LAKEWOOD, Ohio – Jill and Leon Gefert love their Lakewood neighborhood, for quite some time they were renting a unit, waiting for the right home to come along.
Two years ago a home right next-door became available when its owner suddenly passed away. The Geferts watched the house change hands three times in less than six months. It remained vacant and sadly, started to fall victim to vandals.
Weeks later, the Geferts decided to buy the house, and save it from further disrepair. What they didn’t know was that the home they purchased was owned by Uri Gofman, 39, of Beachwood, and was part of a massive mortgage fraud scheme.
Gofman would later be arrested and plead guilty to using the Geferts’ house, and 42 other Cuyahoga County homes, to secure more than $44 million in bogus loans. Prosecutors report Gofman’s operation would cause the homes involved to sit idle and slip into disrepair.
Prosecutors said Gofman promised family and friends a profit for investing in his real estate business, Real Asset Fund. The whole scheme started with seed money in a bank account in Latvia.
According to the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office, Gofman had people purchase homes and claim there were improvements in order to refinance them. The houses would then be sold to under-qualified buyers. Prosecutors said Gofman defrauded lenders through loan bogus applications, down payment fraud and loan distribution fraud.
Prosecutors report Gofman is scheduled to be sentenced to 8.25 years in jail in February.
The Gerferts are pleased they have the opportunity to save a former Gofman home and make it their own.
“We didn’t want to live next door to this empty place for too long,” said Jill Gefert. “No one was taking care of this property so we decided to step in.”
The Geferts are now in the process of gutting the home, replacing the dry wall, electrical and plumbing systems.
Cuyahoga County Land Bank President Gus Frangos applauds the renovation effort being made by the Geferts. Forty-two other Gofman homes were seized by prosecutors and turned over to the land bank.
These vacant houses will now be moved toward renovation or demolition, relieving the stress these homes are causing to their neighborhoods.
The land bank acquires hundreds of vacant homes every year, and demolishes more than a dozen of these homes every week.
“Every single day we are evaluating how many of these homes will be demolished, how many are rehabs and how many are for economic development,” said Frangos. “The challenge is to have an entity such as this, that can strategically go into neighborhoods and manage the chaos.”
Frangos projects there are some 30,000 vacant northeast Ohio homes that are waiting to be demolished or renovated, with few dollars to get the job done.
Frangos agrees the growing number of vacant homes are causing health and safety issues, and continue to drive down property values throughout the region.
NewsChannel5 is committed to helping with the growing problems caused by vacant and abandoned homes with the launch of its Building Better Neighborhoods year long initiative.