By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Even though his spots on Fox31 clearly cast him in the role of a reporter and the bio on the KHOW website refers to his "journalism career," Martino routinely says that he's a consumer advocate, not a journalist. This means he can continue to engage in private business ventures while at the same time pushing his public persona. But sometimes the two overlap.
Charles Wahlen is a longtime business partner of Martino in dozens of real-estate ventures across Colorado and Florida. Wahlen Properties is listed as a trusted real-estate group on Martino's Referral List (www.referralList.com), which took over for Troubleshooter.com earlier this year. Martino's producer, Mike Bassett, also does work for Wahlen Properties. Matt Klaess, a real-estate expert who appears regularly on the radio show, is an owner of American Guarantee Mortgage; the company's website features large photos of Martino proudly informing potential customers that the company is a member of the Troubleshooter Referral List. Property records show that in July 2007, Klaess used $285,000 borrowed from Martino to purchase a house in the Jefferson Park neighborhood; the house has since been deeded over to Klaess's brother, John. American Guaranty Real Estate originally put the house on the market for $425,000, advertising it as a "scrape-off." But the company's website — which notes that American Guaranty Real Estate is "a member of Tom Martino's exclusive referral list" — recently posted the property for the drastically reduced price of $120,000.
American Guarantee is also a major sponsor of the October real-estate seminar organized by William Bronchick, a real-estate expert who's a frequent guest on Martino's show and often advises investors that "the time to buy is when the blood is running in the streets."
Buying run-down properties can be tricky. At Bronchick's seminar, Martino illustrates the situation with a story about a weight-loss camp for girls near where he grew up in upstate New York.
"Now, a lot of shy guys around that little town didn't do very well with ladies, but they found that if they went out to this camp right after the girls had successfully — almost ready to go home, that the girls didn't realize how pretty they were and how attractive they were. They still had a bad self-image," he explains. "So it was easier to go out on dates and have a good time. But the girls always had great personalities; they were fun, they were smart. And a lot of the cool guys wouldn't go out there because their perception was skewed."
The audience chuckles.
"So here's the number-one rule I take from that," Martino concludes. "Take advantage of false perceptions. Take advantage of it."
There are no false perceptions at the corner of Park Avenue West and Glenarm: These properties are ugly through and through.
Bob Pailet and three other investors had bought the rowhouses and bungalows back in 1981, and for more than two decades offered them as low-cost rentals. In 2004, a body was discovered in 500 Park Avenue West; the renter, who often sublet an extra room to needy day laborers, had been beaten to death with a tire iron. A few years later, Pailet says, his group voted to sell their holdings.
"We had to decide, because we were no longer good owners," he says. "One of the partners moved out of state. We either would have had to fix them up or tear them down, so we chose to sell and let someone else take them over."
When they sold the buildings to Welton Street Properties for $921,000 in January 2007, the bungalow still had tenants, but they left after Welton Street Properties took ownership. The rowhomes had been cleared of tenants and boarded up.
Robin, who's claimed the porch of the rowhouse at 508 Park Avenue West, knows to be careful when you're walking around. She's been on the streets for three years, ever since she lost her job and couldn't make rent. "You have to know how to be homeless," she says wearily. "Plastic, cardboard. There's a mattress under here. That helps. I'm not on cardboard like I'm usually on. Cardboard helps because you're not laying on that cement."
She does most of her sleeping during the day, which is safer for a woman. "One time there was this campsite I was at, and I woke up and there were three men around me, and I don't know what they were planning on doing," she remembers. "But luckily, I woke up." The rowhouse porches are much more accommodating, she says, and were very popular until the police came earlier this month and cleared everyone out. "The police lady said they had a meeting about this place," Robin adds.
On October 17, after Westword contacted the city planning department about the properties, the city called a meeting with Neighborhood Inspection, the Denver police and the property owners to discuss ways to remediate the problems. In attendance were Justin Henderson, Martino partner Chuck Wahlen and his daughter, Andrea Wahlen; the registered agent for the company that owns the properties, Tom Martino, was not present. According to Officer Layla DeStaffany, one of two homeless outreach police officers for the city, the group came to an agreement that the property would be cleaned up soon.