By Kelly Just, Special Projects Executive Producer - email
KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -
Empty homes, created by the housing crisis, have led to new opportunities for some to make a quick buck.
An undercover investigation by KCTV5 exposed a scheme in which a Northland home inspector did more than examine vacant houses and take inventory; he advertised the contents online as his own personal belongings.
In late spring, Jackson County resident Crystal Gamble logged onto Craigslist in search of a gas stove. It didn't take her long to spot a classified ad offering one for the right price: $200.
"It was nice and clean," Gamble said.
Gamble responded to the listing. The seller gave her an Independence address where they could meet to look at the stove. When Gamble pulled up to the house, the "for sale" sign in the yard caught her off guard.
"And that's why I thought it was the wrong address," Gamble said. "Because, like I said, it's empty and there is a Realtor's sign. So I still was like, OK, maybe they are selling and moving. You know a lot of people are doing that."
When the Craigslist seller failed to show up and couldn't be reached by phone, Gamble decided to dial the number listed on that for sale sign. Realtor Angela Kunzler answered, confused as to why someone was calling to buy her client's stove and not the house.
"She was wanting my seller's number to buy appliances, not my house," Kunzler said. "It took the words out of my mouth."
The women didn't have to wait long to get more answers. The Craigslist seller emailed Gamble to apologize for the missed meeting and set up a second appointment. Gamble invited Kunzler to join her.
Before the women arrived, a confused neighbor shot video of an unfamiliar man, taking tools out of the trunk of his car and trying several keys before letting himself in the back door. Caught on camera is Garridan Baldomino, the man behind the Craigslist postings.
The neighbor who shot the video called the Independence Police Department about a possible residential burglary. While the department redacted a large portion of the official report, you can read that Baldomino told the officers he was authorized to remove items out of the foreclosed house before a disposal company came in to clean the residence.
But that house was not in foreclosure. Kunzler says she tried to tell police Baldomino's story was full of holes.
"The guy kept lying and saying he had a right to be there," Kunzler said.
Officers did not believe Kunzler and let Baldomino go.
As for the key that let him inside that home, Baldomino had been hired by ABC Mortgage Services one week earlier to complete a one-day physical inspection of the property. While police were unwilling to do anything about his later presence inside the house, the company terminated his services.
In a letter, ABC writes that "…at no time were you ever given permission ... to disconnect appliances, remove appliances, or take possession of any personal property ... doing so without a specific work order is theft."
KCTV5 investigative reporter Eric Chaloux caught up with Baldomino to ask about that termination.
"Look at this letter from ABC Mortgage," Chaloux said while holding out the document. "It says throughout your discussions you admitted to taking pictures and put them on Craigslist."
"Right," Baldomino said.
"But that didn't belong to you," Chaloux said. "They fired you right after this Garridan. They feel it's theft."
"It's not," he insisted.
That termination letter did not deter Baldomino from selling items on Craigslist. KCTV5 discovered several other ads, posted in the past few months, all matching his phone number.
Just minutes before the confrontation with KCTV5, he was planning to close another deal. The potential buyer was an undercover television producer, who had been exchanging texts with Baldomino about a ping pong table he had listed.
Baldomino agreed to meet the KCTV5 producer at a home on Weatherby Lake. Neighbors say the homeowner had fallen on hard times and moved out. The two were discussing the size of the table when Chaloux appeared.
"Is this your house?" Chaloux asked.
"No," Baldomino replied.
"And you are selling stuff out of here?" Chaloux asked.
Despite KCTV5 setting up the appointment, Baldomino denied he was there to sell anything.
"Have you done this to other people selling stuff on Craigslist?"
"No, No," Baldomino said. "This is something totally different."
"We've found a lot of other postings on Craigslist from you," Chaloux said.
"It all matches up to your phone number."
"Are you doing this to other people?"
"What kind of business man are you?"
Baldomino drove off but later called the KCTV5 News producer to discuss what had happened. The producer offered to call whomoever had hired Baldomino to confirm he had permission to sell items out of the home on Weatherby Lake. Baldomino refused to provide that information.
Copyright 2012 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
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