As a cook at Loaves and Fishes in Sagaponack, Raul Moracho said he has little trouble coming up with the more than $3,000 a month he spends on rent to keep living in his two-story, cedar-shingled home in Southampton.
He explained that he and four other members of his family contribute money each month so that they can keep renting the Shinnecock Hills Road home, which features an in-ground pool. In fact, Mr. Moracho, who has rented the home since September, said his family always pays the rent on time.
But Mr. Moracho—and the occupants of 10 other rental homes in Southampton Town that are all owned by the same part-time Westhampton Beach businessman—might soon find themselves looking for a new place to live.
Their landlord, Donald MacPherson, has defaulted on his loans and, on Wednesday morning, the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office announced that he and four other people—including former Suffolk County Legislator George O. Guldi of Westhampton Beach—were to be charged with multiple felonies for their involvement in what authorities are describing as a multimillion-dollar mortgage fraud scheme targeting properties on the East End.
Mr. MacPherson and Mr. Guldi were both scheduled to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon at the Southampton Town Justice Court. Mr. MacPherson was to be charged with two counts of first-degree grand larceny and one count of scheme to defraud, both felonies, according to Robert Clifford, a spokesman for the Suffolk County District Attorney’s office.
Mr. Clifford said that Mr. MacPherson’s wife, Carrie Coakley of Manhattan, was one of those indicted and she will also be charged with one count of first-degree scheme to defraud.
Court records show that months before Mr. MacPherson was ever charged with a crime, he began defaulting on his loans, prompting an assortment of banks to begin foreclosure proceedings on his properties.
All of those interviewed who are renting houses that are owned by Mr. MacPherson, either personally or through corporations, said they had no idea that their landlord had defaulted on his mortgages. In most cases, the lessees said that they did not even realize that Mr. MacPherson was their landlord, because, in many cases, he had property managers collecting the rent on his behalf.
“It’s a very bad thing,” said Mr. Moracho in broken English during a recent interview and appearing nervous after learning that he might be evicted from his home at some point.
Mr. Moracho’s situation is being repeated throughout the country, as tenants are being caught up in the aftermath of one of the most overheated real estate markets in history. More and more speculative property owners, many of whom borrowed far more than they should have—by artificially inflating their incomes, overestimating the market upswing, or as victims of unscrupulous lenders who rubber-stamped mortgage applications when the real estate market was booming—are now finding the market cooled, and the mortgage payments too much to bear.
Throughout the South Fork—a market historically insulated from the worst of the ups and downs of the national real estate market—there has been a steady increase in the number of foreclosure proceedings starting in 2007, said Pat Ammirati, the president of The Real Estate Report Inc., a West Islip company that reports on local real estate transactions.
According to statistics provided by Mr. Ammirati, there were 312 foreclosure proceedings started in Southampton Town in 2007, followed by 317 new ones in 2008. An additional 73 foreclosure proceedings were initiated during the first two and a half months of 2009. Mr. Ammirati said the number of properties going into foreclosure jumped starting in the fall of 2007.
“It’s worsening all over all of the time,” Mr. Ammirati said about mortgage foreclosures across Long Island and the country. “Although the South Fork in the past had very few [foreclosures], it is now happening there.”
Court documents say Mr. MacPherson has not made any mortgage payments on 11 houses in Southampton Town for the past year. These properties include homes in the hamlets of Shinnecock Hills and North Sea, and on Dune Road in Westhampton Beach Village. The court records show that Mr. MacPherson stopped making payments on the mortgages—many of them worth $1 million or more—in the summer of 2007.
The banks that loaned money to Mr. MacPherson began foreclosure proceedings last year. IndyMac Federal Bank, HSBC Bank and Washington Mutual are just three of the lenders that are taking Mr. MacPherson to court.
Mr. MacPherson, as D. Clark MacPherson, is also the owner and publisher of the Soho Journal, an arts and cultural magazine covering the Soho neighborhood in Manhattan, as well as a related website providing regular Hamptons commentary. He also owns both Magic’s Pub and Sunset Cafe in downtown Westhampton Beach, and apartments in the Chelsea neighborhood of Manhattan.