Posted 10 months ago

True Story of How my First Real Estate Investment was a Scam

When I first made the decision to start investing in real estate, it was for the purpose of gaining financial freedom and helping my family live and have a better life.

I wanted to connect with local investors in the Chicago area, and I heard Wendell de Guzman speak as a guest on the Bigger Pockets podcast. I began to follow his blog on BP, signed up for his newsletters and also started to attend his meetups online and in person. I felt the information he was presenting provided great value. There was no hype, and he would always say "I am not a guru. I am here to do deals and partner with you to make money." It appeared through his blogs and his interview on BP that his goal was to provide value and gain partners in the community.

I reached out to Wendell, and although he never took me up the offer to meet in person, we were able to converse over the phone and email correspondence.

With all his experience, knowledge and value he was presenting I decided I wanted to partner with him. I thought this would be a great way to get started in real estate investing. I asked him if there was something we could work together on.

He said his partner in Cincinnati, Garrett Stevenson of Equity Max Network LLC, whom he has been working with since 2005, had a property that was a great deal and asked if I would be open to investing out of state with his partner.

He said, “I trust him with my life”.

Wendell proposed that I would purchase the property, Garrett would do the rehab, and after we had a renter I could refinance, and repeat. I was hesitant at first, I didn’t know of his partner Garrett Stevenson but I heard him on Wendell’s presentations, and he came across as very experiencee and knowledgeable.

It took me awhile to think about Wendell’s proposal. I was extremely scared, and my gut was churning over whether or not this was safe, or the right thing to do. At first I said no, that I was not comfortable with the deal. Wendell and Garrett both countered that this would be a great deal, and Wendell was offering to even lend me the money for it.

I made the decision to purchase the property, and I closed on December 5, 2015.

After that, my worst nightmare began.

At first, Garrett would update me with emails and texts as to the status of how things were going. The first couple of months went by, and I had no reason to be concerned.However, as time went on, something did not seem right. I started to get a bad feeling.

As the end of May approached, it had been six months since my purchase. The property was supposed to be completed, and we were looking for a renter. When I contacted Garrett he would respond that he had interest and we should be able to find a renter soon. Something was not right.

I began to fear for my initial investment, and started the refinance process. Garrett began to contact me asking for more time, that he still needed to get some things finished on the rehab, but I told him that I wanted it appraised and refinance out of the property.

The appraiser had difficulty with setting up an appointment with Garrett to see the property When the appraiser began trying to contact Garrett, he would let me know that Garrett was never responding or answering his phone, and he had been unable to reach him.

At that moment, in the pit of my stomach, I knew I was the victim of a scam.

I knew, but I didn’t want to believe it was happening. I kept playing my part in this sham “partnership”, trying to get updates on the “rehab project”. Garrett answered me by texting and emailing excuse after excuse. His daughter broke his leg, he lost his phone, his computer was broken, he was tied up in meetings.

Finally, the appraiser was able to access the property. He took pictures and sent the appraisal. The property would not appraise.I reviewed the appraisal and the pictures. The pictures said it all. It would not appraise because as the pictures showed, it was uninhabitable.

I contacted Wendell Guzman, who, you will recall, trusted Garrett with his life, to let him know everything that was going on, and I let both Garrett and Wendell know that I was done with the deal and wanted a buy out. They tried effortlessly to keep me in on the deal.

Wendell would say things like "This is not the Garrett I know. I will make this right."

I told him that I just wanted my money back, and that I was done with the partnership with Garrett. I asked Wendell to buy me out of the property, and he agreed. He stated that his company PCI, LLC would be the purchaser.

I felt some sense of relief that this would all finally be over. I was told that the buy out would happen within 60-90 days. I didn’t know why it would take that amount of time, but didn’t ask because for some reason I still trusted Wendell, or at least knew he was the only one who could get me out of this situation, that he had gotten me into.

90 days passed. Garrett told me he found a renter that had signed a contract to move in in July. He sent the contract to me to show me she had signed it, and the amount of the rent.Okay, I thought, at least I will be getting rent while we wait for the close date.

He sent me the purchase contract in September, but when I continued to email, call and text about when the close date would be he rarely responded or he would say “next Friday”.

4 more months passed, and every Friday we were supposed to close. I desperately sent Wendell continued emails, that were met with more and more lies or no responses at all.

Eventually I could not contact Wendell on the phone, nor Garrett.

After many days and sleepless nights spent shaking and crying, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands.

I made the decision that I was going to fly to Cincinnati to see the property myself.

I contacted Garrett and asked him to overnight me the key, because I would be flying in from Chicago to Cincinnati, to see the property this or next Friday. He gave me the contact number of the “renter”, “Kyara”, and told me to call her first.

He also told me that “Kyara’s” hours are long, so she might not get back to me right away.

I called and texted “Kyara” that I would be coming to inspect the property, and to call me back. I never heard from her until two days later. She texted me “are you coming?” I replied back “yes”.

The morning of my flight, I started receiving email andtext blasts from Garrett and Kyara at 6 AM. They were telling me the key they “overnighted” (that I had never received) wouldn’t work because she changed the locks, and that I needed to contact her because there were kids in the house. She added she was going to get me a key during her work break and mail it to me.

Meanwhile, Garrett was frantically texting me, “Can you cancel your flight?”

“She has kids on the house, the key won’t work”

And on and on, in a desperate attempt to try and get me not to see with my own eyes that in twelve months, there was no renter, and no work had been done on the property.

My responses to their messages were either brief or non-existent. I knew what was happening, and I had to make sure Garrett thought I was only threatening to come to the property, that I was bluffing.

I got on the plane that morning.Shaking, nervous, tears rolling down my face.

Fear, anger and every emotion and thought that you can imagine going through my mind. My kids, my husband, my family. How could I have let this happen?

I knew my entire “partnership” with Garrett was all lies.

I got off the plane, hopped into my rental car and drove through the city of Cincinnati to the property. I pulled up and saw that there was a red Ford in the driveway, with no license plates.

I didn’t want to knock on the door in case someone was home, so I waited for the locksmith I had set up an appointment with earlier in the week. I called him and he came in 30 minutes. I waited in the parking lot of a nearby Target, out of fear for my safety.

The locksmith met me at the property. He was a kind young man. He asked me if we needed to call the sheriff, because “he has seen a lot of things”. Jesus, I never even thought of that. I showed him proof of ownership and my id. He proceeded to open the lock, he opened the door.

When he opened it and I stepped in I asked him to give me a moment.

My first site was of an empty living room, a chaotic mess of dust and construction material. I began to cry for my expectations were confirmed. I was scammed.

I walked through the house crying, taking pictures. It was freezing as there was no heat.My body was trembling and my fingers were frozen. The doors and windows were covered with cheap drapes to hide that there was no one living there. The side door was boarded up.

I told the locksmith to go ahead and change the locks. He offered me a hug because of how distraught I was. I told him to never trust a single soul in his life.

Once the locks were changed and I paid the locksmith $300.00, I called a Cincinnati area realtor I had been in contact with to meet me at the property. He said he would be there.

I drove back to the Target parking lot, and completely broke down.

I bawled. Just kept bawling. Asking God why? Still hoping that I was in a nightmare and was soon going to wake up from it.

I drove back to the property, and met the realtor. I told him that if I started to cry not to be surprised and told him a quick synopsis of my story.

I just hoped that he wouldn’t run away and prayed that he could help me in some way.

I let him inside the house to show him around. He gave me an offer $15,000.

I looked at him, tears swelling in my eyes and said “I will take it, I want to be done, I need to move on.”

I handed over the keys, shook his hand and drove away with tears rolling down my face.

I drove back to the airport. My head was pounding from the day, the tears, not having gone to the bathroom or eaten anything in past 6 hours.

I received his contract shortly after, and signed it hoping and waiting for this all to be over.

I also contacted a lawyer in the Cincinnati area, who did a background search on Garrett Stevenson, the man Wendell Guzman had been working with for 11 years, that he trusted for his life.

The lawyer informed me that Garrett Stevenson had over 40 civil judgments against him.

The final day for the closing is tomorrow. December 21st. Four days before Christmas. I will have absorbed a loss of at least 42,000 after all that was spent trying to recoup the property.

Why am I writing this? Why am I sending this to you, or posting it everyone for all to see?

I want everyone to know what kind of people Wendell de Guzman and Garrett Stevenson are. I hope I can prevent a person from working with these individuals.

I take responsibility for not doing my due diligence on Garrett and Wendell. There are a lot of things looks back that I should have done, but all I can do now is learn from my mistakes and move forward.


Comments (39)

  1. No avatar

    @sylvia pomazak - This is truly heart wrenching, irrespective of the amount lost, the whole experience as you described, sounds very painful . 

    Even after all of this - the fact that, you came and posted shows your inner strength, you might cry, you might shake but you have tremendous inner strength as well .

    Is there no recourse legally for you ? That is the only way to stop these scammer gurus .

    I hope some one sees your experience and informs you of a great deal in your area - which you can vet and acquire - there are good people, but unfortunately 90% try to take advantage .

    whether you are in real estate or your day job, I wish you continued success and you rock


  2. No avatar

    Sylvia,

    Thank you so very much for your post. I have been tempted many times to buy out of state, to just get a deal already, to just be 'in the game,' and I know this is not the right way to do things. Still, I continue to be tempted.

    I did NOT know that scammers could and would show up on  Bigger Pockets. I know that is my naivete, but still, before your post, I didn't know it, and while I've been on this site for years, this is the first time I looked at this section.

    Thanks again, and if you do succeed in making a successful real estate investment, post that too, as I'd love to share in your success as well as your pain.

    Shoshana Shulman


  3. Tiny 1420519868 avatar robertl6

    wow what a horrible story. Kharma will catch up to them In sure of it but I can only offer my prayers and hope you press on with your dream!


  4. Tiny 1506702557 avatar denutter

    @Sylvia Pomazak - I am so sorry that you had to go through that.  I hate bullies and scammers!!!  I also wish I could have saved you a flight because I would have drove down there for you.  If you need anything in Cincinnati, lawyer referrals etc. I would be happy to help.  


  5. No avatar

    I am really sorry this has happened to you and don't lose faith in  all humanity we just have to be more careful with who we work with and get everything done legally for instances like these. Again really sorry for what you had to go through, but take this with you as experience and we appreciate you for sharing such a powerful and compelling story. 


  6. Tiny 1448387184 avatar mister4closure

    Listen, BP Nation,

    I too was scammed by Garrett Stevenson. I am not a scammer as Sylvia Pomazak portrays or others portray me to be. The allegations you read against me are all unproven in court. I can not wait to answer Sylvia Pomazak's complaint against me in court or in any investigative body so I can clear my name once and for all. Let the truth come out.

    To hear my side, go to

    https://dolinsksite.ru/forums/732/topics/403690-be-careful-who-you-invest-with-and-who-you-listen-to


    1. Tiny 1483399735 avatar elivan

      Hello Sylvia,

      I am sorry to hear about your real estate deal gone bad. Don't give up. You will recover the funds you lost in that deal in the future.  

      I had some real estate red flags classes/training that helps me to spot scammers and bad real estate deals.

      I am creating a document that will make any one that I do deals with legally accountable for any neglect, fraud ect  or any other thing that they may fail to do that they agreed to do.

      If they do their part they will get paid in full. If they do a half as job their pay will be cut. If they willfully cause me any losses then they will pay for the losses.

      Regards,

      el-Ivan Taylor


    2. Tiny 1483399735 avatar elivan
      Complaint Review: Wendell de Guzman

      http://ripoffreport.com/r/wendell-de-guzman/su...


  7. No avatar

    Thank you for sharing  this. I appreciate your courage. I am new to BP and and to be honest I didn't such scammers existed on the site.  A good eye opener

    Sorry you were scammed.


  8. Tiny 1448324013 avatar charmed wi

    I'm sorry to hear this happened to you.  I can't say anything about Wendell because I've never worked with him personally.  But in essence, I do the same things to help investors that your story was promising. 

    I find properties for out of state investors (mostly CA), help them get them rehabbed, then turn the property to a property manager for tenant placement and day-to-day operation.

    I think one important note is to work with someone who has references you can speak to.  Renovations should take no more than 2-3 months for a large scale renovation, and weeks or days for a smaller renovation.  Obviously, no one has x-ray vision, and sometimes problems come up that you don't see until you open walls and such.  But with transparency, and open communication, you just deal with them and move on.  With today's technology resources, there shouldn't be a reason you don't get pictures or video if you want.

    Anyone who scams someone like the way you said you were scammed should really be ashamed of themselves.


    1. Tiny 1426025158 avatar newbieli

      I was scammed by Wendell de Guzman as well.  See my post under Wendells reply to Sylvias post.


  9. Tiny 1484769386 avatar justint72

    Thanks for sharing your experience. That is such a hard thing to go through especially starting out. I myself have just started in this field and have already found some people who will do or say anything to get some money from you. I like how you said it is important to do your due diligence, even when it comes to partnerships. Once again thank you for sharing!


  10. Tiny 1450710271 avatar capnsaveahome

    I'm so sorry this happened to you. I would post this in the general forum and tag every state, especially the Midwest.  If others google'd Wendell, they would more than likely think he is a legit investor. He is also on Linkedin. I think we all should share this blog. 


  11. Tiny 1399592898 avatar gemni24

    Hi @Sylvia Pomazak, I have posted a comment on one of Wendell's post referring this post.

    https://dolinsksite.ru/forums/517/topics/401530-how-to-do-a-fix-n-flip-with-no-cash-out-flipping-for-newbies?page=1#p2529206


  12. Tiny 1484464198 avatar djf1

    What a terrible thing.  Thank you @Sylvia Pomazak for sharing this info with everyone at BP.  I hope action is taken against these jerks and that you are able to make up those losses on future deals.  Best of luck on your future endeavors.  


  13. Tiny 1484165430 avatar mikec212

    Wow, sorry to hear about your experience @Sylvia Pomazak. As a newbie, I've been listening to podcasts, and just listened to Wendell's this week. Thanks for having the courage to share- your story will help many to look deeper into deals.


  14. Tiny 1507992890 avatar jeanettea

    @Sylvia Pomazak

    I commend you for your courage!  I thought Wendell seemed like a pretty decent guy but I guess you never know.  Wolves sometimes come disguised as sheep.  If you can afford it go after them.  

    Good luck in any future endeavors and just an FYI I got scammed early on and it cost me 100k in attorney fees to recoup my money.  I moved on found a great business partner and have since recouped over 100k in profit.  Don't give up.


  15. Tiny 1423185102 avatar sylviap
    Thank you all for all your support. I can't tell you how much this means to me. I was so embarrassed and afraid to post this but this makes me believe that I did the right thing.

  16. Tiny 1423185102 avatar sylviap

    @Khaled Helmi Hmmm, I didn't think of that. I will look for that and see if I can post there. Yes, I told BP if they need any documentation to prove things I have it. I am also working with an attorney as well. We will see. 


  17. Tiny 1439921178 avatar sandspider

    Sylvia why don't you post something on his podcast page podcast 65? I think that would be a great way for people to find out (if everything is accurate about what you're saying about this guy) that he isn't for real and he is a scammer.

    If its all true and can be verified BP should suspend him from the site and note it on the podcast page. Also you would probably make for an interesting future podcast guest


  18. Tiny 1448386824 avatar shoreway

    Sylvia,

    I read your story and kept hoping the ending would get better. I have been in this business for over twenty years and keep hoping I will not here these stories again. As a Real Estate professional, I am sorry for your experience in this marketplace. I can tell you that there are far more good scenarios than yours. My business is in Ohio and if there is anything I can do for you, do not hesitate to ask. Best of luck in any future endevours.  


  19. Tiny 1482260590 avatar reneg10

    So sorry to hear this has happened to you!  An investors worst nightmare!   Thanks for sharing your story so others might not get in this kind of predicament.
    Best of luck moving forward!


  20. Tiny 1473749579 avatar vamshi

    @Sylvia Pomazak Very terrible experience. I felt sorry for you to have gone through a sour deal as your first experience and to have lost significant hard earned capital. Thanks for sharing your experience as it definitely serves as a warning for newbies like me. I hope and wish you recover form your losses and go on to make great gains in RE in the future. All the very best!!!


  21. Tiny 1461965382 avatar nkrohn

    Terrible story. Sorry for your loss. Your lessons will be passed on to many out of state investors.


  22. Tiny 1474378926 avatar rogerw18

    Sylvia thanks for sharing your story. I think a lot of us can learn from this. And I appreciate the fact that the Bigger Pockets people posted this, knowing that they may still receive criticism. But I more appreciate the fact that they were willing to put her story, it says a lot about their integrity.


  23. Tiny 1399431101 avatar jeffncal

    @Sylvia Pomazak I am so sorry that this happened to you.  I am impressed with your strength in writing about this very painful story.  This story should help many people take the extra steps in the due diligence process.  Cold cruel people like these, and Bernie Maddoff, made things more difficult for those of us trying to create a win win situation between investor and sponsor.

    I certainly hope that your get your money back and they both serve time in jail.  Good luck to you and thank you for unselfishly helping others out.


  24. Tiny 1399654891 avatar dennislanni

    That sucks...

    Send out a post on BP asking for an attorney to a file a lawsuit / get a judgment against Wendel for the damages (very basic lawsuit - breach of contract) -  you should serve the lawsuit yourself - make sure when you serve him it is in front of his wife & kid.  Tell the attorney you will give them 25% of the take.

    Crazy story

    I'm sorry that happened 


  25. No avatar

    Thank you for sharing you story. and sorry for getting scammed. I am new to the website an this is a good warning for me scammer are here too.


  26. Tiny 1448388916 avatar djbenedict

    @Sylvia Pomazak,

    So sorry to hear about your ordeal! Virtual hug coming your way.

    You'll have trouble trusting people for a while - I get that. When you're ready to let go of this, however, remember to vet your potential partners carefully.

    You will need a team - no one does this alone. Remember that trust is earned and should not be based on recommendations. Check people out, verify their claims. 

    Take the lesson forward and keep going!


  27. Tiny 1417778258 avatar sheilav

    Hello Sylvia, 

    So sorry to hear your story. Don't give up on your dreams, tho. Thanks for letting us know this horrible experience so others will not have fall for the same... So sorry..


  28. Tiny 1458337413 avatar barbarag5

    Yes, I know all about lessons learned.  I put a contract on a property I thought I was going to do a contract transition on (wholesale). I'm still looking for a buyer to date. I only had 60 days to close. Hasn't happened yet. I'm told that I didn't price the property well. Silly me, I was sure that I had a winner with $45K in equity. I heard from real estate agents only who were not able or willing to buy the contract from me for $10K. Well closing is supposed to be on Feb 15th and no buyers yet. Investors want at least a 70% purchase price of the retail value. The home is worth $439K and I contracted for $384.9K. This business is not easy. Lesson learned. On to the next.


    1. Tiny 1485636630 avatar siana

      Hi Barbara,

      Thanks for sharing. I wish you magnificent success on this challenge before you. I travel to Chicago for business a few times a year and am always enamored with the city. Would you like to follow each other? Cheers.


  29. Tiny 1473464661 avatar justine

    wow my heart goes out to you.  I have one partnership and working on another. Please don't lose faith in humanity just be aware.  Bi wish you the best of luck. Let this make you stronger. 

    Best of luck in future endeavors and its appreciated that you are calling out the scammers .


  30. No avatar

    Very unnerving. Did BP respond at all for hosting his webinars etc? I'm interested what sort of monitoring they do about this sort of thing. 


  31. Tiny 1481848045 avatar andrewkjohnson

    @Sylvia Pomazak One thing that I always tell people (if asked) is that you have to factor periodic visits to any out of state property into your pro-forma.  Even though I didn't co-invest, bought myself, etc. I still go out a couple of times a year to ensure things are running smoothly.  And that's after taking the initial flight out before even putting in an offer (ideally being able to walk the property with a contractor/inspector).  While I trust my property management company I also know that it's prudent to check in.  Unless you're dealing with a sizable property or portfolio it can be hard to justify $2K a trip (flights, hotel, rental car, food, etc.) but it's better than the alternative.  


  32. Tiny 1448396670 avatar moneyking

    @Sylvia Pomazak  Wow, what a painful story!  I read it and felt that same pit in my stomach I felt on a deal I was in a few years ago, but my deal ended with me getting all my money back.  I am the founder and leader of a real estate investing group in CA with over 850 members and I consult and project manage and help people buy and sell flips and rentals every day.  I always tell my group, "Never trust anyone ever!  Always assume when money is involved they only care about themselves!"  I have seen people scam other sso often that I don;t even trust people I have done deals with in the past.

    I know this is too late for you, but I am going to give some advice, just in case someone else reads this and wants help in not being scammed. I have some rules which have helped me a lot in my 27 years of doing this.  First, I never ever buy or invest in a property that is outside of my area.  My area is anywhere I can drive to within a hour or so. I must see the property, walk the property, get inspections on the property, before I will invest any money with no exceptions. I never buy out-of-state, and recommend that no one ever do this, unless they are highly experienced and know the people very well who they are doing business with. I hear many stories of people being scammed with out-of-state properties.  Many scammers will send you pics of a different property, so you don;t even know what your property looks like.  

    Yes, scammers do use bigger pockets and groups like mine to try and find newbies who have money and want to do their first deal.  I hope that eventually you are able to find people and deals in your area and do some investing. This is the greatest career in the world once you get good at it.  


    1. Tiny 1423185102 avatar sylviap

      thank you David. I just posted a blog for 10 ways to avoid a scam. I agree with you regarding don't trust anyone and and investing close by. 

      Thank you for reading. I just want other BP members to know that there are scammers even on this platform and if I can prevent even one person from becoming the next victim It's worth it. 


      1. Tiny 1485636630 avatar siana

        Nothing short of a frigging nightmare. I actually had to control my breathing as I neared the end.

        An incredibly cautionary tale that I have instantly benefited from in wisdom.

        Thank you, and may you profit 10x from this debacle.

        Cheers.


    2. Tiny 1485636630 avatar siana

      Hi David,

      Appreciate the tough love you're dishing out here. I wonder if your opinion on out-of-state investing would differ for someone who travels to that particular state -a 4 hour drive away- twice a month anyway, and can put eyes & ears on the ground as needed?

      Thanks in advance for your insight.