Sunday, July 6, 2008

Mark Lepzinski

Mark Lepzinski, Investor/Flipper/Flopper/Jackass
It took all sorts of people to blow the bubble up to its fullest potential. Here's a "victim" of that blowing.

2007-08-18: A familiar name pops up in a real estate deal
At the peak of the Tampa Bay area's housing boom, Mark Lepzinski urged fellow real estate investors to "Buy, Buy, Buy."

Lepzinski's own investments, though, didn't fare too well. By July, the former Merrill Lynch financial adviser and his wife had nine properties in foreclosure proceedings and were about to default on a big balloon mortgage.

Yet even as home sales plunged and lending standards tightened,
the Lepzinskis managed to find a buyer for one of their properties: an 82-year-old man whose son worked with felon loan officer Victor Clavizzao.

As for Lepzinski, the July 23 transaction was the latest in a series of houses he has sold in the past year to people connected to Clavizzao.

Asked if he wanted to comment, the 49-year-old Lepzinski said: "Why would I?"

2008-07-06: Market leaves housing flippers flopping
After 36 whirlwind months buying and selling dozens of homes throughout the Tampa Bay area, Lepzinski, 50, declared bankruptcy this year. Debts: $1.55-million.

But, as Lepzinski puts it, "when you fall off the horse, you get back up.'' He's still pitching property and urging others to invest in real estate. And as a former employee of Merrill Lynch, he's also touting his experience as a "private financial adviser.''

Would anyone want advice from a person who lost several houses to foreclosure and ended up in bankruptcy court?

One of his earliest deals showed the addictive appeal of "flipping'' that lured thousands of investors and speculators into Florida's then-torrid real estate market. In June 2004, Lepzinski bought a duplex in Madeira Beach for about $153,000. Less than three months later, he sold it for $409,900.
(Bubble? What bubble?)

"If you had a lot of homes, they went down in value,'' Lepzinski says. "I wish I didn't have that many houses before the fall.''

'I'm the victim'

On Feb, 23, the Lepzinskis filed a Chapter 7 liquidation bankruptcy. Their petition listed nine properties on which the lenders had foreclosed, repossessed or taken the deed in lieu of foreclosure.

Contrary to the image Lepzinski cultivated of successful real estate investor, his petition showed no income for 2007 and negative income of $151,577 in 2006. Even at the peak of the boom in 2005, his income was minus $218,320.

In all, the Lepzinskis owed $1,547,705, including nearly $190,000 in credit card debt to American Express, Target, Home Depot and others. Among their individual creditors was a neighbor who had loaned them $97,800.

"You make me out to be evil and I'm the victim — am I not the one who went into bankruptcy?'' Lepzinski asks a reporter.

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