Two Phoenix police lieutenants are facing an internal investigation for using city resources and time for their real-estate venture where they bought homes, fixed them up and then flipped them for a profit.
One of the lieutenants, Mark Tallman, is assigned to the Pecos Park police substation and has worked supervising officers in Ahwatukee Foothill for several years. The other, Lee Brent Shaw, is a third shift patrol supervisor with the department. Both are assigned to the South Mountain Precinct, which includes Ahwatukee Foothills.
The two created Better Choice Investments LLC in 2003 and at least seven other limited liability corporations, some with other police officers, between 2003 and 2006, according to the Arizona Corporation Commission.
Working off-duty is allowed as long as there are no direct conflicts with the police department and as long as it doesn't bring discredit to the department.
An official from the union that represents the lieutenants predicted the men will be cleared of any wrongdoing and, while not able to address the matter directly, the Phoenix Police Department said the command staff has confidence in the police work the men are doing.
Documents show that some of the homes the lieutenants bought to flip were from Taken Care of Investments LLC, which would actively seek out people in mortgage trouble, then claim to be able to help, according to court records.
Attorney General Terry Goddard sued Taken Care of Investments and its founder, Richard Winer, in civil court, which resulted in a $691,500 judgment in September.
"Instead of offering legitimate help to homeowners, this operation misled and exploited them to turn a handsome profit," Goddard said. "The housing crisis has given rise to a number of rescue scams, and we are going after them aggressively."
Goddard's spokeswoman, Molly Edwards, would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation into Better Choice Investments is under way.
Tallman and Shaw's Better Choice Investments was named as a co-defendant in several civil suits filed in Maricopa County Superior Court against Taken Care of Investments and Winer.
And Tallman, Shaw and their Better Choice Investments was also directly sued at least 13 times, according to court documents, although most were dismissed and four were decided for Tallman and Shaw, and against the plaintiffs.
In none of the cases did the court require Tallman or Shaw pay any punitive damages for violating Arizona law.
Tallman and Shaw aren't allowed to speak since the department is conducting an internal investigation, but their union can.
"Both lieutenants Mark Tallman and Brent Shaw are well respected veteran officers with the Phoenix Police Department," said Joel Tranter, speaking for the Phoenix Police Sergeants and Lieutenants Association. "The allegations in question stem from employment outside the PPD on their own time, which they began nearly nine years ago. This is unfortunate; however, when all the evidence has been presented their names will be cleared of all wrong doing."
Documents prepared in one of the cases, where Ernestine Willie was approached by Winer and Taken Care of Investments with an offer to help, show that she signed documents, including a quitclaim deed in October 2005.
But instead of paying off her mortgage, or refinancing, the home was sold to Better Choice Investments.
When Willie continued to receive late notices from Wells Fargo for non-payment she stopped sending her checks to Taken Care of Investments. On Jan. 5, 2006, she received a default notice from Wells Fargo Home Mortgage for non payment and on Jan. 20 Tallman's and Shaw's Better Choice Investments issued a summons for Willie to appear at a hearing where the judge ordered her evicted.
The home was later sold by Better Choice Investments for $159,000 with Shaw's wife, Tracey Larsen Shaw, the real estate agent.
Attorney Mark Tynan represented Sherree Stevens-Albrecht in her case against Better Choice Investments and Taken Care of Investments.
"What they supposedly do is if you were having a hard time making your mortgage payments they would come in and essentially give you a loan to bail you out," said Tynan, who called it a standard arrangement.
The problem is that it didn't work that way, he said.
"The long and short of it is that they would not do the things they said they would do," Tynan said.
Tallman and Shaw are still on duty, and the Phoenix Police Department declined to comment, other than to say that the department doesn't discuss internal investigations and that the department's command staff has confidence in the two lieutenants and the job they are doing.
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