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A scam takes cops for a ride

Being a cop wasn’t enough for Darcey Greenfield.

The 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department moonlighted in the tumultuous world of real estate. Her “dibbling and dabbling,” as she put it, began with her buying a small apartment building during her rookie year and grew into a full-fledged side-profession. She got a real estate license and office space where, on days off from wearing the badge, she researched investments and met with clients.

Many of those clients came from the LAPD. For years, Greenfield said, she stuck to brokering loans or selling homes for other cops. But eventually she took the step of investing other people’s money in real estate ventures. In police station hallways and locker rooms, word spread about the detective assigned to Narcotics Division who could turn a quick profit if you had money to invest.

For a fortunate few, Greenfield came through with the double-digit returns that sounded too good to be true.

Then everything unraveled.

Greenfield is now the subject of investigations by the FBI and the LAPD. Over several months in 2007 and 2008, she said, she collected about $2 million from investors and funneled it to a man who was ultimately discovered to be a con artist.

At least 13 LAPD employees are known from Greenfield’s bankruptcy filings to have invested with her — four of them detectives and five others supervising sergeants. Police officials suspect that the total could be higher because officers were probably pooling their money and investing under a single name.

At least three officers, including Greenfield, have declared bankruptcy. Others have gone further into debt to pay back friends and relatives who gave them money to invest. One officer is so ashamed, she has not told family members she took out a second mortgage to repay them.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Greenfield was a hapless victim or somehow complicit in the scam. She has denied any wrongdoing, saying she believed the money was going into a legitimate real estate investment. She claims to have lost nearly $2 million of her own money as well.

For the LAPD, the debacle has raised an embarrassing question: How did so many cops trained to solve crimes end up getting taken by a criminal?

“The truth of the matter is that there was greed on all sides,” said Sandra L. Bendon, a federal court trustee who administered Greenfield’s bankruptcy case.

Few of the LAPD employees who invested with Greenfield wanted to talk about what happened. Some said they feared they would face disciplinary action for having been involved with Greenfield. Others said they held out hope that Greenfield would return their money someday and didn’t want to jeopardize that possibility. Several said they wanted to put the ordeal behind them. “Is talking about it going to bring my money back?” one asked sarcastically.

Greenfield did agree to speak once, so much of the saga is based on her version of events.

It began, she said, in May 2007, when a real estate agent presented her with an investment opportunity that the agent said could earn a 20% profit within three months.

Leroy Dowd, the 70-year-old bishop of Triumph Church of God in South Los Angeles, was looking for investors to provide an infusion of cash, the agent told Greenfield. Dowd needed the money to catch up on late mortgage and tax payments on the church as well as a nearby mortuary and several other properties he owned. The payoff for Greenfield would come when the properties were sold or the mortgages refinanced, the agent said.

Dowd’s religiosity appealed to Greenfield. A self-proclaimed “devout Christian,” she said she likes to focus her real estate dealings on “helping the church to financially succeed as well as helping [people] to live a Christian life.”

Greenfield blurred the line between religion and real estate with potential investors as well. In a letter explaining the various investment options, Greenfield wrote, “I have found great reward in the final results financially and spiritually. There is no better gift than to give. God will bless those who sow into the kingdom.”

Before investing with Dowd, Greenfield said, she spoke to several people in his congregation and checked public records on his properties. She came away convinced he was a trustworthy “man of god” and that his properties were solid investments. Without having met him, Greenfield said, she sent Dowd $180,000.

Within weeks, Dowd told Greenfield he would need additional time to pay her back. At that, Greenfield went to meet Dowd in person because she “wanted to know what was going on.”

Dowd, she said, assured her he would get his finances in order and also told her he was the legal conservator for a wealthy grandson and would soon have access to several million dollars. According to Greenfield, Dowd showed her documents supporting his claim and promised to pay her back from the fund if necessary.

Greenfield walked away feeling “comfortable” with Dowd. Enough so that she gave him $293,000 more of her own money in late July, she said. From there, Dowd began contacting Greenfield with other investment opportunities involving elderly members of his congregation who were facing foreclosure on their homes, she said. The scope of the investment scheme widened: If Greenfield could find more money, Dowd had someone who needed it.

It was into this freewheeling atmosphere that Greenfield brought in a tight-knit group of five friends who were looking for investment opportunities. Three of the women — Tanya Bobo, Ronecia Lark and Jerretta Sandoz — knew Greenfield from the LAPD, where Bobo is a detective and the other two are sergeants.

The women had heard from other cops that Greenfield taught informal seminars on real estate investing and approached her for advice and lessons, Sandoz and Greenfield said. Talk eventually turned to Dowd.

How much Greenfield told the women about Dowd and the investment plan is a matter of debate. Greenfield insisted the details were discussed and that the women spoke with Dowd periodically on the phone about particular properties.

Sandoz disputed this. “Every penny I invested, I just gave to Darcey,” she said. “When she explained the deal to us, it sounded good, but I really don’t know what she did with the money.”

Sandoz pulled together at least $327,000 from her own savings and from relatives, while Bobo and two partners invested $440,000, according to court records. Lark went in for more than $446,000, Greenfield claimed in her bankruptcy filing. The other two women in the group, a probation officer and a day-care operator, each put up six-figure sums, according to the bankruptcy filing. Greenfield allegedly told the woman they should expect their investments to reap 30% profits within six months, according to court records.

At the same time, Greenfield was taking investments from friends and other LAPD employees. A records clerk at a police station gave her more than $200,000, according to bankruptcy records. A detective in the department’s vice squad invested more than $250,000.

All of the money, Greenfield said, went to Dowd. She never asked to meet any of the people who allegedly needed help paying their mortgages. Instead, she said, she simply transferred funds to Dowd’s bank accounts and trusted him to handle the banking forms and property records required to complete real estate transactions.

Several investors said they regret not demanding more information about the investments. They said they just assumed Greenfield was trustworthy.

“I probably should have researched it more, but she was a cop, so I just figured I could trust her. I assumed it was all on the up and up,” said a veteran officer who invested about $45,000 and asked his name not be used out of concern that being associated with Greenfield could lead to discipline by police officials.

In all, Greenfield claimed that she gave $1.8 million of other people’s money to Dowd and $1.9 million of her own — funds she said she raised by taking out loans against several of her properties.

On June 6, 2008, about a year after Greenfield first sent him money, Dowd was arrested. Prosecutors filed grand theft, forgery and identity theft charges against him.

He was accused, among other things, of duping an elderly woman into signing over the deed to her Claremont house and selling it from beneath her. Weeks later, he was also charged with stealing more than $40,000 from a bank in a check-kiting scam. None of the charges had anything to do with his alleged scam of Greenfield.

This June, after spending a year and a half in custody, Dowd pleaded guilty to stealing the money and the house. Given credit for good behavior, he was sentenced to the time he already had served and was released from jail.

Dowd’s whereabouts is unknown, so he could not be reached for comment. The LAPD has opened a new investigation into Dowd’s activities, looking in part at his relationship to Greenfield, a law enforcement source said.

Greenfield has sued Dowd, accusing him of sending the money she gave him to an associate in Chicago. The judge in that case awarded Greenfield a $4.5-million judgment after Dowd failed to show up in court to defend himself. Dowd also failed to appear for a lawsuit filed by Sandoz, who recently won a judgment for nearly $350,000 against him.

Some investors have remained supportive of Greenfield. Others, however, said they now believe Greenfield lied to them, either because she was involved in the scam or because she panicked when she learned the money was gone.

One investor, who requested anonymity out of concern that Greenfield might seek to retaliate, pointed to promotional material about government-run foreclosure-prevention programs that Greenfield allegedly used as part of her pitch to investors. The investor said she believed Greenfield when she claimed her money would be invested in the programs and later discovered that the programs do not accept money from outside investors.

Greenfield is on an extended medical leave from the Police Department for what her attorney, Robert Aronson, said is a heart condition.

When asked if she should have been more attentive in her dealings with Dowd, Greenfield said, “In retrospect, anybody could have did things differently, but for the most part I feel confident that I did my due diligence like I was supposed to.

“I feel horrible. I wish there was a way I could pay everybody back.”

joel.rubin@latimes.com


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