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Mobtown Beat

Shells Hocked

Group of friends, brothers, lovers, and alleged step-relatives who sold each other homes appears to have fallen on hard times

Frank Klein
Real-estate investor Ken Koehler, as seen in a 2008 photograph, is now dealing with four foreclosures.

By Edward Ericson Jr. | Posted 1/13/2010

Correction: City Paper originally incorrectly reported that the former mortgage broker Joshua S. Goldberg had purchased a second Baltimore home in the name of Elizabeth Goldberg on Glenmore Avenue. The Glenmore Avenue Joshua Goldberg is not the same person as the mortgage broker by that name. City Paper regrets the error.

Ken Koehler's first foreclosure was officially filed on Oct. 5. It was a bit more than a year after the real-estate investor sat in his living room telling a reporter about the history of his Fells Prospect neighborhood and the likelihood--very high, he maintained--of a house-price rebound. Four of Koehler's houses are now in foreclosure, including the one next door to the lavishly appointed three-story Victorian rowhouse he calls home. Court records say Koehler owes $405,731 on 2217 Gough St. The house has been up for short sale for years. Currently it is priced at $249,000, and appears to be under contract.

The foreclosure of 2217 Gough is just one apparent consequence of a series of questionable deals Koehler and his life partner, Ken Wallace, did with his mortgage broker, his mortgage broker's live-in boyfriend, an unlicensed design contractor, and two brothers, all of whom lived and worked within a few blocks of the corner of Gough and Madeira streets. When City Paper examined these transactions in the fall of 2008, 11 foreclosures were already pending or completed ("Shell Game," Feature, Oct. 1, 2008).

An analysis of land records estimates that Koehler's group has cost lenders more than $1 million so far, and more foreclosures are in the pipeline.

Including Koehler's, eight more foreclosures within that group of people have commenced since October 2008, including one on a three-story rowhouse the mortgage broker, Joshua Stephen Goldberg, bought three weeks after City Paper's story was published. Several homes that were resold after their foreclosures have fetched a fraction of the money borrowed against them. Others, like 2217 Gough St., were listed for hundreds of thousands less than what is owed on them. Several remain on the balance sheets of the government-sponsored mortgage giants that backed the bad loans, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which taxpayers bailed out in 2008 with about $400 billion.

In 2008, Koehler appeared to have made a profit of more than $700,000 by selling houses for multiples of their actual value. He bought a restaurant from brothers George and Emmanuel Agelakis, who had overpaid him for several houses. But that restaurant, the Park Avenue Grill, was shuttered just a few weeks after opening. In court, the restaurant's creditors claim they're owed more than $73,000.

Koehler, who insisted in 2008 that there was no connection between his restaurant and real-estate deals, declined to discuss the apparent reversal of his financial fortune. "You have some nerve," he said. "Don't ever call me again."

Neither would the other participants in the deals talk to a reporter. "Joshua Goldberg returning your call," said the mortgage broker who arranged the loans, on Dec. 4. "Please don't call me any more. You have a good day."

Janet Praid, a neighborhood activist who lost three homes to foreclosure and declared bankruptcy to avoid a debt to a builder, did not return several phone calls requesting comment.

But public records, including multiple lawsuits filed since 2008, provide information about the doings of this tight-knit (in several transactions, buyers claimed to be step-relatives of sellers) group of former neighbors. Along with many other players in the real-estate bubble, Koehler's go-go Gough Street associates appear to have had a difficult 2009.

Praid is again facing foreclosure on her South Madeira Street home and the backyard deck she called her "oasis." Court filings dated Sept. 24, 2009, say she owes more than $323,000 on the house. Praid lost a civil lawsuit filed by a Towson woman who claimed Praid took $15,300 up front for a bathroom-remodeling job last fall, despite being allegedly unlicensed to do the work. In July, Baltimore County prosecutors charged Praid criminally with contracting without a license and failing to perform a contract. She received probation before judgment in the case and a $100 fine, the payment of which is marked "deferred."

George Agelakis, a salon owner who borrowed about $1 million to purchase four houses from Koehler and Wallace after receiving another house for free from Goldberg's life partner, Bayardo Alvarez, lost all five of the houses to foreclosure. Since then, he was charged with assault twice (the cases were dropped) and faces money judgments and lawsuits claiming more than $100,000 unrelated to the residential properties. He closed his Fleet Street salon, Caesar's Forum, and opened a new place across the street, Salon by Julian. Reached there by phone, he declined to speak to a reporter.

George's brother, Emmanuel Agelakis is facing two foreclosures, one on a home he bought from Koehler and the other one on a house he bought from Koehler's partner, Wallace. In October 2008, Howard County prosecutors issued a warrant for Emmanuel Agelakis' arrest on bad-check charges. His wife has filed for divorce, and served the papers to an address in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Goldberg moved with Alvarez to a house at 2818 Guilford Ave. in Charles Village. The couple opened a company there called the Floral Contempo which, according to online tax records, is not registered as a corporation in Maryland. Land records show that Goldberg bought the building on Oct. 20, 2008, for about $374,000, borrowing about $363,000 through Crescent Mortgage Co. of Atlanta. Goldberg listed the building as his principal residence just as the couple's former home, a few doors east of Koehler's at 2225 Gough, fell into foreclosure. Court records indicate Alvarez, the owner of record, owed $433,000 on that property. It has sold in a short sale for $175,000, "pending release," according to a real-estate web site.

A foreclosure notice on the Guilford Avenue property was filed on Nov. 18.

Skyline Title, the Glen Burnie-based title company that processed many of the defaulted transactions and, in many cases, did not record them as public records until months after they closed, is still in business. But an answering machine there identifies it as "Simply Title." That company was incorporated in September, listing Skyline's business address. Aura Munoz, both companies' registered agent, did not return a call from City Paper.

Fallout from bad loans made during the bubble has reverberated across the country.

The company that backed many of the loans that Goldberg brokered on Koehler's, Alvarez's and Praid's properties, Taylor Bean and Whitaker of Florida, cratered spectacularly in August 2009 amid a federal criminal investigation. Taylor Bean's collapse pulled down a $25 billion bank, Colonial Bank. ("Taylor Bean, TARP, the FDIC, and You," Crash Course, Aug. 5; "Update: Colonial BancGroup, Taylor Bean and Freddie Mac . . ." Crash Course, Aug. 10; "Taylor Bean Told to Cease and Desist . . ." Crash Course, Aug. 25). Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored mortgage buyer that was the final resting place for many of Taylor Bean's toxic loans, has announced that losses from Taylor Bean's toxic loan portfolio "could be significant."

On Sept. 18, 2008, 307 Baylis St., against which Alvarez had borrowed more than $150,000 from Freddie Mac, sold for $40,000 to a Towson investor.

On the afternoon of Aug. 14, 2008, Kenneth Koehler turned philosophical, recounting the story of Elizabeth Patterson Bonaparte, who married Napoleon's brother Jérôme but could never gain the French emperor's approval.

Napoleon broke them up, leaving Patterson and their young son to her Baltimore estate--the land that now comprises Patterson Park and the neighborhoods surrounding it. Koehler, seated in his parlor amid his grand piano and Queen Anne furniture, under an ornate chandelier, three stories below the rooftop deck with a six-seat hot tub, explained Betsy's tragedy in terms of hubris.

"She envisioned herself as aristocracy when in fact she was just an American," Koehler said. "She wasn't a blue blood, she just thought she was."

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