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Clout condo deals in Chicago get scrutiny

3-22-10 Exterior condo 1834 N. Kedzie. For Watchdogs. phoby Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

3-22-10 Exterior of condo at 1834 N. Kedzie. For Watchdogs. photo by Jean Lachat/Sun-Times

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Updated: August 3, 2011 10:24PM

In 2008, a 25-year-old man named Volodymyr Kuchmiyov — a Ukrainian living in Chicago on a student visa — took out two mortgages totaling $675,000 and bought a couple of brand-new condos in a building on the city’s Northwest Side.

Now, Kuchmiyov is enmeshed in a mortgage-fraud case that federal authorities brought after a Chicago Sun-Times investigation last year revealed that a Chicago congressman’s daughter bought an “affordable housing” unit in the same development — even though she and her husband were making more than $90,000 a year. She then flipped the condo at a profit of 55 percent — after owning it for 14 months.

According to the FBI, Kuchmiyov was able to qualify for his bank loans by lying about his income, falsely claiming he was a U.S. citizen and failing to disclose his ownership in both properties.

Kuchmiyov, now 28, was arrested last Nov. 18. He is expected to be indicted this summer as part of a broader federal investigation of mortgage fraud, according to court records and interviews.

Kuchmiyov bought the two condos in a four-unit development built in Humboldt Park by a man named Roman Popovych, who got the zoning change he needed to build the project by agreeing to set aside one of the condos in the complex as an “affordable” unit that would be sold at a deep discount. That was a requirement set by then-Ald. Billy Ocasio (26th), who, as the local alderman, wielded great authority over the zoning change Popovych needed.

Popovych got the zoning change and eventually sold the discount-priced condo to Omaira Figueroa, the daughter of Ocasio’s political mentor, U.S. Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez (D-Ill.).

Figueroa bought the two-bedroom, two-bath condo for $155,000. She took out a $140,000 loan, at 4.75 percent interest, from her parents — the congressman and his wife — in June 2008 to pay for it.

Little over a year later, Figueroa sold the condo for $239,900 — $84,900 more than she’d paid to buy it.

The 55 percent profit that Gutierrez’s daughter turned by flipping the condo was one of a handful of affordable-housing deals uncovered by the Sun-Times that city officials said appeared to be not in line with the aim of the program. The city’s housing department asked city Inspector General Joseph Ferguson to investigate the deals, asserting that affordable housing should be reserved for “moderate-income” buyers. When Figueroa bought the condo, she and her husband were making more than $93,000 a year from their government jobs — she with the state, he at the city Aviation Department.

Figueroa, Gutierrez and Ocasio haven’t been charged with any wrongdoing. The only person involved in the condo development at 1834 N. Kedzie who’s accused of any crime is Kuchmiyov.

The FBI and U.S. attorney’s office in Chicago declined to comment on the case, as did Ferguson’s office.

But it appears to be moving forward. Kuchmiyov’s attorney, Joseph N. DiNatale, confirms that his client is part of “an ongoing investigation of a number of people,” though Kuchmiyov hasn’t been indicted.

On May 20, 2010 — 16 days after the Sun-Times’ investigation was published — FBI agents interviewed Kuchmiyov, according to an affidavit by FBI Special Agent Brian J. Etchell that was recently filed in U.S. District Court in Chicago.

Kuchmiyov told the FBI that, as of 2008, he was making $3,300 a month. But, on a mortgage application he filed March 4, 2008, with US Bank, Kuchmiyov had reported his monthly income was actually more than twice that amount — $7,650.

Exactly two months and one day later, on May 5, 2008, he filed an application for another mortgage, for the second condo, with National City Bank. On that mortgage application, he said his monthly income was $8,111.

On both mortgage applications, Kuchmiyov said he was a U.S. citizen, but immigration records show he isn’t, according to Etchell’s sworn statement. During his May 20, 2010, interview with the FBI, Kuchmiyov said “he had been in the United States for the previous six or seven years on a student visa.”

When Kuchmiyov applied for his second mortgage, he told the bank he didn’t own any other property. “That statement also was false,” according to Etchell’s affidavit, because Kuchmiyov had just bought the first condo at 1834 N. Kedzie “only two weeks earlier.”

Both of his condos are now in foreclosure. When the banks sued to foreclose on him, Kuchmiyov owed them a total of $670,353, court records show.

After his arrest late last year, Kuchmiyov spent a month at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in the Loop. He was released after a 26-year-old man named Bogdan Popovych posted a $100,000 bond for him.

Kuchmiyov appears to have had ties to Roman Popovych beyond buying the two condos from him, according to government and court records and Kuchmiyov’s lawyer, DiNatale, who says it’s his understanding that his client once worked for Roman Popovych’s development company, which is called V.P. Interlink.

“I believe he worked there some time back,” DiNatale says, adding that, at the time, “He was going to some business college, trying to learn real estate and investment.”

Also, Kuchmiyov, who is a licensed notary public, notarized documents regarding a property transfer in June 2010 between V.P. Interlink and Bogdan Popovych, who’s listed in state records as an employee of V.P. Interlink.

Gutierrez and Ocasio have both said that the sale of the discount-priced condo to Figueroa was properly handled.

Six months before Gutierrez’s daughter bought the condo, his congressional campaign fund received a $1,000 contribution from Roman Popovych, records show.

Ocasio’s aldermanic campaign fund got $13,500 in contributions between 2004 and 2009 from Roman Popovych and V.P. Interlink.

Ocasio left the Chicago City Council in 2009 to take a $125,000-a-year state job as a senior adviser to Gov. Pat Quinn on social justice issues. He left that job last month for another post in state government, as the $110,000-a-year director of community affairs for the Illinois Housing Development Authority, which finances affordable-housing projects.

Ocasio says he has never met Kuchmiyov or spoken with Popovych since last year’s Sun-Times reports. And he says federal authorities haven’t contacted him about the condo development.

Gutierrez’s press secretary, Douglas Rivlin, says “neither the congressman nor anyone in his family has been contacted regarding” 1834 N. Kedzie.

The congressman “knows who Kuchmiyov is” but “doesn’t think he ever had a conversation with him,” Rivlin says, adding that “the congressman had not talked to [Roman] Popovych in a while before he met with [Sun-Times reporters] a year or so ago, and he has not talked to him since then.”

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