By Terrence McCoy
By Scott Fishman
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Allie Conti
By New Times Staff
By Ryan Pfeffer
By Deirdra Funcheon
By Kyle Swenson
It starts with real estate broker Craig Buccerino. Buccerino, with dreams of building a townhouse development on the water, bought the triplex, the empty lot, and the five condos during the past four years with the help of investors' money.
To tie all the properties together, he tried to buy the other three condos in the eight-unit building along with a house that sits between the condo building and the triplex. But those owners wouldn't sell.
Bucceroni then put his five condos in the names of straw owners employees and investors and took majority control of the condo board. Shortly thereafter, he placed assessments in the amount of hundreds of thousands of dollars (ostensibly for a new dock and building renovations) on the remaining three owners. The holdouts say it was a brazen attempt to force them to sell to him.
"Craig said, 'Look out for the sharks; this is a hostile takeover,'" says Richard Marcus, former president of the condo board and one of the holdouts.
But it didn't work out for Buccerino. He mortgaged the properties to the hilt and wound up in debt to creditors and investors, who clamored for their money back. As Marcus says, "It was like a scam he sort of messed up the neighborhood."
But when it looked its bleakest for Bucceroni, the church did what it does best it saved him.
Bucceroni says he regularly attends Calvary Chapel and decided to deed the property as a "gift." All the church had to do in return was take over his considerable debt.
"It's all based on Jesus Christ, the savior," Bucceroni says, presumably with a straight face (our interview was on the phone). "This will help get these girls off drugs or prostitution, especially being on the Intracoastal and seeing that if you do the right things in life, you'll be rewarded."
Property records show that Bucceroni is certainly receiving a reward in the form of a church bailout. Residents, however, are convinced that Calvary isn't getting much in the deal. They say the price tag for the debt is in excess of what the properties are worth in the current market.
But Davis says he's confident the church made a good investment, and he stands by Buccerino, whom he compares to an American icon.
"I think Craig Bucceroni made some mistakes, but Walt Disney did the same thing when he put land together in Orlando," Davis tells me. "Craig made some enemies in the neighborhood and took maybe some questionable steps."
Although it seems the church may be engaging in a little real estate speculation or extravagantly spending the congregation's money to set up employees in rather opulent housing, Davis says the church took over the property from Bucceroni for one reason only: To help the girls in the program.
"Real estate is just a tool to help people, and if real estate can be used to help people, then that's what it's all about," he says. "We expect the girls to be at the property for maybe six more months and then we'll look to sell. The market is soft right now, so it may take a year or two."
But are the neighbors right? Is the church violating code in Pompano to house the girls in the neighborhood? That's a complicated issue, but Davis says that as long as they keep only three or four at-risk girls there at a time, they don't need a group home license. Basically, he likens it to an active foster home and says "house parents" who stay on the property are the equivalent of foster parents.
The Broward Sheriff's Office, which handles code enforcement for Pompano Beach, has received several complaints from residents regarding the ministry. Sheriff's spokesman Elliot Cohen says deputies have been investigating but so far have issued no citations.
Residents say the investigation has been impeded by the fact that it has been almost impossible for officers to determine if the girls actually live there and, if so, how many there really are.
"If something is going on inside the home, we are not authorized to break down a door and investigate that," Cohen confirms. "We would need a warrant to get into any private property. My understanding is we have not been invited in."
Call the situation fluid. But Davis says he thinks all the trouble will die down once Sofia is forced from his condo. Last week, BSO served eviction papers on him, per the church's directive. "It will end soon because Anthony is leaving," the executive minister says.
Sofia, although he doesn't actually have horns, may be nothing but a scapegoat. Even when he's gone, other neighbors will remain who aren't in favor of what the church is doing.
"The thing that gets me angry is the sneaky way the church has gone about it," says Laura Jean Dluzak, who has lived with her husband in a beautiful waterfront home for 27 years. "I always told my children I don't trust them when they're being sneaky. I just don't like the way they're slithering the girls into the neighborhood."