Thursday, June 24, 2010

Nearly $30 million stolen from Homebuyer Credit: report

More than 1,200 prison inmates, including 241 serving life sentences, defrauded the government of $9.1 million in tax credits reserved for first-time homebuyers, according to a Treasury Department report released Wednesday.

Treasury's inspector general also found that thousands of people filed multiple claims or made claims outside the allotted time period. In all, more than $28 million was improperly doled out.

The Internal Revenue Service program at issue is meant to stimulate the housing market by giving tax credits of as much as $8,000 to qualifying first-time home buyers.

"Additional controls are necessary to address erroneous claims for the credit," the report stated. "Further, fraudulent and questionable claims processed prior to implementation of controls will need follow-up action by the IRS."

According to the report, 4,608 state and federal inmates filed for these tax credits, and that fraudulent refunds were doled out to 1,295 of them.

The inspector general's report said the most "egregious" fraudsters were 715 prison lifers, including 174 who filed with the help of paid preparers. From this group, 241 lifers were awarded $1.7 million.

The problem was particularly bad in Florida: 61% of the lifers who got credits were incarcerated in the Sunshine State.

"It is possible for an inmate to buy a house while in prison," said Jo Ellyn Rackleff, spokeswoman for the Florida Department of Corrections. "We have inmates in Florida prisons who still have businesses outside. Many of the inmates have families with children who live outside."

She said that one of the reasons why Florida inmates feature prominently in the Treasury report is because the Florida prison system is transparent in providing inmate information to the IRS.

"We provide [the IRS] with data quarterly," she said. "If we receive an IRS check in the Post Office of an institution, the IRS will receive a call that we received a check, to make sure it's all legitimate."

The homebuyer tax credit program was very specific about the time period in which homebuyers were allowed to participate, though this rule seems to be the most widely violated. The credit was for home purchases that happened after April 8, 2008, with a cut-off date that was eventually extended to May 1, 2010.

The report found that the IRS awarded $17.6 million to 2,555 filers who had bought their homes before the credit program kicked in.

The inspector general also identified 206 filers who claimed the credit for multiple addresses; these fraudulent filers were awarded a total of $1.4 million.

The report also found that improper filers included 34 employees of the IRS. This is in addition to 53 IRS employees that the inspector general identified last year as improper filers.

The report included a response from the IRS, which highlighted the huge scope of the program, with $12.6 billion in claims awarded to 1.8 million participants. The IRS said it had ramped up efforts to crack down on criminal activity and would continue to review claims and "recapture" pay-outs determined to be fraudulent.

The IRS said it "has devoted substantial resources to working with state and federal prison systems to collect and maintain information on the prison population."

But the agency added, "The prison population changes frequently and it is simply not feasible for the IRS to maintain 100% accurate records based on information that is reported to us voluntarily by the various prison authorities." The agency suggested that Congress require prisons to report inmates' status to the IRS.

In an e-mail to, IRS spokesman Anthony Burke said the agency had "successfully blocked or denied nearly 400,000 questionable homebuyer claims and opened more than 150 criminal investigations. These aggressive efforts have saved taxpayers more than $1 billion."

As for the IRS employees, the agency said that it was working to identify those at fault.

Assistant Treasury Secretary Michael Mundaca said that, despite its problems, the homebuyer tax credit helped to spur more than 2.5 million new home purchases and helped to stabilize the housing market.

"These fraudulent claims, which are being pursued to the fullest extent of the law, represent less than half a percent of the credits paid out under this program," he said, in an e-mail to "As with all new and expanded programs, we are constantly working to improve implementation, and the IRS has already begun to take additional steps to prevent fraud in this program."

Posted via email from Newport Beach Blog

From Ladycats to Oprah host ... maybe


Nilo Ghandehari of Newport Beach may one day host a talk show on a network founded by the queen of talk shows.

Already a successful event planner and breast cancer awareness advocate, Ghandehari, 26, has auditioned for a chance to host her own show on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN). The network is scheduled to launch on cable TV in January 2011.

Article Tab : ghandehari-nilo-holding-c
Nilo Ghandehari of Newport Beach is an event planner and advocate for breast cancer awareness, holding fundraisers for the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Now, Ghandehari is trying for a gig as a talk show host on the upcoming Oprah Winfrey Network

Potential hosts submit tapes in one of five categories: traditional talk show, cooking, interior design, fashion, health and wellbeing or wildcard. Visitors to the site vote for their favorite video.

The top five on-line vote-getters become part of a larger talent pool that includes individuals selected from live auditions. OWN producers will select the host from among those finalists.

Drawing from experience, Ghandehari submitted her tape in the wildcard category. On the website, it's labeled "All About Event Planning and How It Relates to the Core of the Human Spirit."

The show would cover topics such as seasonal trends, budget tips, entertainment ideas, color schemes and the small details that can make for a memorable event.

"There are a lot of shows on how to plan weddings, but nothing on really why and what is the value behind the event," said Ghandehari, owner of Kapture, a Newport Beach event planning company. "I believe every person has the ability to plan an event and they just need help getting there."

Ghandehari grew up in Brea and credits much of her drive to her days as a member of the Brea Olinda Ladycats basketball team, consistently one of the nation's best.

She received a degree in business marketing from Cal State Fullerton.

While interning at the Fox Broadcasting Company, she helped produce hits such as "American Idol," "That 70's Show" and "Prison Break."

At age 19, Ghandehari hosted her first charity event – a house party in which she charged friends $5 a piece.

Ghandehari raised $150, which she donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the celebrated breast cancer awareness non-profit.

She then started THE Breast Cancer Fundraiser, a non-profit aimed at 20-somethings that raises money through posh parties.

"I would love the opportunity to use the platform of television to communicate such an important message," she said.

With Saturday the deadline to submit a video, Ghandehari knows there is a lot of ground to make up.

Her submission, among nearly 6,000, has received about 33,000 votes, while top entries have gotten millions.

However, if she impressed producers in her live audition, Ghandehari could still get picked for a talk show or a spot on an OWN reality show.

She hopes to know one way or the other by mid-July.

Whether she gets on TV, Ghandehari said the process has been character building.

"It's been an amazing experience" she said.

Check out Ghandehari's audition here.

Posted via email from Newport Beach Blog

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Fannie Mae seeks to punish 'walk-away' homeowners

Mortgage-finance giant Fannie Mae on Wednesday took aim at homeowners who are walking away from loans they’re capable of paying.

The company, which has been under government control since September 2008, said it would refuse to back new loans for such walk-away borrowers for seven years after they abandon their homes.

From the news release:

Defaulting borrowers who walk away and had the capacity to pay or did not complete a workout alternative in good faith will be ineligible for a new Fannie Mae-backed mortgage loan for a period of seven years from the date of foreclosure. Borrowers who have extenuating circumstances may be eligible for a new loan in a shorter time frame.

“We're taking these steps to highlight the importance of working with your servicer,” said Terence Edwards, executive vice president for credit portfolio management. “Walking away from a mortgage is bad for borrowers and bad for communities and our approach is meant to deter the disturbing trend toward strategic defaulting. On the flip side, borrowers facing hardship who make a good faith effort to resolve their situation with their servicer will preserve the option to be considered for a future Fannie Mae loan in a shorter period of time.”

Fannie Mae will also take legal action to recoup the outstanding mortgage debt from borrowers who strategically default on their loans in jurisdictions that allow for deficiency judgments. In an announcement next month, the company will be instructing its servicers to monitor delinquent loans facing foreclosure and put forth recommendations for cases that warrant the pursuit of deficiency judgments.

Fannie and its sister company, Freddie Mac, are the main sources of U.S. mortgage financing. They buy loans from lenders, guarantee them and resell them to investors via mortgage-backed securities.

One key issue, of course, will be how Fannie and its loan servicers decide whether someone had the ability to pay their loan but decided not to.

Freddie Mac hasn’t announced a similar program targeting walk-aways, but given that both companies are under government control, it would seem odd if Freddie didn’t follow suit.

A Freddie Mac spokesman had no immediate comment.

-- Tom Petruno


Posted via email from Newport Beach Blog

Home shopping at $500,000: O.C. vs. U.S.

Our pals at have helped us put Orange County home pricing into national context in a novel way: Comparing how much home you’d get here vs. other major metropolitan areas around the nation at the same price point. We hope to make this a regular feature!

This time, we ponder list prices at $500,000 in these communities …

Click on image for larger view City Address List Price Square feet / Price per sq. ft. Bed Bath Year Built
Anaheim Hills 274 South Solomon Drive $500,000 2,485 / $201 4 2.5 1975
Portland 3925 Ne Holman St $500,000 3,470 / $144 3 3 1954
Atlanta 2651 Redding Ne $500,000 2,411 / $207 4 3.5 1996
Baltimore 6300 Pinehurst Rd $499,900 2,153 /$232 4 2.5 1925
Plymouth, MN 3320 Zircon Ln N $500,000 3,514 /$142 5 4 1993
Phoenix 3342 N 34th Street $500,000 3,190 / $157 4 4.5 2009
Philadelphia 3953 Eden St $499,893 3,300 / $151 4 2.5 2010

Note: Listing information is as of June 21!

Feel free to click on address for additional images and home information.

Posted via email from Newport Beach Blog

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

$4795000 / 4br - Newport Coast jewel (2 Gondoliers Bluff) has forwarded you this posting.

Please see below for more information.

Visit the posting at to contact the person who posted this.

Newport Coast jewel

Date: 2010-06-22, 11:59AM

This beautifully upgraded home is situated on a huge secluded pie shaped lot, with a long driveway. Very spacious resort style yard with a large pool and waterfall spa in one area, an outdoor fireplace and sitting area, and plenty of addition space. The open floor plan has a 'Great Room' and a gourmet kitchen that opens to the family room. There are 3 bedrooms and a bonus room upstairs, and downstairs there is a bedroom in a casita with an outside entrance, and an office in the main house. Enjoy ocean views and privacy from this wonderful home!
Directions Enter at either gate, proceed up the hill to Archipelago - turn toward the other gate, turn uphill again at the STOP sign (Whalers Bluff), Gondoliers Bluff is the next right

Gondoliers Bluff at Whalers Bluff (google map) (yahoo map)

  • Location: 2 Gondoliers Bluff
  • it's NOT ok to contact this poster with services or other commercial interests

Original URL:

this craigslist posting was forwarded to you by someone using our
email-a-friend feature - if you want to prevent these, please go to:

Posted via email from Newport Beach Blog

2010 World Cup: The Scene in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico reporter John Gramlich will be traveling through the state of Nayarit in Mexico for the first two weeks of the World Cup

I’ve been in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, for six days. This, of course, is to coincide with the World Cup, which six of my friends and I—all Americans—are watching here with rapt attention. As Americans in Mexico tend to do, we’ve been drinking cervezas, tequilas, and margaritas at every stop, probably too often.

Puerto Vallarta is right on the Pacific, on the banks of a sweeping inlet called the Bay of Banderas, or the Bay of Flags. Dark mountains rise up from the greenish-blue, very salty water. Rickety buildings perch perilously over a steep hillside. Friendly people are on every corner, hanging out along the cobblestoned streets of downtown, or Centro—usually offering taxis, tequila or sombreros. Margaritas cost $5; beers cost $2.50 or less. It’s probably much less if you’re not American.

Much of this place is what you’d expect of a beautiful but touristy Mexican resort: There’s a Senor Frogs, a Hard Rock Cafe, a McDonald’s, and a Subway, along with Mexican bars cloaked in myriad American themes, like the U.S. military or Predator,  the Arnold Schwarzenegger-Jesse Ventura flick where the jungle comes alive and nearly takes out a group of hardcore American commandos (and which, incidentally, my entire group can recite almost flawlessly).

Here’s what I didn’t expect: Puerto Vallarta–even in the parts where there aren’t often gringos like us—was pretty much silent for five days of the World Cup.

Continue reading "2010 World Cup: The Scene in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico" »

Posted via web from Newport Beach Blog

Monday, June 21, 2010

Ashley guarding the toilet hardware from the dogs

Dick beat

Frustrated locals not waiting for OK to stop oil


June 21, 2010 4:30 p.m. EDT
Stephanie Neumann holds a Northern Gannet on Okaloosa Island, Florida.
Stephanie Neumann holds a Northern Gannet on Okaloosa Island, Florida.
  • Residents and vacationers in Okaloosa County in Florida are starting to spot tar balls and oiled wildlife on their beaches.
  • County commissioners voted to respond to the oil spill with their own plans, regardless of whether unified command approved.
  • Unified command sped up approval of their plans and will meet with commissioners this week.

Okaloosa Island, Florida (CNN) -- Vacationers were the first to notice the bird fumbling in the water near this popular tourist beach last week. It bobbed and swayed differently than other birds, and didn't react when humans came dangerously close. Once it was ashore, they could see why: a light sheen of oil covered its feathers.

Animal health technician Stephanie Neumann tried to rescue the Northern Gannet, but beach safety officers stopped her. Her coworkers at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge already had stabilized birds and a sea turtle affected by the Gulf oil disaster, but officials wanted to know: Did she have a contract with BP? Could she -- and the bird --wait while they verified her organization's status?

"They're trying to do their job," Neumann said as she crouched over the motionless bird, wrapped in a white sheet and barely hidden from the stares of kids and parents. "They have to make sure protocol is followed."

When brown clumps of tar began to wash up on the snow-white beaches around Destin last week, the mood in this sunny beach community shifted from optimistic denial to furious worry. Local ideas about how to protect the area clashed with plans from BP, state and federal agencies. Community volunteers struggling to cut through protocol cheered a decision by Okaloosa County to defy BP and the feds. They were done waiting. They'd use their own plans.

"This is ridiculous. We'll take the heat. We would do whatever it took to stop the oil," said the county commission chairman, Wayne Harris.

Gallery: Using hair to protect a 'magical' place
Video: Florida county fights feds for cleanup

After months of wrangling with agencies responding to the spill, Harris wasn't willing to stake the county's ecology and economy only on boom that captures or absorbs oil. The commission authorized emergency management teams to add skimmers, barges and extra boom, and an air wall they hope will push the oil away. They plan to layer prevention measures in the pass that connects the Gulf to Choctawhatchee Bay, where fresh and salt water mix and dolphins play. Harris said the plan could cost up to $6 million per month, which he hopes will be covered by money from BP.

The county developed its oil plan in the days after the disaster began to unfold, but it was plagued by miscommunications, disagreements and bureaucracy once it left local hands, Harris said.

Communities along the Gulf Coast have made similar complaints. Mayors grilled a BP official about the response during a press conference earlier this month. In Magnolia Springs, Alabama, locals went outside the federal plan and risked incarceration by adding boom and barges to protect Weeks Bay. In Pointe Aux Chenes, Louisiana, Native Americans pitched in to string boom near an island where many of their ancestors are buried.

Harris said some of his county's efforts may work; others may not. "Doing something is better than doing nothing," he said.

On the Okaloosa Island beach, local response to the oiled Gannet was quicker, but the federal response had less red tape to work through. U.S. Fish and Wildlife workers arrived before Neumann's status was verified, so she left their bird in their care.

"Time is essential with these guys," she said. "Every minute counts."

For the rest of Okaloosa County, more boom and barges were starting to appear in the water. The county commission vote was "smart," and sped up the state and federal response, said public safety director Dino Villani, who was quickly invited to an "olive branch" meeting in Mobile. Most of the county's preferred plans are moving forward, Villani said, and they'll continue to adapt as the oil moves throughout their waters.

Harris said the plans would have gone forward even without approval from BP or other government agencies.

"I'm sure they're cussing. I'm sure they're cussing us bad," Harris said. "If we had waited, we'd still be waiting. Why did it take us giving an ultimatum?"

Charles Diorio, a Coast Guard commander in Mobile, said some communities decided to implement their own plans once they saw they didn't top the list of state and federal priorities, if they were on the list at all. Some just wanted to act before the mess -- and response agencies' attention -- began to move their way.

Now that oil is reaching Florida's shores, resources are shifting there, Diorio said, and there's a plan to meet with Okaloosa commissioners this week.

"Now is the time to make sure these relationships are still working and strong and the lines of communication are open," he said.

The commission's vote marked a turning point for Okaloosa County residents and vacationers. Even as oil crippled fishing, tourism and ecology in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi, wishful thinkers hoped for the best around Destin, which calls itself the "World's Luckiest Fishing Village."

"I'm guilty of it. Every day something doesn't happen, you walk down your beach and don't see it, the feeling gets stronger -- until it arrives," Okaloosa County's beach safety division chief Tracey Vause said as he picked gummy tar balls from the sand.

"I was infuriated. It's almost like grieving. This is the destination, white, sandy beaches. Now they're not."

June is typically a busy month along the area known as Florida's Emerald Coast. Beaches in Destin and Fort Walton are usually packed with families freed from school and work, and the water is crammed with boats. But when traces of oil actually arrived last week, clean-up crews were on land and familiar local fishermen wore life jackets, a tell-tale sign they were called into service for BP. Tourist rentals already were down as much as 50 percent, county officials said. Shops were quiet, service jobs were cut back and only a few umbrellas and towels were scattered across the soft sand.

No oil-related illnesses or injuries had been reported as of late last week, said Cecilia Wagner, a community health worker for Okaloosa County. A health advisory warned beachgoers against swimming one day last week, but it was lifted hours later.

The arrival of oil spooked residents, and made clear the conflicts between local action and BP's response.

On the boardwalk at Okaloosa Island, volunteers cleaned up after a group of campers made oil-absorbing boom from hosiery and animal hair. Boom makers Yente Sehman and Barbara Johnson said they'd prefer boom made with renewable resources in the water around Okaloosa County's beaches, and as oil came closer, more materials and volunteers had showed up to help their efforts.

In a warehouse nearby, the pair stacked human and animal hair donations funneled through the non-profit Matter of Trust and postmarked from Missouri, Georgia, Massachusetts, Australia and China. Volunteers packed dog and alpaca hair clippings into the legs of pantyhose, then tied them off and strung them into mesh casings with plastic pieces that float in the water. Already, more than 5,000 boom were stacked inside the warehouse.

County officials said they don't want to discourage volunteers, but they aren't planning to use the animal hair boom, except as a last resort. Sehman's phone was busy with calls from local business owners and real estate agents who wanted the boom to protect their businesses, but organizers can't give the boom away without county approval and a clear plan for its disposal.

"We live in paradise and everybody wants to believe it's not going to happen to us," Johnson said. "It's turning into anger and frustration. BP, local government, state government, everybody sitting around waiting for someone else to do something. We want to help, but we can't."

Still, the women said they won't stop their boom-making effort, especially as more community members notice the empty beaches studded with tar balls and look for ways to get involved.

"Once we started, no way," Sehman said. "I'm very proud to live in this county at this point in time. People of this county are going to do what they want to do."

Posted via web from eWaste Disposal and Recycling

Eat well!

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Zero Waste

I just read that Kamikatsu, a village on an island in southwest Japan, is on track to reach Zero Waste by 2020. Residents voluntarily wash their refuse and deliver it to Zero Waste Academy, where it is separated into 34 categories by staff members. Last year, the town recycled 192 tons of garbage and incinerated another 135 tons. Their goal for 2020 is to reach Zero Waste with no incineration. While Vermont environmental groups (understandably) reject the concept of trash-to energy by incineration, they are fully behind the Zero Waste movement, a particular focus of Toxics Action Center. I know there are areas of the US where recycling does not occur and people here in Vermont who don’t see the point. Here’s the point: we can not keep stockpiling our garbage in plastic bags and throwing it into holes in the ground where it will sit for centuries or millennia, leaching toxins into our soil and eventually into our water. We all need to do our part to reduce our garbage footprint in our country and on our planet.

Posted via web from eWaste Disposal and Recycling

HVAC boot cleared of Asbestos in Los Angeles