Tales from the Darkside – Episode 2
In the first episode of Tales from the Darkside, I shared an experience I had back in the late 1970's. This story continues into darker places.
Maybe I was just a naive rookie?
Being a young agent five years into the business, an offer was delivered to me by a man claiming to be a real estate broker. Over the phone in our initial conversation, he gave me his name as "Mr. Kelley," but upon meeting him personally, he claimed his name to be "Mr. Burke."
It was very odd, but after he exited my office, I was left to dissect the terms of the fully typed out (on an ancient device we called a “typewriter) and properly executed offer.
Everything appeared on the up-and-up with the offer written near the full price and a reasonably short period to close. However, it was the clause relating to whom the brokerage fee was to be paid that I found very odd: no broker name, no company name … just an address to where the check was to be sent.
It wasn't long before I reported my experience to my broker, Charles "Rick" Wolfe. I made him a copy of the offer (yes, back then boys and girls, we called them "Xerox" machines).
When I shared the part about the odd circumstance of the other real estate broker seemingly using two different names, we both agreed that something was very fishy.
Even though the issue of agency seemed to be questionable, the offer otherwise appeared to be made by a legitimate purchaser; so I was instructed to proceed and present to the seller.
While my client "Mr. Sugar" considered the agency matter something for the brokers to work out, he was thrilled with the price and happy to seal the deal. That said, he did make a couple of very minor changes that required initials from the purchaser.
Calling in Scotland Yard!
Now, at the time Rick Wolfe happened to be the chairman of the Maryland Real Estate Commission, and asked me if I was up for some undercover work. "Oh, what the heck … sure, why not," I said.
I pulled out the 1970's version of a search engine (the Prince George’s County Yellow Pages) to look for all the Burke's and Kelley's in the real estate business. On Rick's end all it took was to call the administrator at the commission to find a rap sheet on a Mr. Kelley, who actually met the physical description of Mr. Burke!
Seems that several years prior, a man by the same name had his real estate license revoked. He had been convicted of absconding over $25,000 of purchaser real estate deposits from his escrow account. While he had not refunded the absconded funds, Kelley served a short time in the slammer and was now back breathing the air of freedom again without a real estate license.
So all leads pointed to "Mr. Burke" and "Mr. Kelley" being one in the same.
But my visitor did leave me with a business card with Burke's name and phone number on it!
Sorry, wrong number!
Time for a bit more sleuthing on my part! I placed a call to the phone number on the business card "Mr. Burke" had handed me and asked for … Mr. Kelley.
"I'm sorry no one by that name works here," was the response from the receptionist.
"My apologies," I said. "Is Mr. Burke in by any chance?"
"Sure, let me transfer you now," the friendly voice responded.
Within a few seconds I heard a very deep gravelly voice on the other end of the phone: "This is Mr. Burke, how can I help you?"
Not necessarily surprised, this was obviously not the same voice of the gentleman I had met with a day earlier in my office.
"Hi, Mr. Burke, this is Rocky Mackintosh. Very nice to speak with you again," I said confidently. "I thought I'd follow up with you regarding the contract proposal for a farm purchase that you delivered to me in my office in Frederick yesterday."
"Ahhhh … I'm sorry, let me get your number," he responded with a touch of confusion in his voice. "I'm going to have to call you back, good-bye."
Good to hear your "voice" again!
The next day, "Mr. Burke" did call me back. Amazingly, the gravelly tone I heard the day before was one again that of a soft spoken man.
Was I surprised?
I informed him that the proposal that he presented to me had been accepted, but there were a few initials that we needed from the purchaser on a couple of minor changes. I explained the specifics and he did not believe that there would be a problem.
Just for the heck of it, before I hung up, I asked him if there was another number for him that I could call. "Oh, sure," he responded. "Call me on my home phone …"
So, here's where the shadows of the undercover operation began to darken!
After hearing my experience with the man (or men?) of multiple voices, Rick and the investigative team at the Real Estate Commission were now pretty confident that the person I had met was in fact the same Mr. Kelley who had been convicted of escrow theft.
Commissioner Wolfe asked me if I was up to play a role in a sting operation to catch Kelley in the act of "acting" as a licensed real estate agent in the state of Maryland.
"Well … okay … ahhhh … sure, why not!?!?" I responded with a hint of hesitation.
Go deeper … really?
Sorry, wrong number ... Again?
Rick wanted me to set a meeting at his Gaithersburg office; so I called "Burke" at his home number this time.
An elderly lady answered, and I asked if he was in.
"I'm sorry, but you must have the wrong number …" she said.
"My mistake, I meant to ask for Mr. Kelley," I replied.
"Oh, yes, that's my son," she proudly responded. "He's out back, let me get him for you."
This guy can't be that stupid, I thought.
When he came on the line and said, "Hell-o," I responded quickly with:"Mr. Burke, it's Rocky again, let's schedule a time to meet …"
"Playing the role" ... of the Stinger!
It was at 1 P.M. the next afternoon in the glass-enclosed conference room of Wolfe's office, where I sat at the highly visible table and awaited the arrival of the man who liked using the name of another.
No less than five undercover Maryland State Troopers were lingering in and around the office that day … armed and ready to catch Mr. Kelley in the act of brokering.
It took only a matter of moments after Kelley sat down with me to review the changes in the contract before he was swarmed by the cops, handcuffed and thrown in the caged back seat of an unmarked car.
It was a thrilling experience, to say the least, to have played a part in nailing a bad guy.
But, while this chapter was thrilling, the next role I was asked to play was that of witness against this guy (and others) in court … and the incidents that took place up to that day were downright scary!
You won't want to miss the final ... and by far the darkest episode of the darker side of this tale:
"Is there a gun under his jacket," I wondered ... "This really can not be happening ... but it is!"
Mr. Mackintosh is president of MacRo, Ltd., a Land and Commercial Real Estate firm based in Frederick, Maryland. He also writes for his blog MacRo Report.