Hurley Investigates NJ State Senate Candidate Colin Bell
A number of months ago, "Hurley in the Morning" began an investigation regarding New Jersey State Senate candidate Colin Bell.
Today, we will reveal some of the results that call into question Colin Bell’s qualifications to hold elective office and his choice to make money on the backs of struggling homeowners facing foreclosure.
First, a timeline of key events:
In March, 2009, Bell chose to represent New Hope Modification, which was being investigated for allegedly defrauding homeowners who wanted to refinance their mortgages. These were struggling homeowners who desperately wanted to stay in their homes - so they paid money that they didn’t have upfront to refinance their mortgages.
In the end, the company that Bell worked with, New Hope, took the money and according to them Attorney General Paula Dow, did not provide the help they had promised. Sadly, this disgraceful disservice caused many homeowners to end up in foreclosure.
In November, 2009, Bell went from working with a company (accused of) defrauding homeowners to creating his own company, called JJCS Holdings, which was now in the business of making money from families who were struggling to stay in their homes and pay their mortgages. More about JJCS Holdings later.
In April 2010, New Hope paid $11.45 million in civil penalties for its activities in a consent judgment with the New Jersey Attorney General, New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs and Commissioner of the New Jersey Department of Banking and Insurance.
Listen to Harry Hurley's commentary here...
State Attorney General Paula Dow said New Hope, the company Bell advocated for, “made money by selling false hope to trusting people during their darkest financial hour.”
The Camden Courier Post later wrote that, "Even after Bell's clients agreed to pay more than $11 million in a civil settlement, the 2,000 customers they defrauded were unlikely to get all their money back. Bell couldn't be reached for comment."
Before we go further, I want to impress upon you that this is not an investigation into clients who Bell has represented, though I have familiarized myself with personal stories of the homeowners who were dis-served by New Hope Modification, including, as the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, the company Bell worked with also defrauded and forced a single mom out of her home who was suffering from cervical cancer. That is merely the back story and a prelude.
My investigation is about what Bell himself did next.
By October 2010, JJCS Holdings/Colin Bell began buying tax liens.
In January 2011, JJCS Holdings/Colin Bell purchased his last tax lien.
In April 2011, Bell was nominated by the Atlantic County Democrats for Freeholder.
For those unfamiliar with why someone would buy tax liens, the New Jersey Department of Community Affairs website explains, if a homeowner falls behind in paying their municipal taxes, anyone - in this case Colin Bell - can purchase the tax lien (basically, the back taxes owed) from the municipality. By doing so, the purchaser of the tax lien can then legally charge the homeowner 18% interest while also having the right to foreclose on the property if the homeowner doesn’t pay.
In other words, an unscrupulous investor can use the hardship of homeowners (whether they have lost their jobs or their unemployment benefits) to take advantage of the fact homeowners are unable to pay their taxes and desperately want to stay in their homes. The unscrupulous investor then charges homeowners 18% interest (while a normal investment like a CD only gives you 2-3% interest) with the bonus of having the opportunity to take away the home out from under families if the families cannot pay the 18% interest.
Wall Street refers to this as a “vulture investment.” For example, with an $1,800 purchase of a tax lien, Bell was looking for a $250,000 pay day. To all of my listeners and readers, all you have to do is Google “vulture investments” to learn about the business Bell chose to create.
Listen to Harry Hurley's full commentary here...
Now, it is legal for anyone to purchase tax liens. However, the public retains the right to process the news of this business formed by Bell and referred to by Wall Street as a “vulture investment," and decide what it means to them.
I have done a tremendous amount of research about this type of business, why people create this type of business, and how they make money from buying tax liens. The bottom line is, not to be redundant, but rather in order understand the gravity of how Bell was trying to make money, I think it is fair to point out Wall Street and a number of media outlets describe the business of buying tax liens as “vulture investments.”
I have obtained the incorporation papers of JJCS Holdings/Colin Bell and Certificates of Sale for the tax liens of at least five struggling homeowners purchased by JJCS Holdings/Colin Bell showing that while representing New Hope during the height of the foreclosure crisis, Colin Bell tried to cash in on the crisis by creating his own vulture investment business to purchase tax liens from families who desperately wanted to stay in their homes.
Basically, they had to pay Bell 18% interest when they were unable pay their mortgage in the first place; which created the tax lien to begin with, or lose their lifetime investment in their homes to Bell. Either way, it was a win-win scenario for Bell, who either made an 18% profit or got their entire home.
Think about it, what Bell chose to do was to open up his own cottage industry for himself; buying up tax liens from struggling families and demanding double digit interest from people who were about to lose their homes. These people had tax liens in the first place because they couldn't afford to make their payments. And, then if they couldn't pay their 18% interest to Bell, he could take their entire home.
A review of the timeline and the facts appear to make it fair and reasonable to conclude that the sole purpose of Colin Bell’s business was to prey upon families in their “darkest financial hour,” just like New Hope Modifications.
Further, it’s not a stretch to say that in representing New Hope, a company that the Attorney General fined them more than $11 million and stripped them of their license to do business in New Jersey that Bell directly assisted with hurting thousands of middle class families.
Bell figured out how to make a buck off of the foreclosure crisis by creating a vulture investment business by buying tax liens out from under struggling homeowners. In other words, Bell's goal was to profit through other people's agony and misery.
Now, in the past, Bell has excused his work with New Hope by comparing himself to John Adams defending the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre. Well, John Adams never turned traitor and joined the British Army.
Again, while buying tax liens is legal, I find it reprehensible that Bell – who is seeking public office - was doing this by design during the Great Recession, when Atlantic County families were struggling to put food on their table and provide for their children with (Atlantic County) having the highest home foreclosure rate and highest unemployment rate in the entire nation.
Of course, the timeline shows no record of Bell buying a tax lien since January 2011. Yet, allow me to point out that JJCS Holdings/Colin Bell remains an active, for-profit corporation according to the records I have obtained from the State of New Jersey, which means Bell is ready and able to legally purchase more tax liens at any time.
So why did Bell place his business on a temporary hold pattern?
Again, the timeline points us towards the truth. Bell purchased his last tax lien in January, 2011 and was nominated by the Atlantic County Democrats for Freeholder in April, 2011, which meant he had announced his intention to run months earlier.
It appears as though as soon as Bell knew he was interested in running for freeholder, he stopped purchasing tax liens right before accepting the Democratic nomination for Freeholder at Large in Atlantic County.
You decide if you believe that this is because Bell knew the appearance of owning a vulture investment business designed to make money on the backs of struggling families would reflect negatively about him. You can argue this logic if you choose, but, you can't deny the unambiguous time line. That is not in dispute.
In fact, Bell has been a perpetual candidate for office since 2011, where he lost in 2011, then won a freeholder seat in 2012, under Obama in Column B. Then Bell ran again in 2015 for the New Jersey General Assembly (and lost), and now he is running for the State Senate. All the while Bell continued to quietly file his annual paperwork with the State to keep his vulture investment business alive.
I find it very disturbing that Bell created the business in the first place and hides it as he is campaigning for office and I urge our readers and listeners to review the facts.
As I pointed out in an earlier column, Bell’s lack of support in the Democrat primary (nearly 4,000 Murphy voters refused to also vote for Bell, who ran unopposed) points to trouble for him in the general election. Nonetheless, if the State Senate race doesn't work-out for Bell, he seems pretty well positioned to go back to his vulture investment business and make 18% interest off of more struggling families, all the while hoping they miss a payment so he gets their homes.
And, as a closing bonus, Bell's wife has already been vetted by the State Police for a Superior Court judgeship, a potential lifetime job that pays $165,000 a year with benefits. I have numerous sources who have approached me about this. But, more about my investigation of that story in the future.
Finally, I hereby invite Colin Bell to appear with me on-air for one hour to discuss his Tax Lien business and provide him with the opportunity to refute anything that I have reported. He has appeared on-air with me in the past. He knows that that he will be treated fairly.
Remember, Bell opened his s Tax Lien Company as a for profit business. Not a not-for-profit entity.