On a sunny August afternoon in 2002, Tina Smith walked her disabled patientinto a sleek suburban real estate title company office.
David Shank recalls his nurse whispering last minute instructions in hisear:
"Just make sure you look like you understand everything you're reading, andsign."
Moments later, a mortgage broker with a dollar sign tattooed on his righthand walked in. As instructed, Shank penned his neat signature on a flurry ofpaperwork that afternoon, including a fraudulent $94,000 home loan thatultimately cost him the sturdy brick bungalow on the West Side that his parentshad left him.
An easygoing 46-year-old with limpid blue eyes and a gentle voice, Shank hadchronic leg ulcers that limited his mobility and learning disabilities thatrendered him "totally incapable of making financial decisions," according to onepsychiatrist's report.
The mortgage broker walked away with a $65,000 check--money he disbursed tocompanies Shank never heard of for debts he didn't have.
Shank was given a check for $23,000. He said nurse Smith convinced him tocash it at a currency exchange. She used some of that money to take Shank andher boyfriend on a four-day Caribbean cruise, then vanished.
Six months later, when the fraudulent loan went unpaid, Shank's home wastaken in court by the mortgage company that extended the loan. Shank was movedinto a group apartment with other disabled adults.
"I thought I had people I could trust, but no," Shank said.
Stories like Shank's are crowding court dockets as a surge of mortgagefraud sweeps Chicago and the nation, fueled by the new and dangerous marriage ofidentity theft and easy home loans.
The Tribune's account of Shank's case is drawn from interviews and thousandsof pages of court depositions and records.
Like most mortgage fraud, Shank's ordeal involves confusing legal terms,reams of documents and financial sleights of hand. Stripped to its core, though,what happened to Shank in that brightly lit office is the story of four peopleinvolved in a brazen, face-to-face scam.
Tattooed mortgage broker Edwin Evans, 39, a powerfully built ex-convict in asuit and tie, allegedly orchestrated the scheme.
Evans' right-hand man, identity thief Christopher Scott, helped fill outphony documents. "We as black people are just catching up with mortgage fraud,"Scott said in an interview. "White people been doing it for years."
The nurse, Smith, provided the bridge between Evans and his new client.
And there was Shank, surrounded by home loan professionals days after hismother died.
Edwin Evans spent seven years in Illinois prisons for violently raping a14-year-old girl, then four more for hijacking a delivery truck at gunpoint.Paroled in 1999, Evans went into the mortgage business.
There, he prospered.
Six feet tall, with watchful, unflinching eyes, Evans soon ran companiesthat offered financial advice, prepared loans for homeowners and invested inproperty sprinkled through the South Side and suburbs.
Amid Chicago's red-hot real estate market, as low interest rates and risingproperty values touched off a flurry of mortgage refinancing, the home loanmaker trolled his boyhood streets in a Lexus LX 470 SUV and a pinstriped suit.
His aliases include George L. Brown, Willie J. Cannon, Albert A. Dawson andAnthony Wilson, police records show.
Born Edwin George Evans, he was raised in a modest wood-frame house inChicago's Morgan Park neighborhood.
"Edwin grew up in a safe, middle-class community," his mother, Mae Evans,wrote in a 1990s letter to a judge. "He played Little League baseball. He wasalso captain of his bowling team."
Real estate deals ran in the family. His mother, who also used the name MayMorris, held state licenses as a real estate broker and salesperson starting inthe 1970s. Both licenses were revoked in the 1990s after state regulatorsdetermined that she improperly handled client accounts. Despite thoserevocations, she won state approval as a loan originator last year, representingthe family's E&I Funding Corp.
Mae Evans, who sometimes has presented herself as a financial consultant,has declared bankruptcy five times since 1986, court records show. She declinedto comment.
"We don't talk about our business," she told a Tribune reporter.
Court records offer a harsher portrait of Edwin Evans' early years,depicting a teenage burglar who preyed on his South Side neighbors. A string ofjuvenile detentions led to adult felony convictions in the 1990s.
Even while drifting in and out of prison, Evans sharpened his real estateskills. In three instances, when Evans apparently was in prison, South Sidehomeowners purportedly gave him their property for nothing. Those land recordsare riddled with conflicting statements that raise questions about the legalityof Evans' deals. The Tribune could not locate the original homeowners.
A month after he was paroled in 1999, Evans began signing records aspresident of another family-owned firm, Evans & Hall Realty Investment Corp.
While running the family firms, Evans was hired in 2001 by the rapidlygrowing Greater Investment Mortgage Corp., a south suburban company thatarranges loans for homeowners.
Greater Investment CEO Nasir Muhammad told the Tribune he knew little aboutEvans' past. "Had I known he was a rapist, I wouldn't have hired him," Muhammadsaid.
Greater Investment was riding the boom of mortgage lending in Chicago'slow-income and minority communities. The firm grew tenfold in its first threeyears, court records show.
With success came controversy: In three civil lawsuits besides thoseinvolving Evans, Greater Investment was accused of mortgage fraud, charges thecompany denies.
Muhammad, who sometimes goes by his birth name, Corian Echols, promotedEvans to branch manager of Greater Investment's nine-person Matteson office in2002.
"I had no problems with him," Muhammad said, "until the Shank loan."
The right-hand man
"Cool Chris" Scott is a 26-year-old identity thief with an impish smile andclose-cropped hair.
Scott this summer completed an 18-month federal prison sentence for twocredit card fraud convictions, and he twice has been convicted of felony weaponscharges.
He said he met Evans at a party where they discussed their luxury cars.
"Money know money," Scott said in an interview. "I was playing checks andcredit cards. I was dabbling in real estate, but I didn't trust nobody. I wantedto learn, but wouldn't nobody teach me. Edwin taught me well."
In a court deposition for the Shank lawsuit, Evans denied meeting Scottuntil about a year after the Shank loan.
Records show Scott in 2001 incorporated a Harvey beauty salon named Kendra'sSudden Change, after his wife. It served as his cover as he learned to stealcredit information. Some of the money went to buy high-speed motorcycles.
Scott said he supplied Evans with stolen identities after swiping patientfiles from a medical office where he worked briefly. Scott said Evans sorted thepaperwork into "a lady pile, a man pile and a senior citizen pile."
In return for the data-rich records, Scott said, Evans gave him about $3,000and let him stay in a south suburban home and use a Mercedes Benz S430 luxurysedan.
At Evans' invitation, Scott said, he began hanging out at mortgage closings"every chance I could get. We was like conjoined twins. He'd talk, I'd listen."
Scott recited his mentor's simple precepts:
People always need two things: food and a place to live.
A chameleon can adapt to any situation at any time.
Make sure your wife is happy. Keep her credit straight.
Evans interacted with his cohorts one at a time, limiting their knowledge ofeach other, Scott said. "Edwin taught me never to let the people meet. Stay themiddle guy and bring the money home," Scott said.
Scott said he never met Shank and added, "I never got paid for that [deal]."
But Scott's signature is on the Shank loan and at least two other land dealsinvolving Evans.
The two had a falling out in 2002, Scott said, after authorities lockedScott up for fraud and Evans didn't pay his bail.
"I thought he was a god, but he left me here hanging," Scott said in aprison interview earlier this year. He pointed to a reporter's notepad anddictated his next statement: "How could you leave your right-hand man out in thecold? Would you leave your right-hand man for $25,000? My bond was $25,000. Hepretended like he didn't know me.
"I was furious at him when I came in here. I don't understand how I'm theonly one here."
In the second-story group apartment where he now lives, David Shank'sbedroom is lined with World Book encyclopedias, stuffed animals and autographedbaseballs in clear plastic holders.
Shank said that with his father's guidance, he got those autographs from theplayers himself, not from a souvenir store. "They're not bought. Just hand 'emthe baseball," he said.
On one wall, a framed image of Wrigley Field's infield features favoriteball cards. "That's my Cubs dream team," Shank said.
Another pastiche of snapshots shows the stray cats he adopted. Stormy,Rusty, Annie, Shadow and Ty "all had different personalities," Shank said. Bythe bed are his TV and a tiny plastic Christmas tree. Above hangs a hand-tintedAir Force photo of his father, Robert, a World War II gunner who became aconstruction foreman.
Shank's mother, Donna, had been a Steinmetz High School teacher's aide forstudents with mental disabilities like her only child's, records show.
Shank's father died at age 76 in 2001. A few months later, his mother had aseries of heart attacks that left her in a wheelchair and difficult tounderstand. Shank was hospitalized for several weeks with leg ulcers--swellingtissue and sores tied to poor blood circulation. He and his mother beganrelying heavily on nurse Smith.
"Tina, she surprised me," Shank said.
Standing 5 feet 7 inches tall with expressive brown eyes, Smith, now 38, wasa nursing assistant and "homemaker/companion" who passed criminal backgroundchecks at a series of temporary nursing agencies and hospitals.
A reporter's recent attempts to find her through family members and previoushome addresses in Illinois, Michigan and California were unsuccessful. Processservers in a civil lawsuit also were unable to locate her.
In May or June 2002, at the invitation of Smith, Shank's disabled mother wasvisited by Yolanda Spearman, a polite and businesslike loan broker who workedfor Evans at Greater Investment.
On the side, Spearman also ran her own financial consulting firms, whichweren't registered or incorporated. Spearman declared bankruptcy five timessince 1993, court records show.
She was not charged with any crime in the Shank deal. She denied wrongdoingin a civil lawsuit and could not be reached for comment.
At Greater Investment, Spearman had been preparing a mortgage application toborrow $94,000 against the Shank home before July 14, 2002, when Donna Shankdied.
The day after she died, Spearman created a new application for David Shank.
Six weeks later, on that August afternoon in 2002, the lives of Evans andShank intersected in a bland-looking title company office. Shank thought he wasbeing offered an easy way to get cash to pay some bills.
Even though inheritance laws made Shank the sole owner of his home, Spearmanand another Greater Investment loan officer prepared a phony deed transferringthe bungalow to him, according to court records.
The official-looking deed, supposedly signed by both of Shank's parents, wascreated two days after Shank's mother died but dated a year earlier. It helpedspeed along the mortgage.
Greater Investment prepared a mortgage application in Shank's name. Thepackage was a crazy quilt of obvious contradictions.
The application said Shank had managed Scott's beauty salon since 1999, eventhough the salon wasn't incorporated until 2001. Shank's purported pay stub forAugust was issued in July.
Shank, supposedly earning $43,000 a year as manager, had no idea the salonexisted. But when a lending company called Kendra's Sudden Change to verifyShank's work history, Scott was there to confirm the bogus information.
Other real estate professionals played cameo roles in the scheme. At theAugust 2002 loan signing, a title insurance company employee known as an escrowcloser notarized the forged signature of Shank's father, asserting that theWorld War II veteran appeared in the office that afternoon, more than a yearafter his death.
Shank's loan application said he owed tens of thousands of dollars tocompanies run by Evans and Spearman, even though commercially available creditreports showed Shank had no creditors. The listing of those questionable debtswould help Evans access the mortgage proceeds.
Based on Greater Investment's application, Aegis Mortgage Co. of Louisianaadvanced a $94,000 loan.
After the papers were signed, a bouquet of checks was cut.
One $65,000 check was made payable to the Evans & Hall firm as a "creditor,"for "services rendered."
Evans took that $65,000 check and gave his subordinate Spearman two checksfor $20,000 each, court records show. One was made out to her personally, andthe other to her unregistered financial consulting company, ABC Credit. In alater court deposition, Spearman said she used the money to pay Shank familydebts, although she could provide no evidence she did so.
In addition to the $40,000 that went to Spearman, Evans claimed a $10,000fee for purportedly offering Shank investment advice. Evans said in a laterdeposition that he gave the remaining $15,000 to Shank, although he couldproduce no receipts or records verifying this.
"David was fine with it," Evans testified. "David told me what to do withthe money. I did exactly what he asked me to do. That was my relationship withDavid Shank."
After Evans took $65,000, and $6,000 went toward closing costs, Shank wasleft with a $23,000 check. He and Smith cashed it at a currency exchange. ThoughShank remains confused about what happened to the cash, the public guardianalleges that Smith absconded with it.
Shank said his nurse told him she won a Caribbean travel package in acontest. Whenever any expense came up, "Tina took care of it," he said.
In a quiet voice, Shank added: "She was using my money."
The deal unravels
When the $94,000 loan went unpaid, the Louisiana lending company filedcourt papers to take Shank's house. Shank had no clue about the financial chaoslooming over him until 2003, when he showed legal papers to a cousin. She calledauthorities.
The Cook County public guardian's office waged an 18-month-long civillawsuit that forced Evans to pay back the $65,000 that he and his Evans & HallRealty Investment Corp. took.
But that made up only part of the mortgage. Shank couldn't pay the rest. Andthough he had been duped, his signature was on the paperwork. His home was soldto repay the loan company.
Under an arrangement crafted by the court and the public guardian, Shank wasmoved into the group apartment with other disabled wards and a full-time homecare worker. After the mortgage company was paid in full, the remaining homesale proceeds were placed in a court-supervised trust fund to supplement Shank'sprimary income from public aid benefits.
Last year, state regulators declared the 2002 mortgage "fraudulent," levyinga $10,000 fine against Greater Investment, Evans' employer.
But Evans was not charged with any crime or disciplined by regulators. Hemoved on to other firms to execute other disputed deals. In civil suits andother records, five more homeowners have accused Evans and his companies offraud.
In court cases, Evans denied wrongdoing, and he declined a Tribune interviewrequest. "I don't want to talk to you," he told a reporter.
Under a new state law, Evans' criminal record might disqualify him as amortgage broker. But he works under the family firm E&I Funding Corp., which is91 percent owned by his wife, and thus avoids the required background check.
Former public guardian attorney Peter Schmiedel said Evans and hisassociates "robbed [Shank] at a time when his mother had just died. These peopleswooped in and swept away his only asset."
Shank's case was referred to the FBI and prosecutors, but authorities seem"just overwhelmed with the amount of mortgage fraud out there," said Schmiedel'scolleague, Dawn Lawkowski.
Federal and Cook County prosecutors would not confirm or deny anyinvestigation of the Shank loan.
In October 2004, Evans appeared in court for the public guardian's civillawsuit. Wearing a crisp brown suit and mustard shirt, he presented the judgewith a stack of checks and cash to make the last payment on the $65,000.
As his lawyer counted out thousands of dollars in front of the publicguardian attorneys and the judge, a sharp-eyed mortgage company lawyer notedthat Evans was still $800 short.
Unfazed, Evans pulled a money clip from his pocket and peeled off eight $100bills. The Shank case was discharged.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times