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How to make $2 million developing a worthless tract of land without selling one square foot of it
By Nicholas A. Guarino
When the media folk told you about Whitewater, they left out a few amusing details. So in a spirit of altruistic service and public education, I’m going to let you in on the secrets. Pay attention, because you’ve never heard this before.
A. Real estate developing is more fun when you can borrow all your capital without having to pay it back … or even sell any land. So to get started, you need two friends: one an appraiser, one a banker.
B. Next, you find some dirt-cheap dirt. Anywhere in the boondocks will do. In the Whitewater case, it was 230 acres of land along the White River for about $90,000. (Some housing tract! It was fifty miles to the nearest grocery store.)
C. Then you get your appraiser friend to do a bloated appraisal. Hey, what are friends for? Let’s say he pegs it at $150,000.
D. You go to the bank and get the usual 80% loan (e.g., 80% of $150,000 with the land as collateral). You now have $120,000, so you pay off the land ($90,000), and you still have $30,000 in your pocket. You’re on a roll.
E. You pay $5,000 to subdivide it and bulldoze in a few roads. (Or if you know the ropes, you get the state to do it, as Bill did to get a $150,000, two-mile access road.)
F. Voila! You now are the proud owner of a partly-developed luxury estate community. So you call up your appraiser friend again, and he re-evaluates it at a cool $400,000.
G. You hustle back to the bank (run by your friend McDougal) and get a new 80% loan based on the new value. (Nothing out of line so far. An 80% loan is standard, right?)
H. You draw up plans for some fine houses (which will never be built.)
I. You get a new appraisal.
J. You get a new loan.
K. You make two or three phony homesite sales to friends. You shuffle the funds around among your shell corporations and bounce it back to your friends – plus a little extra for their help.
L. You get a new appraisal.
M. You get a new loan.
N. You do a “land flip,” selling the whole thing to Company X for $800,000, which sells it to Company Y for a million, which sells it back to you for $1.25 million. (All these companies are your friends.) And yes, this kind of thing did happen in Whitewater and Madison. In fact, Whitewater figures David Hale and Dean Paul once flipped Castle Grande back and forth from $200,000 to $825,000 in one day!
O. You get a new appraisal.
P. You get a new loan.
Q. Finally, your development corporation declares bankruptcy, and the bank has to eat your loans because the money is all gone, and since the record-keeping is so poor, nobody knows where it went.
But weep not for the bankers. You pay them nicely – perhaps a third of the $2 to $3 million you skim off. Weep for the taxpayer who bails out their banks. Which is to say, in the case of Whitewater, weep for yourself.
Does This Actually Work?
Whitewater was just the first of a series, like a pilot for a sitcom. Using Whitewater as a prop, Bill and his partner Jim McDougal milked – by my rough estimate – several million dollars from the SBA (Small Business Administration) and at least five or six banks and S&Ls, starting with the Bank of Kingston.
But their later ventures, bringing in Steve Smith and now-Gov. Jim Guy Tucker, did even better. Campobello started with about $150,000 in property and squeezed over $4 million in loans from banks in about two years. Castle Grande began with $75,000 worth of swamp land and cleared over $3 million. It never built anything. The only human artifacts on it today are a few old refrigerators and mattresses.
Why do I have information you haven’t seen before? Because my firm had $10 million in Madison Guaranty S&L, and I was thinking of buying the Bank of Kingston. (I was already worth millions by that time.) When I saw Kingston’s financial statement, however, I ran like a scalded cat.
And Madison was worse. You didn’t have to be a Philadelphia CPA to spot their money laundering, dead real estate liabilities proudly listed as assets, huge amounts of 24-hour deposits from brokers, and $17 million in insider loans. It was a nightmare.
Whitewater Development Corp. had at least an appearance of sincerity. It even had TV commercials, starring Jim McDougal’s striking young wife, Susan, in hot pants, riding a horse. Another one showed her behind the wheel of Bill’s restored ’67 Mustang.
But after Whitewater, the deals began dropping their frills. The RTC criminal referral that Bill suppressed during his presidential campaign cites such later corporations as Tucker-Smith-McDougal, Smith-Tucker-McDougal, and Smith-McDougal. Catchy, eh? If it were me, I would have called them Son of Whitewater, Whitewatergate, and Whitewater & Ponzi, L.P.
On their 1979 income tax, Hillary valued Bill’s used undershorts – donated to charity at the end of their action-studded tour of duty – at two dollars a pair. Plainly, we are dealing here with a couple that gives loving attention to detail in matters of deductions.
As you may recall, however, Clinton has proclaimed over and over that he simply “forgot” to deduct the $68,900 he claims he lost on Whitewater. Commentators have been mystified by the paradox. But it’s no mystery to me. The reason is obvious: Bill didn’t deduct the $68,900 because he didn’t lose a dime on Whitewater, and he didn’t want to do time for tax fraud. Period.
Jim McDougal put up all the money except for $500 – and Bill borrowed even that. But weep not for Jim. Not only was he Bill’s partner in Whitewater, but he owned Madison Guaranty S&L, which was the designated milk cow that provided most of the inflated loans. Weep instead for the taxpayers – like you and me -who picked up the $66 million tab when Madison folded.