Gilbert con man gets $2.1M judgment for Craigslist housing scamPosted: Updated:
A Craigslist con man who ripped off dozens of people is getting his comeuppance thanks in part to our reports.
We have been following the story of Derek Walker Bollwinkel, an apparently successful businessman, for years.
But is his business was based on lies - lies on top of lies, each one netting him hundreds of dollars at the expense of those who can least afford it.
Bollwinkel ran a 'house-sitting program' on Craigslist. He offered free rent, no credit check and deals that simply were too good to be true.
"He said $500 down and he gave you a list, and you could get any house you wanted that was available," Brittany Wallace, one of Bollwinkel's victims, explained.
Armed with several accounts of bogus deals, our crew went undercover to see Bollwinkel in action.
"I'm out to make as much money as I can make, as fast as I can make it," Bollwinkel said.
He charged prospective "house-sitters" $500 for a list of distressed homes, a list that is available for free online or from the county. He instructed the would-be house-sitter to find the owners, fill out some paperwork and move in while a short-sale was pending.
"In 14 years of doing this, I haven't had anyone that's gone out there and not gotten a house," Bollwinkel told the undercover crew.
Those who paid for Bollwinkel's supposedly no-fail program told very different stories.
Bollwinkel is no stranger to the penal system. He did time for forgery and criminal impersonation. Avondale police arrested him in 2008. The scheme was similar.
He convinced homeowners to sign a warranty deed to him, promising to work with a bank on a short sale. In one case, he moved his family into a home. When the owners called him on it, Bollwinkel demanded $50,000 for "pain and suffering."
Over the summer, Bollwinkel was back in business, taking advantage of a desperate man who was living in a motel with his six kids.
William Shelton said Bollwinkel rented him a Mesa home for $1,500 down and then $750 a month. After three months, Shelton found out the hard way that Bollwinkel had no right to rent out the home.
"The bank owns the house," Shelton was told. "[I was told] it's going up for sale, or auction I think it was, in the next day or two and that we needed to vacate the property immediately."
It was a rude awakening.
"I have never felt more like an idiot," he said.
Some basic research into Bollwinkel would have raised red flags.
Hopefully, though, Shelton will be Bollwinkel's last victim.
"This office is going to do everything we can to make sure that Mr. Bollwinkel never ever does business in this town again," Attorney General Mark Brnovich said Thursday.
In August, his office slapped Bollwinkel and his wife Sydnee with a $2.1 million judgment for consumer fraud.
"We are trying to send a very strong message that if you're a scammer, if you're a crook, we're going to do everything we can to put you out of business," Brnovich said.
"Finally something went right," Shelton said.
Brnovich said our February story put his office on to Bollwinkel.
"Your reporting was actually very instrumental," he said. "Actually, your reporting helped launch this investigation, and we got some consumer complaints as a result of that and that kind of re-sparked this investigation.
"We take these crimes, these allegations, these consumer complaints very, very seriously, and we're going to do whatever we can to reach the maximum results," he continued. "
The Bollwinkels did not want to discuss the judgment.
For the victims, however, it's not only vindication but also the chance to recoup their money.
"I was just so thrilled, so ecstatic," Shelton said.
Bollwinkel has been ordered to pay $500 per month.
"He's a crook and a con man that values money beyond everything, so hitting him in the pocketbook and getting that judgment against him, I think, does hurt him where it counts most," said Brnovich.
Several victims are in line to get their money back.
If you were scammed by Bollwinkel, call the Arizona Attorney General's Office at 602-542-5025 or file a complaint online at AZAG.gov.
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