July 22, 2024
Loans

Chicago families speak on predatory lending from home-flipping company – NBC Chicago


Several Chicago-area residents were left wondering if a popular home-flipping business was a bad business model or a Ponzi scheme as iFLIP Chicago has been targeted in several lawsuits, accusing the company of luring inexperienced investors into predatory loans.

The loans have led to financially devastating consequences for dozens of families in the Chicago area.

Ameera Haamid, an emergency room physician, has a passion for home renovation and said that flipping houses is something her mother always wanted to do.

Haamid was among those intrigued by iFLIP Chicago,

“Listen, if you’re interested in learning how to actually flip homes and you want to learn to do this for real, we have over 25 years of experience in this business,” Ramo Bey said in a Facebook video for his business iFLIP Chicago.

In late 2020, videos like this from iFLIP Chicago got Haamid’s attention.

iFLIP Chicago bootcamp is 100% hands on, it’s intense but it’s very fun,” Bey said in an iFLIP Chicago Facebook video.

Haamid, whose cousin is the co-founder of iFLIP Chicago, said it sounded like a wonderful opportunity.

“Who can’t trust family?” Haamid said.

iFLIP Chicago hosts “boot camps” on how to flip homes while offering “joint venture” partnership opportunities for those who are ready to invest in their own flip.

“Sometimes social media gives a person instant credibility,” Tatianna Barnett, a realtor who signed up for the iFLIP Bootcamp in 2021 told NBC Chicago.

Even though Barnett had previously flipped properties on her own in Indiana, she said she felt she could learn something from the Beys.

“There were a lot of people who had successfully done flips with him, so I decided to at least take the class,” Barnett said.

 courtesy: Ameera Haamid

After boot camp ended, both women said they were approached by Ramo Bey and asked to join the iFLIP joint venture program.

The program was supposed to offer participants some up-front capital before identifying a distressed property for the investors,.

Then, iFLIP would provide access to a lender to get funding to buy and renovate the property before overseeing the home’s rehabilitation.

Finally, iFLIP would sell the home for you and take 30% of the total profit.

“You don’t have to worry about hiring the contractor because they have it. You don’t have to worry about real estate attorneys. You don’t have to worry about any of this stuff because they have all of these relationships,” Haamid said, explaining why the program was so appealing to her as a first time investor.

 courtesy: Ameera Haamid

To get financing through iFLIP’s preferred lender, Bey told the women his name had to be on their loan.

“Being in real estate, it’s not something that’s unheard of if you don’t have a track record of doing, you know, fix and flips with lenders,” Barnett said.  

They were approved for hard-money loans by Envision Funding. The loans were short-term with had high interest rates.

Within weeks of signing up with the joint venture program, the women said iFLIP had identified homes in Woodlawn for each of them to purchase.

At closing, each woman hired a real estate attorney, Alex Ranjha, to represent them. Ranjha was listed on iFLIP’s website as being part of the “iFLIP Chicago Team.”

But Barnett said Ranjha never showed up at her closing.

Haamid said Ranjha attended her closing, but failed to disclose a very important part of the iFLIP loan agreement.

“CROSS DEFAULT AND CROSS COLLATERALIZATION”

This is where Haamid and Barnett said things went terribly wrong. Buried in the hundreds of pages of documents they signed during closing were four sentences in the loan agreement  that put them on the hook for Ramo Bey’s debts.

It was part of a “cross default and cross collateralization” clause’ that meant if Bey went delinquent on any of his own loans, the lender would charge what Bey owed to the loans he held with other iFLIP participants, like Haamid and Barnett.

“It essentially says that if anybody that’s signing on this loan has more accounts with this lender, they can utilize any of your payments to satisfy those past due balances. And Ramo had several past due balances,” Haamid said.

Financial documents from both women showed that Bey’s debts were being charged to their loans.

E-mails between iFLIP participants, Ramo Bey and Envision Funding show Bey was repeatedly told by the lender that his past due balances would be taken from other borrowers accounts.

Loan statements from Barnett showed that thousands of dollars were repeatedly transferred out of her loan account to another LLC she’d never heard of.

She later learned that LLC was owned by another iFLIP joint venture participant who had also signed onto a loan with Ramo Bey.

“After I closed, I never received the money to rehab my project,” Barnett said.

Barnett took NBC Chicago through the Woodlawn property she purchased with iFLIP Chicago in 2022. The home is completely gutted and has sat vacant for two years.

Barnett said she still needs roughly $200,000 to finish the renovation.

Each time she has requested funds from her loan for renovation costs, Barnett said she was denied or given far less than what was required.

Barnett said Bey would reassure her via email, telling her it “all works itself out in the end” and “sometimes you will receive less on the draw reimbursement than what was given. Other times, you will receive more than what you gave.”

Barnett said she has no idea where the money is, and told NBC Chicago that she has lost $169,000.

“Even though we had the money to fix the home and sell it, as we all planned to do, we couldn’t actually use that money given the predatory language of the loan,” Haamid said.

“CROSS INTEREST

On Haamid’s loan statement from March, there are seven charges for ‘cross interest’.

“Turns out a huge chunk of our money went to satisfy a bunch of other accounts,” Haamid said. “Somewhere between $25,000 to $35,000.”

NBC 5 Responds was able to trace the loan numbers for those “cross interest” charges on Haamid’s statement to several other iFLIP participants who had signed up for loans with Bey.

One of those “cross interest” charges is from Barnett’s loan.

“This was never about flipping property. This was about taking loans out to pay a debt that didn’t belong to us,” Barnett said.

REAL ESTATE INVESTMENT PONZI SCHEME”

Now, lawsuits recently filed by both women accuse iFLIP of luring them into a “real estate investment Ponzi scheme” while accusing Envision Funding and Ranjha of being in on the scam.

The lawsuits accuse iFLIP, Ranjha and Envision Funding of consumer fraud, conspiracy to commit fraud, breach of contract and breach of fiduciary duties.

NBC 5 Responds has been contacted by several other iFLIP investors who made the same allegations.

“All of us are facing bankruptcy, are facing foreclosure, short sale. My mom’s 401k is in this investment and we are at risk of losing over $200,000,” Haamid said.

According to Haamid’s lawsuit, ”Ramo Bey, Michaele Bey, and iFlip breached the Joint Venture Agreements by luring and fraudulently inducing Plaintiffs into entering the agreements in bad faith in order to secure access to Plaintiffs’ hard money loan proceeds, and to use such loan proceeds in typical Ponzi fashion to pay off loans of other investors recruited under the Joint Venture Program, and to fund the various other real estate and construction projections in which iFlip was involved.”

After Haamid’s loan matured in Februrary, she said she tried to refinance her loan with a new lender, but was told her debt was too great and the home’s value wasn’t worth what it once was.

Haamid then requested a pay-off letter from Envision Funding and learned she was on the hook for another $60,000.

“Our payoff letter from December said that we owe the loan company $315,000 more or less, and that’s what we were working off of. However, when we requested that next payoff letter so that we could refinance outside of them, we were told that we owe $375,000 because the lender tacked on an additional $60,000 of debt from properties that have absolutely nothing to do with us,” Haamid said.

Both women said Bey ghosted them when they began asking questions. 

Haamid said she reached out to her cousin Michaele last summer, and her advice was disappointing.

“When I asked my cousin about it, she very much said that it was not really her part of the business. She told me that I could always file for bankruptcy,” Haamid said.

Barnett’s loan matured in 2023. With her renovation nowhere near complete, she said she paid $30,000 in fees to the lender to extend her loan for three months.

Despite the property falling into foreclosure, Barnett is fighting to keep her investment property and hopes her lawsuit against iFLIP helps.

A COMMUNITY BLIGHTED BY FORECLOSED, UNINHABITED HOMES

In social media posts for iFLIP Chicago, Bey speaks about his desire to bring development to Chicago’s Black neighborhoods.

We created iFLIP Chicago about four years ago with the Black community in mind. Our desire was to elevate the Black community, rebuild and redevelop the neighborhoods,” Bey said in another promotional video for iFLIP Chicago, posted on its Facebook page.

Now the Woodlawn community Bey claimed he wanted to revitalize has two more vacant and decaying homes dotting its landscape.

Mortgage documents show at least seven other iFLIP joint venture properties are also currently in foreclosure, including Barnett’s.

Sandra Robinson lives next to the home Haamid was never able to finish renovating.

“It’s an eyesore, a disturbing eyesore. I hope something gets to be done,” longtime Woodlawn resident Sandra Robinson said.

“I think we all need to get some type of justice out of this situation,” Haamid said.

“It’s disgusting that this is 2 years later and we have no answer. We have more questions than answers,” Barnett said.

RAMO BEY RESPONDS

“Everyone knows my company is not a scam. I’ve helped so many people be successful in real estate over the years. Last year, me and my clients were a victim of predatory lending with the lender using a cross-collateralization policy that was never disclosed or explained at closing.  This has caused the majority of all these issues. However, I will defend myself and my company over any misleading allegations. And go after the lender who has caused all this damage,” Bey said in a statement to NBC 5 Responds.

An attorney for Alex Ranjha told NBC 5 Responds they plan to file a motion to dismiss the case in court.

“The loans are sold at closing. I don’t have any control over the loans after closing. The lender who handle the servicing makes all the decisions on fees etc. The decision to cross collateralized the loans was made by the new Lender Roc Capital/Loan Funder as the Lender on the loans to collect their delinquent loans. My company don’t have anything to do with that decision and all complaints should be dropped against my company,” a statement from Envision Funding said.

Roc Capital told us the “cross collateralization” clause is standard in all their loans agreements. They would not provide any further comment.  

RESTORE HOMES

Bey is still holding iFLIP investment seminars in a private Facebook group for novice investors. Haamid and Barnett said it appears Bey has recently relocated to Atlanta, and may be operating a new business under the name Restore Homes.



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