Pastor Joe Woodruff's Mortgage-Bubble Mayhem

Another man of the cloth claims he violated the Eighth Commandment.

As many of us now know, the real-estate meltdown was aided and abetted by inside players. Even bankers—such as Pierce Commercial Bank's Shawn Portmann, featured in our January 12 cover story ("Loan Wolf")—didn't merely turn a blind eye to mortgage fraud, they actively engaged in it, according to the feds. Yet many non-bankers participated in real-estate scams too—including, a source tells Seattle Weekly, an Oregon pastor who worked his Christian connections and used Pierce Commercial for his deals. The pastor—Joe Woodruff of Beaverton New Vision Fellowship, a Free Methodist church—recruited straw buyers for a Nevada housing development, according to Martin West, a Puyallup resident who says he was one such buyer. The Oregon pastor also collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in investment for his real-estate dealings from West and others, much of which was lost, says West. West is a pastor himself at Issaquah's Trinity Evangelical Church. He says he first met Woodruff some 20 years ago when both were junior pastors at a Puyallup church, then reconnected when Woodruff returned to Puyallup a few years back. Woodruff had interrupted his pastoral career to launch a real-estate business, says West, and the results were plain to see. "He was driving a Mercedes-Benz and living in a half-million-dollar house." Over coffee, West says Woodruff offered him a chance to cash in. He told him he was working with a builder in Nevada, and offered to sell him one of their new homes. West wouldn't even have to put any money down. Woodruff would take care of the house payments by leasing out the property. And after a year, Woodruff would buy back the home, giving West a 6 percent profit. After West agreed, he says Woodruff steered him to Pierce Commercial, where a loan officer named Chris DiCugno took care of the loan. DiCugno pled guilty late last year to fraud in connection with a mortgage scam run by another real-estate "investor" by the name of Mark Ashmore. At Ashmore's trial, DiCugno said that he was introduced to Ashmore though Woodruff, who was not charged in that case. To get the loan approved and to make it look like West had more money than he did, he says Woodruff deposited around $20,000 into his bank account. As SW's cover story on Portmann describes, this was a common practice at Pierce Commercial, known in the bank's parlance as "seasoning." "We do it all the time," West says Woodruff assured him. "This is the way business is done." West got the loan, but ruined his credit record. As the real-estate bubble was bursting, Woodruff stopped making payments on the Nevada home, which eventually was subject to a "short sale" in which it was sold for less than the cost of its mortgage. Worse, West says he doubled down, refinancing his own home to invest another $218,000 in Woodruff's business, known as Premium Equities. He says Woodruff never paid him any return on that money. West says his son and sister also lost money with Woodruff. So, he says, did a friend who bought one of the Nevada homes and only later looked carefully at the loan application. "The documents said I'm making $100,000," West says he was told by his friend. "My God, I'm a junior-high-school teacher." Last February, Woodruff and his wife Natalie filed for bankruptcy in Oregon. Citing West as one of their creditors, Woodruff reported $60,000 or less annual income since 2008 and claimed he and his wife only had $1,000 in cash—money they bizarrely kept in their refrigerator, according to their remarks at a meeting with creditors. Yet Woodruff and his wife also acknowledged having recently run two real-estate businesses, including Premium, which took in $700,000 since 2004, and bought a 32-foot yacht for $175,000. A suspicious Office of the U.S. Trustee challenged their application, claiming that the Woodruffs were either underreporting their income or lying on their bankruptcy statement—a complaint which became inactive when the Woodruffs withdrew their petition in December. West says he and others have complained about Woodruff to the FBI and the Washington State Department of Financial Institutions, complaints which now seem to be getting some traction: Though Woodruff declined to comment, the DFI's securities division head has since confirmed that the pastor is now under investigation.

 
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