referrals and more and more cases, and most agencies won’t handle them,” Clark said. “We’re not an investigative agency; we do the prosecution. But we’ve been investigating a lot of these cases because no one will or can.”
That includes the Dallas County District Clerk’s office, which said Friday that it only records every document upon receipt, as it doesn’t have the staff to vet so much paperwork. That’s why the Dallas Central Appraisal District shows the church as the owner of the house.
Cheryl Jordan, DCAD spokeswoman, said her records show that Mann bought 9410 Alva Court out of foreclosure last July, then deeded it to the church. She said he has filed for a charitable tax exemption, which will require a field inspection.
“We have to see if it’s really being used as it’s claimed,” she said.
County records show Bank of America has been paying the tax bill in recent years —around $55,000 annually.
Federal court records show that Mann shouldn’t be able to afford a house like this one: He filed for Chapter 13 bankruptcy in Nevada in 2008, and attorneys there said he never paid the more than $700,000 owed on a house he claimed to own in Las Vegas. I tried finding the previous owners of that house, but they’re dead.
When he filed for bankruptcy, Mann said he worked for the church and made $7,681.33 a month. He said, too, that the church’s home base was in Suffolk, Va. The address appears to be a two-bedroom house that Zillow shows is worth around $159,000.
How he found the Alva Court house remains a mystery, but records show that Bank of America has been trying to reclaim it since February 2017. Sometime between then and now, the title became clouded, as they say in the real-estate business.
The Brinkers parted with the house around 2002, about seven years before Norman died of pneumonia while on a Colorado vacation. Shortly after, it wound up in the hands of oncologist Dennis Birenbaum, the “Dr. Bombastic” once profiled in the Dallas Observer. Court records show that Dennis and his wife Brenda took out a mortgage on the house from Bank of America worth almost $4.3 million in 2005. In exchange, Bank of America was granted the lien.
Court documents reveal that Dennis Birenbaum filed for bankruptcy and eventually wound up tussling with Bank of America over the $4.3 million lien. Court records show that the matter was resolved in July 2017, when the bank took the house to settle the couple’s debt. But according to Bank of America, the foreclosure was never finalized because the Internal Revenue Service has three liens on the property, tied to the Birenbaums, worth a combined $2.6 million.
Birenbaum was not immediately available for comment.
On Oct. 9, Bank of America sued Mann over ownership of the house and the federal government over the tax liens, which the bank says “create a cloud” concerning the title. The Department of Justice moved the case to federal court in November to determine whether the IRS or Bank of America should have first crack at the clouded title.
Bank of America is being represented by local attorney Sammy Hooda, whose firm handles foreclosures, bankruptcies and evictions. When I asked how he got the case, he said, “We got it from our client, Bank of America, advising us there may be some potential squatters or unauthorized individuals, and they asked us to pursue it.”
Mann certainly isn’t trying to conceal his connection to the property: In September 2019 he filed a certificate of formation with the Texas Secretary of State, hoping to get the Glorious Church of God in Christ International Ministries deemed a nonprofit. His name is right there on the paperwork — “Rev. John Mann” — at 9410 Alva Court.
And last summer, Mann started calling the Dallas Police Department to claim that he had been the victim of fraud.
Police records show that last June, he called to complain that Direct Energy was on the premises trying to cut off the electricity. Mann told officers that “an impersonator attempted to wrongfully disconnect power and close [his] account at his residence.” Then in August, he contacted an off-duty officer working for the Preston Hollow Patrol Association to complain that an “unknown suspect fraudulently got his U.S mail transferred to an unknown address in the City of Dallas.”
Mann also told the officer that someone was stealing his Social Security number, his retirement checks and other personal information in an “attempt to have his motor vehicles repossessed from his bank.”
Police said the August case is still open and being handled by the Dallas Police Department’s Financial Crimes Unit.