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A scam takes cops for a ride

They invested with a colleague, and some lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. The LAPD and FBI are on the case.

September 14, 2010|By Joel Rubin, Los Angeles Times

Being a cop wasn't enough for Darcey Greenfield.

The 17-year veteran of the Los Angeles Police Department moonlighted in the tumultuous world of real estate. Her "dibbling and dabbling," as she put it, began with her buying a small apartment building during her rookie year and grew into a full-fledged side-profession. She got a real estate license and office space where, on days off from wearing the badge, she researched investments and met with clients.

Many of those clients came from the LAPD. For years, Greenfield said, she stuck to brokering loans or selling homes for other cops. But eventually she took the step of investing other people's money in real estate ventures. In police station hallways and locker rooms, word spread about the detective assigned to Narcotics Division who could turn a quick profit if you had money to invest.

For a fortunate few, Greenfield came through with the double-digit returns that sounded too good to be true.

Then everything unraveled.

Greenfield is now the subject of investigations by the FBI and the LAPD. Over several months in 2007 and 2008, she said, she collected about $2 million from investors and funneled it to a man who was ultimately discovered to be a con artist.

At least 13 LAPD employees are known from Greenfield's bankruptcy filings to have invested with her — four of them detectives and five others supervising sergeants. Police officials suspect that the total could be higher because officers were probably pooling their money and investing under a single name.

At least three officers, including Greenfield, have declared bankruptcy. Others have gone further into debt to pay back friends and relatives who gave them money to invest. One officer is so ashamed, she has not told family members she took out a second mortgage to repay them.

Investigators are trying to determine whether Greenfield was a hapless victim or somehow complicit in the scam. She has denied any wrongdoing, saying she believed the money was going into a legitimate real estate investment. She claims to have lost nearly $2 million of her own money as well.

For the LAPD, the debacle has raised an embarrassing question: How did so many cops trained to solve crimes end up getting taken by a criminal?

"The truth of the matter is that there was greed on all sides," said Sandra L. Bendon, a federal court trustee who administered Greenfield's bankruptcy case.

Few of the LAPD employees who invested with Greenfield wanted to talk about what happened. Some said they feared they would face disciplinary action for having been involved with Greenfield. Others said they held out hope that Greenfield would return their money someday and didn't want to jeopardize that possibility. Several said they wanted to put the ordeal behind them. "Is talking about it going to bring my money back?" one asked sarcastically.

Greenfield did agree to speak once, so much of the saga is based on her version of events.

It began, she said, in May 2007, when a real estate agent presented her with an investment opportunity that the agent said could earn a 20% profit within three months.

Leroy Dowd, the 70-year-old bishop of Triumph Church of God in South Los Angeles, was looking for investors to provide an infusion of cash, the agent told Greenfield. Dowd needed the money to catch up on late mortgage and tax payments on the church as well as a nearby mortuary and several other properties he owned. The payoff for Greenfield would come when the properties were sold or the mortgages refinanced, the agent said.

Dowd's religiosity appealed to Greenfield. A self-proclaimed "devout Christian," she said she likes to focus her real estate dealings on "helping the church to financially succeed as well as helping [people] to live a Christian life."

Greenfield blurred the line between religion and real estate with potential investors as well. In a letter explaining the various investment options, Greenfield wrote, "I have found great reward in the final results financially and spiritually. There is no better gift than to give. God will bless those who sow into the kingdom."

Before investing with Dowd, Greenfield said, she spoke to several people in his congregation and checked public records on his properties. She came away convinced he was a trustworthy "man of god" and that his properties were solid investments. Without having met him, Greenfield said, she sent Dowd $180,000.

Within weeks, Dowd told Greenfield he would need additional time to pay her back. At that, Greenfield went to meet Dowd in person because she "wanted to know what was going on."

Dowd, she said, assured her he would get his finances in order and also told her he was the legal conservator for a wealthy grandson and would soon have access to several million dollars. According to Greenfield, Dowd showed her documents supporting his claim and promised to pay her back from the fund if necessary.

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