This financial fraud fad just hit close to home, literally. Denny Hughes, a real estate agent awaiting trial on charges of felony theft, kept a Fort Lauderdale office at the corner of North Andrews Avenue and Northeast 4th Street -- next door to the luxurious headquarters of New Times, Broward-Palm Beach.
It may be a good thing that Hughes in jail. The state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation still lists him on its website as having an active brokerage license. That site makes mention of an "administrative complaint" filed against Hughes' license last March, but provides no additional information.
Jenn Meale, a spokesperson at DBPR, says that state licensees are entitled to due process and that
complaints are kept confidential for up to 10 days following the
agency's investigators finding probable cause. In Hughes' case, it
appears that he took advantage of that delay, bilking prospective
homebuyers as recently as last month.
That's when a Buffalo, New York, man named Ronald Boyle told Fort Lauderdale police that Hughes was refusing to release the $25,000 that Boyle had given to Hughes for deposit in an escrow account. According to the probable cause affidavit, Boyle made that payment in June. Hughes then allegedly asked Boyle for another $25,000 in September, in order to avoid primary mortgage insurance.
That $50,000 was to be presented by Hughes when Boyle closed on the property he was purchasing. Boyle told police that Hughes never showed up to the meeting and that he refused to return the money to Boyle.
Boyle declined to comment for this article, based on his attorney's advice. Similarly, a local woman who also claims to be a victim of Hughes, refused an interview request.
And judging by the over 20 suits that have been filed against Hughes since 2005, there are many more victims.
The building on Andrews Avenue and Northeast 4th Street where Hughes kept an office is locked, and the intercom next to its door had an entry for Hughes Real Estate Services, but the line was disconnected. (A previous version of this blog post reported that his former office was at Andrews and Northeast 3rd Street.)
Nor is there an answer at any of the phone numbers listed with his company. The website is also down, but an archived version of it provides this glimpse into Hughes' sales pitch:
The Hughes Group Real Estate Services Inc. was born from my frustration over the lack of qualified sales people selling real estate as well as my desire to share my experience of investing in real estate with anyone interested in making money buying and selling real estate. After spending the last 10 years buying, renovating and selling property I have developed an experience level which goes above and beyond the average real estate salesperson working in the industry currently.Hughes' trial is scheduled for February. He was on probation based on aggravated battery charges in an incident unrelated to the alleged fraud.
In these days of rampant fraud, it's wise to check the county clerk's page for criminal cases and civil suits against a broker, just as it's smart to check out any broker's complaints by calling the DBPR's customer contact center, at (850) 487-1395. Give them a complaint number and they'll send you more information on the broker. You can also request complaints at the department's website, myfloridalicense.com.