Foreclosure: Daily Doom and Gloom

by Alex Stenback on November 28, 2007

Foreclosures, near-North Minneapolis, Via Star-Tribune Foreclosure Map

It’s getting hard to keep up with the now daily real-estate-is-going-to-hell in-handbasket data stream, but we wanted to point out a couple of stats from some of the recent coverage that had us pausing mid-read.

For instance, from the Pioneer Press, on North Minneapolis, which as you can see from the map above, is Ground Zero for the Twin Cities foreclosure problem:

In the Jordan area of North Minneapolis, banks are repossessing homes at a rate of about 200 per half-square mile — the highest rate in the Twin Cities

And this, from the Strib, detailing an FBI raid of perhaps the biggest fraud-for-profit outfit yet:

"The affidavit indicates that about 150 north Minneapolis properties foreclosed on in one six-month period earlier this year passed through TJ Waconia’s hands.

That’s one in every five foreclosed properties in that area in that period,…"

Just jaw-dropping stuff.
More Trouble in Sight [Pioneer Press]
FBI Names Two in Latest Mortgage Fraud Case [Strib]

Update: Commenter John Hoff went all Columbo and posted at least a partial list of properties that passed through TJ Waconia and are now in foreclosure.  Nice work there.

One thing to keep in mind is that these properties aren’t by definition damaged goods – as always there is a market value for any property – its just that the history of values on these properties will have very little to do with reality, since they were inflated for fraudulent purposes.

Of course, these fraudulent sales distort the market, because they become comparable (albeit inflated) sales for legitmate transactions.  Because of the sheer volume of properties involved, it is highly likely that many legit buyers in north paid more than the true market value.  This is where mortgage fraud hurts everybody.

{ 93 comments… read them below or add one }

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 3:22 am


Oh, I can’t stop. Turning up information is just too easy!

Here’s more stuff linking (a) Jim Watkins and (a) Tom Balko from the “bigger pockets” forum.

On Sunday, November 26, 2006, at 4:01 am Jim Watkins (posting as thedfwmentor) was commenting on the following quote:

The bottom line on any course or anything in that matter “You get what you put in.” A friend of mine owns about $6,000 worth of courses from ron legrand, get the deed people, charelton sheets, and countless books. He has never purchased an investment property yet, and I don’t see him purchasing anything in the future

In response to that quote, above, Jim Watkins posted the following, which I have modified by putting it in ALL CAPS:


Jim then provides the following quote:

If you swallow a pill to lose weight or read a book to get rich…Real Estate Investing WON’T work for you!

Jim attributes the quote as follows:

Tom Balko, TJ2 properties.

Jim then adds:

Tom’s quote is among the best and most accurate I have ever heard in the real estate industry. It’s a JOB! Is it that easy as the infomercials claim? NO Is it hard? NO Can anyone do it? NO Can you do it? YES How? Common sense and an age old technique called…TRYING!!!

He then signs his name: -Jim Watkins.


In response to this posting by Jim, the moderator of Bigger Pockets comments. The moderator is Ryan Webber, who joined (his own forum) 13 Sep 2006 and has 1352 posts (as of yesterday) and lists his location as Amarillo, Texas.

He comments as follows:

lol, now that one I like, Jim.

Tom is dead on with that quote. It is so true. Most people’s problem is that they are not willing to commit for the long haul and work at it. It can take years of diligent effort to build a business of any significance, and frankly most people are not willing to put in the required time, money, commitment, and dedication to EARN a successful business.

In response to this conversation, a poster identified as a “newbie” says, “I’m ready to sign the subscription service and the cost low. Where do I sign?”

The conversation has a contrived feel, I must say, but there it is…submitted for your consideration. The individual identified as Jim Watkins appears to be quite involved with Tom Balko.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 3:28 am

Here is what turns up for Absolute Appraisers and Tom Balko:

Please tell the appraisers you found them on

Company Name: Absolute Appraisals Login to manage favorites
Appraiser Name Tom Balko
Postal Address: 12815 Island View Circle
City: Rogers
State: Minnesota
Zip Code: 55374
State Licensed In: Minnesota
State License or Certification Number: 20176967
License/Certificate Type: Certified Residential.
Phone Number: 763 428.5579
Fax Number: 764 428.5854
Services Provided: Residential, EDI capable.
Counties We Serve: Anoka, Carver, Chisago, Dakota, Hennepin, Isanti, Ramsey, Sherburne, Washington, Wright.
Brief Description: We have 10 appraisals statewide to cover most of Minnesota and parts of Wisconsin. We have a usual turn around time of 2 days, but can do same day appraisals.
Specialty: Condominium, Drive-By Appraisals, Duplex Appraisal, Income Property, Lake Front Property, New Construction, PMI Removal, Proposed Construction, Residential 1-4 family, Rural, Small Income Property, Townhome, Triplex.

Visitors 1703 since 07/29/2005.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 3:59 am

Nothing too terribly exciting to be found here, but this is the link for Jon Helgason’s company.

Jim Watkins December 23, 2007 at 5:13 am

I will say in response to your posts…

1- If you do a simple search on Google and enter in the names “Jim Watkins” and “John Hoff” … Those names are linked! Does that mean you, me or anyone else has done anything?
I do appreciate the fact that you have at least been fair in the matter.

2- Tom is a friend. Does not mean we have any business dealings. And for the record, Director of Operations, consisted of dealing with maintenance issues and tenant related things. I have not owned any real estate in Minnesota nor have I been involved in any real estate transaction there involving a sale.

3- Thank you for posting all of the threads and comments from my posts. I am proud of them and am proud that I have encouraged other readers to “do right” and help others.

You should try it sometime.


sam December 23, 2007 at 7:59 am

Jim, fess up, you put those two scum bags in contact with potential investors and properties during your stint here.

And people, when jim threatens I have people, relax. We knew him as a blow hard here. Another words he fakes it till he makes it. I have people,,,LOL,,Jim, you’re still a joke.

And there was a complaint filed with the commerce department 3 years ago. They failed to see any reason to investigate. I wonder if the people in North Minneapolis think there was nothing to investigate.

Stalk them? You bet. Some kid in Maple Grove is deprived of there dance lessons while wife Jill has bought another home in Maple Grove (any one with MLS access can find that hint hint) and has grand piano displayed in the front window?

That is disgusting. How does Tom and Jill sleep at night. And the reason you don’t hear as much from Jon? He is more the quite calculating type. Slightly brighter than Tom.

I wonder how they feel knowing they will never see their kids graduate.

Amy and Jill (the wifes) also have benefited from this money and need to pay.

And Jim, who plays coy early in this blog. Has anyone here typed fraud into google and seen what comes up? And Jim just happened to do that and come to this site? Please Jim, you are searching and are worried.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 2:22 pm

I tried typing in “Jim Watkins” and “fraud” but I’m not turning up anything definitive. I need more info, more clues. Send me places on the internet where I can find stuff!

Spill, people, spill! Give me the addresses of more properties linked to Balko, Helgeson, TJ Waconia.

Give me something to dig into.

It must be a really awful feeling for Jim Watkins to be so closely linked to Balko and Helgeson, and wondering if/when the FBI will come a-calling like Santas who pay a visit to seize boxes of documents instead of delivering gaily-wrapped presents.

I can’t help but wonder how all the people Watkins is doing business with in Texas–the “mentoring” and “investment” lessons and so forth, see his extensive website–would feel to know Watkins is so closely linked to these individuals (Balko and Helgeson) being investigated by the FBI as part of sworn allegations of mortgage fraud?

As for Jim’s comment that I should try “doing right,” clearly Jim hasn’t spent enough time in a sweaty, exhausting love-tangle with my most favorite search engine, Googly-Woogly.

If Jim had searched more, he’d discover I’ve spent most of my adult life doing energetic, uncompensated work as a community activist on a number of issues in a number of states while Jim has spent most of HIS life worshipping Mammon, God of Money.

The Webmaster of this site has seen two of the opinion columns I’ve written, urging grad students, et al, to see the untapped potential in the North Side, to seek equity and the revitalization of those neighborhoods, and free themselves of a life of oppressive rent-slavery, walking in the personal utopia of home equity.

My desire to move to the North Side of Minneapolis (only my latest activist interest) is so I can help turn that blighted neighborhood around while having highly affordable housing near my little son, who lives with his mother. (And a good mother my ex-wife is, too, for the record)

I see all those vacant North Side buildings and I’m filled with a desire to CLEAN UP THE SHAMEFUL FREAKING MESS created by TJ Waconia, et al, the people who are basically JIM WATKINS’ BUSINESS BUDDIES who are now being investigated by the freaking EFF BEE EYE.

I have to wonder what kind of interest the mainstream press in Texas might take in the matter of Jim Watkins being so closely linked to Balko and Helgeson? I certainly intend to drop a few emails into Dallas to find out.

No, I won’t get paid for it. But it’s the right thing to do.

Ho, ho, ho.

the truth December 23, 2007 at 2:30 pm

And if you take Mr. Hoff’s info and plug it into Hennepin County tax record. Low and behold, here is what you get.

Property ID: 20-120-23-41-0007
Address: 12815 ISLAND VIEW CIR
School Dist: 728 Construction year: 2002

Watershed: 0 Approx. Parcel Size: E 335X539X255X562

Sewer Dist:
Taxpayer Name

I hope someone from Dancers Edge is reading this blog. You deserve your money back.

sam December 23, 2007 at 2:40 pm

Jim Hoff, you rock. Don’t ever stop doing what you do. These people have done more harm than you can imagine, and yes, Jim should be looked into in Dallas.

If you go to the Complete Web Site, you find the names Kevin Pauly and Sam Ashkar. I urge you to investigate these two very carefully. They both have played a major roll for many years. I was wondering if Kevin Pauly is the one who ran to South Africa.

And Mr. Hoff, please, please do not give up on this, and keep the site posted in all you find. My greatest fear is one or both of these pigs flees the country, if tom already hasn’t.

You have no idea the pain they caused by doing section eight rentals, not paying, and poor unsuspecting people suddenly loosing their home. It’s sickening. And yet they and their families are living the high life. I am sure we are only seeing and guessing at the half of it. What’s the old saying, you only see 10 percent of the ice berg?

You will not find Jim and fraud on the internet. Jim took payments from Helgason and Balko for having properties lined up by him and finding straw buyers for them. He is correct in saying you will not see his name anywhere, but I am sure you can find many people, if the word is put out, that know of his illegal doings.

Please contact Dallas, they should look into what he is doing. Again, he learned and modeled from jon and tom.

sam December 23, 2007 at 2:42 pm

Oh, and if you are wondering who I am and why I am so bitter, I am one of the many who’s lives were nearly ruined by these bastards.

Fortunately I asked too many questions early on.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 2:51 pm

Oh, I see, you just punched in the address of Absolute Appraisals and turned up that tax info about the parcel. OK. So Balko and his wife own the property where Absolute Appraisals sits. OK.

Tell me what that shows? How that is significant? How that relates to Dancer’s Edge?

Please make it clear for those who are not intimately involved in the dealings of TJ Waconia, etc..

ALSO, TO THE PERSON AT A MEDIA ENTITY IN DALLAS who I just contacted by phone and directed their attention to this thread by sending a link via email moments ago:

I have not attempted to contact any other mainstream media at this point. If you have an interest in the links between Dallas/Fort Worth businessman Jim Watkins and TJ Waconia, now under FBI investigation in Minnesota, the story is all yours at this point.

Of course, I only speak for my own efforts.

I have no control over other posters with names like, ha ha, “the truth.”

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 2:54 pm

Nice of you to say I rock, but my name is John. I am certainly not JIM.

But I’m not “Jon” either, like Jon Helgeson!

I wish I could take all this energy and put it into revitalizing the North Side! Right now I should actually be writing a late term paper on, of all things, “theater of the oppressed” on the contingent of Africa. But I think we’re seeing quite a drama right here, ha ha.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 3:07 pm

Yes, I see those names on the Complete Mortgage Website and a couple others, as follows.

Complete Mortgage

3101 Old Highway 8, Ste. 204
Roseville, MN 55113
Phone: 651-287-3400
Fax: 651-287-3418

Jon E. Helgason, President

Sam Ashkar, Business Development 651-287-3412

Kevin Pauly, Branch Manager 651-203-3428

Mark Sczepaniak, Manager 651-287-3413

Magie Samuelson, Manager 651-287-3407

Where are these people now? Are any of them talking to the FBI? Can’t be found? Entirely innocent persons who merely answered phones and filed papers? Somebody thinks one of them went to South Africa? Who? When? WHERE in South Africa?

Because I’ll contact somebody in South Africa, I swear to God.

Does anybody have more street addresses of properties involved with TJ Waconia? Punching in these addresses to the city and county website produces interesting patterns, more names, etc.

In fact, that kind of information appears to be the fuel that started the fire on this thread and got Jim Watkins to come here and comment all the way from Dallas.

OK, somebody is alleging Jim Watkins lined up buyers. (It’s merely being said by somebody, I don’t know it to be true)

OK, what buyers? NAMES? What properties? ADDRESSES?

I’ll keep looking into these other names to see what turns up.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 3:33 pm

Link to the story about Thomas Balko and Dancer’s Edge, just so everybody can follow the plot easily.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 4:00 pm

For what it is worth, the property owned by a “Mark Sczepaniak” in Fridley, Minnesota. He was (still would be?) the office manager for Complete Mortgage.

Property Account Summary
Current General Information
Property ID 14-30-24-14-0099
Situs Address 6740 KENNASTON DR NE , FRIDLEY, MN 55432-0000
Last Sale Price 215,000.00
Last Sale Date 02/07/2005
Last Sale Document Type WDEE WARRANTY DEED
Linked Property Group Position
Status Active
Abstract/Torrens Abstract

Role Name

This was on the Anoka County website, which is not much harder to use than the Hennepin County website.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 4:09 pm

Assuming that is the SAME Mark Sczepaniak. It’s not a common name, and there is also another way to spell that last name.

I also turned up a “Magie Samuelson” who doesn’t spell her first name in a very common way at all. That name turns up with an individual who is very involved with the “Wilderness Park Homeowners Association.” The address listed for “Magie Samuelson” is 3656 Pinecrest Court, Eagan, Minnesota. You’ll note that is DAKOTA COUNTY, not Hennepin or Anoka.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 4:26 pm

Here’s something involving Sam Ashkar. This comes from minutes of the City of Hugo, as follows:

IV. Review Plat for Wilderness View 2
2nd Addition
Sam Ashkar was present, representing TJ Land Trust and Wilderness View 2nd
************ [My highlighting with asterisks]

The Parks Commission reviewed the staff report and decided to take Park Dedication fees in lieu of land. Mr. Ashkar also informed the Parks Commission that a bituminous trail would also be constructed as part of this project that would link Wilderness View 2nd
with Wilderness View 1st
and the proposed Wilderness View 3rd.

Pedersen made a motion, Kirk seconded, to accept fees in lieu of land for Wilderness View 2nd

Page 2

Hugo, Minnesota Parks and Recreation Open Space Commission Minutes
December 14, 2005
Page 2

and that the developers construct the bituminous trail between developments as discussed.

All Aye. Motion Carried.

V. Review Sketch Plan for Wilderness View 3

Public Works Director Chris Petree provided an overview on the concept plan and staff report for Wilderness View 3rd
. The Parks Commission decided to take Park Dedication fees in lieu of
land. The Parks Commission also stated that they would like a trail on the west side of Fondant Av. N. from the northern property line to the southern property line. Also, the Parks Commission requests that a trail be constructed on the southern most street that runs to the east and west property lines.

Kirk made a motion, Cheesebrow seconded, to accept fees in lieu of land for Wilderness View 3rd Addition and to include/construct trails within the development as discussed.

Is there going to be some fallout for the City of Hugo, here, since this is one of those “TJ Land Trust” things?

I notice the word “wilderness” pops up with Magie Samuelson, but she’s in Eagan and this project is in Hugo.

But it’s interesting how Sam Ashkar is speaking for TJ Land Trust over this thing in Hugo called “Wilderness” and a Magie Samuelson, whose name is linked to a Sam Ashkar through Complete Mortgage, is also involved in an entity with “Wilderness” in the name.

So is the Magie Samuelson involved in the Wilderness Park Homeowners Association the same Magie who worked (or worked) for Complete Mortgage?

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 4:40 pm


TJ Land trust did indeed leave the City of Hugo high and dry. Here is something from a newspaper–not sure if it’s online only or also appears in print–dated January 24, 2007.

The stuff about the TJ Land trust project (Wilderness View Second Addition) is in the paragraph after the —> symbol that I inserted, way down below.


Hugo Housing Projects Fizzle

By Deb Barnes

No fewer than eight residential projects submitted in 2006 for consideration by the city of Hugo have failed to proceed to the construction stage thus far.

Two of them, Sunset Shores and Enchanted Waters, are the first two subdivisions considered under the city’s Rural and Open Space Preservation Ordinance.

The Hugo Planning Commission’s 2006 Annual Report, dated January 11, 2007, attributes the fizzle to “the decline in the housing market and other circumstances.”

In total, the eight projects amount to about 1300 homes that are not, at least for the time being, on the city’s construction horizon. Although the proposed number of homes total 2050, two projects – the Del Webb community and, later, Oneka Shores – involved the same parcel east of Hwy. 61 south of 165th Street.

According to city Finance Director Ron Otkin, Hugo and other local cities anticipated the slowdown. “I talked to several finance directors from surrounding cities who were wondering what I was doing for budgeting,” he said. “I told them I was being very conservative.”

He said that Hugo anticipates the equivalent of 100 housing starts in 2007, a considerable decline since the city saw 801 residential starts in 2005.

Like Hugo, other cities are “lowering their expectations for permit revenue,” Otkin said.

The city is not short of platted lots. As of January 1, 2007 there were 365 platted singlefamily lots for which building permits had not been pulled, a decrease of 108 lots over 2006.

The number of approved and platted multi-family lots available for sale has increased, from 550 on January 1, 2006 to 747.

Enchanted Waters – located on the Bever Landscaping property on 130th Street east of Goodview Ave. – received preliminary plat approval from the city last summer. Property owner Jim Bever said he will be applying for an extension for fi nal plat as he is no longer working with Stoney River Development, the developer on the project.

Developer Gary Mulcahy withdrew his application for preliminary plat for the 60-home Wilderness View 3rd Addition, located north of 125th Street and east of Hwy. 61, before the project’s plat application was heard by Council, but after the city’s Planning Commission recommended approval of the project.

Only two of the eight projects, Sunset Shores and Wilderness View 2nd Addition, received final plat approval. The developers of Wilderness View 2nd Addition, a 59-lot development located on the west side of Goodview Avenue south of 130th Street, never filed their final plat. According to the city, that approval has subsequently expired.

For the Sunset Shores development, situated on property owned by the Wlaschin family, the project has recently received an unexpected and tragic setback. Bruce Nedegaard, the “sole owner of Benchmark Companies . passed away, suddenly,” according to Dave Wlaschin, spokesperson for the family.

“We are going to be initiating a cancellation of our contract with Benchmark . and we do have several parties that are interested [in developing the property],” said Wlaschin.

Last week, the city received a letter from the Wlaschin family requesting an extension for filing the final plat with Washington County. Under ordinance, plats must be filed within 60 days of final plat approval unless an extension is granted.

Concept plans were reviewed for: a 124-lot project on the Arcand family property north of 130th Street and east of Hwy. 61; a 975-lot development west of Oneka Lake sought by Del Webb/Pulte Homes, later a 752-lot project (Oneka Shores) proposed by The Beard Group; and a 29-home rural cluster development located on the east and west sides of Jeffrey Avenue north of 152nd Street (Hop- kins Farms) proposed by J & B Development.

At the time The Citizen went to press, additional applications for these projects had not been submitted.

OK, so is the City of Hugo aware and making the link between TJ Waconia and this fizzled “Wilderness View” land project out in Hugo?

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 4:59 pm


If you try to search under “TJ Holdings” the search engine goes insane. So one tries to narrow it down to an entity in Minnesota but it becomes a question whether the “TJ Holdings” in Minnesota could be linked to other entities named “TJ Holdings” in other states.

There is a Minnesota entity called “TJ Holdings LLC” that received $871k of federal funding in the year 2006 in the state of Minnesota. THAT much I can turn up. Here is the info:


Assistance to Recipient(s) “tj holdings llc”
(FY 2006)


List of Recipients for FY 2006

You can click on the column headers below to re-sort the search.
Recipient Name State Federal Funding (for this search)
TJ HOLDINGS LLC Minnesota $871,000

Total recipients for fiscal year 2006: 1

Federal funding (within this search) for the year : $871,000

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 5:11 pm


This from the minutes of the Alexandria, Minn. City council on April 9, 2007, as follows.


City Attorney John Lervick noted he had an Order for Condemnation at 216 10th Avenue East, which is owned by TJ Holdings, LLC.

The condition of the property is a hazard. Under the Statute the City Council needs to find a hazard exists to remove the building.

They have been working with the building inspector’s office concerning this property, and there are some timelines that need to be met.

Following discussion, a motion was made by Frank and seconded by Benson to authorize execution of the Order of the Alexandria City Council for property located at 216 10th Avenue East (parcel number 63-1649-000). The motion carried by the following vote:

YES: Carlson, Weisel, Benson, Frank

NO: None

Alexandria is, by coincidence, my home town. But the name “TJ Holdings” is common, and even though this is “TJ Holdings, LLC” it’s not 100 percent certain this is the same one linked to TJ Waconia.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 5:25 pm

I did go to the Secretary of State’s website, as Alex the webmaster suggested. And I tried to find “TJ” entities. I didn’t have much luck, except I did turn up the entity called “TJ 2, LLC” which seems to be the Tom Balko entity mentioned by Jim Watkins on that one thread discussion.

Here is their info:

Filing Number: 24179-LLC Entity Type: Limited Liability Company
Original Date of Filing: 8/7/2001 Entity Status: Active
Entity Date to Expire: Chapter: 322B
Good Standing:
(date of last annual filing) 2006
Name: T.J.2, LLC
Registered Office Address: 3101 Old Hwy 8 #301
Roseville, MN, 55113
Home State: MN

Agent Name: No Agent Filed

However, it appears an entity called “TJ2, LLC” owns an aircraft in Michigan. Not 100 percent certain if that is the same TJ2 linked to Tom Balko.

I will be posting that info about the aircraft in a moment.

(God, why do I do this when I have a TERM PAPER to write?)

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 5:30 pm

This is the aircraft owned by TJ 2 LLC, which APPEARS to be Tom Balko’s entity, if this is the same TJ 2 LLC linked to Balko.

The words “TJ 2 LLC” appear where the names of owners with human names appear on other registrations, as follows:

BEECH | N35 | JACKSON | fixed wing single engine | TJ 2 LLC

Serial number: D-6769
N-number: 4489P
Cerificate issued: Thursday, September 06, 2001
Manufactured year: 1961

This is kind of cool, but it wasn’t terribly difficult. I just searched for stuff using the name of the Balko entity which turned up from that thread discussion where Jim Watkins said how friendly he was with Balko, and mentioned TJ 2.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 5:54 pm


I’m not convinced the aircraft in question is linked to Balko. There could be another entity called “TJ 2 LLC.” This aircraft is linked to JACKSON, MICHIGAN.

That seems a bit far off for Minnesota. But, then again, you’ve got Jim Watkins in Dallas, Texas who is linked to Balko. So why couldn’t Balko’s entity, TJ 2, LLC, own a plane in Michigan? Very little info about TJ 2 LLC turns up online EXCEPT that plane registration.

If there were ANOTHER TJ 2 LLC out there, you’d think MORE stuff would turn up. More than just the plane, right?

Also, to be fair: there is nothing wrong or nefarious with owning an aircraft under the name of an LLC, whether it’s owned by an LLC controlled by Balko or an entirely different LLC which just happens (unfortunately) to have the same exact name as the LLC linked to Tom Balko.

Using on-line resources, one can literally track that aircraft. It’s not doing anything exciting at the moment. There’s no way to tell by the info about the aircraft whether it is linked to Balko.

It’s not heading for Mexico this very second. (And there’s nothing illegal about going to Mexico)

Jim Watkins? Any ideas? Buy me a clue? Does your best friend and chum Balko have something to do with that aircraft or am I barking up the wrong tree?

I’m at a bit of a dead end, here. In order to find more info, I need more names…more addresses… something more to dig into. Help me out, folks who have a bone to pick with Balko, et al.

One gets a very strong inkling that TJ Holdings/ TJ Land Trust / TJ Waconia spreads its tentacles beyond the state of Minnesota.

But, except for Dallas/Fort Worth denizen Jim Watson’s links to Balko and Helgason, I can’t turn anything like that up at the moment.

I do wish the FBI would let out more information about what is happening, here. The TJ Waconia mess appears to touch a lot of people and communities.

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 6:02 pm


This info turned up in a search about Watkins, as follows:

Jim Watkins said…

Hello from Dallas!
I am Jim Watkins, the author of the article you are referring to and I discovered your post after scanning through Google this morning.
I wanted to thank you for reading the article as well as passing it along to others to read.
I normally don’t comment on the boards but I thought I would here because there is a soft spot with me when I think of Minnesota. I grew up in New Brighton and still follow a lot of the real estate happenings there.
Buckle up Minnesota… this real estate storm is already hitting investors pretty hard. Take a vacation maybe and head South to Texas for a while!
Jim Watkins
November 23, 2007 7:49 AM


John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 6:16 pm


OK, I actually did turn up a kind of connection between JIM WATKINS (friend, chum, buddy to the bitter end of Tom Balko of TJ Waconia, now subject to FBI investigation) and the state of Michigan.

Here is the link:

It’s an extensive discussion by Jim Watkins about whether investing in real estate in Michigan is a good idea or not, and whether all Michigan real estate is in as bad of a shape as Detroit.

So there you have a link between Jim Watkins and the State of Michigan through this extensive discussion by Jim of real estate in Michigan.

Jim Watkins can write–well, in a boring but clear enough way–and he is rather prolific in his writings about real estate. Some of it is even expressive, like a piece he wrote on a run-down house and the pitiable children who lived there, and how he hated to see that.

Oh, and the man loves his dogs. He is crazy about golden retrievers. Jim Watkins sounds like somebody who you would find quite agreeable and personable if you met Jim, though of course rather INTENSE about helping people get into the real estate market. But not such a bad guy, in person, I’ll bet.

But, yeah, follow the link and here you’ll see Jim Watkins going out of his way to write about REAL ESTATE IN MICHIGAN.

So that leads me to wonder, more, whether the aircraft in question belongs to the same TJ 2 LLC entity linked to Tom Balko? And whether TJ Waconia (et al) spreads its tentacles into Michigan?

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 6:32 pm


Some of Jim Watkins’ rather notable writings on the subject of real estate fraud can be found here:

And here is a really interesting portion of that article, in the words of Jim Watkins:

The Attorney General for the State of Texas has issued numerous public warnings to homeowners facing foreclosure. The warning is simple, really…”Do not sign the title of your house away to anyone claiming they can help.”

Those warnings hit me pretty good since a large portion of my business involves homeowners in pre-foreclosure. It is a common thing for an owner to deed me their house using a Warranty Deed. Furthermore, I make sure there is no possibility of fraud being involved. But the Attorney General has made it clear NOT to give up your title! Who is right? I say the Attorney General is right, BUT…I am not wrong.

Real Estate and Mortgage fraud are so rampant in Texas that issuing warnings to homeowners is just one step the state is taking to lessen fraud. I am not going to give the details of fraud cases that have prompted the warnings because I don’t like telling people how others committed fraud.

It is very bothersome to have to contend with homeowners when they bring the warnings up. A few less than honorable people out there make it difficult on the rest of us who go out of our way to comply with the law.

Me again:

One can’t help but note Jim’s website is ABSOLUTELY PLASTERED with warnings to avoid and report mortgage fraud.

So what’s the deal, here? Does Jim Watkins just have a really unfortunate choice of friends and former (?) associates? Are Tom Balko and Jon Helgason WRONGLY ACCUSED by the FBI and will soon be completely exonerated?

How does one reconcile the fact Jim Watkins of Texas positions himself as an honest businessman dealing in real estate and investment, horrified by mortgage fraud, and yet his buddies are Tom Balko and Jon Helgason? HOW DOES ONE RECONCILE THE TWO FACTS?

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 6:41 pm


Oh, god. Do I have to mine that whole “deep pockets” website for interesting nuggets about Jim Watkins?

But I can’t believe the stuff that keeps turning up. I keep telling myself, “Just a few more searches and then back to the term paper.” And then THIS turns up.

Summary: Jim Watkins finds being a licensed real estate agent “too restrictive.” Oh, also, he has people sign blank contracts. By his own admission, in his own words, as follows:

Dollar, [Note--Jim is addressing a poster in a chat forum. JOHN HOFF]

One of the reasons I am not licensed is because I personally found that being licensed was more restrictive versus not being licensed.

From what you have said, I don’t see why you would need a Realtor with what you are looking to do. Realtors are extremely valuable to me overall but in a case like this, having the ability to go directly to the homeowner to make an offer will only help your bottom line if Realtor fee’s can be saved.

That being said, I wanted to offer my method for making an offer.

Granted, this is more effective when the property is “distressed” rather than an ordinary house listed for sale.

I don’t make offers like most do by offering a number and hope they will accept it or counter. I prefer to start from payoff and go from there.

On a $100,000 sale price house where I want to offer $60,000, I go at it from the payoff. Here’s how I do it….

I have been known to have sellers sign blank contracts. Most usually flip out when I suggest they sign one. I always say something like this:

“Until we know what the payoff is, it doesn’t matter what amount I offer you because this contract is only worth something if I end up buying it and closing on it.” “The bottom line is… How much cash do you have to have out of this? I mean after the deal is done, we have closed, taxes have been paid, fee’s paid and the dust has settled…. how much cash in the end do you want to walk away with?”

My experience has always been that the number they give me at that point ends up being less than if I had given a purchase price offer. Generally it is not above $15,000. It is merely another way to approach sellers without appearing to be low balling them.

If they should give you a bottom line “out the door” number, then I would write the contract and put in the “provisions” that the deal is contingent upon the payoff amount and the seller must net X amount in the end (the number they said) after all fee’s etc. have been paid at closing.”

Give it a try and let us know how you fare with it.

-Jim Watkins

John Hoff December 23, 2007 at 7:52 pm


Jim Watkins, I’m confused…you said in the “bigger pockets” forum that you’re not a licensed real estate agent. But this thread, right here, involves a “real estate agent meet up” and it has your distinctive little picture.

So are you, or are you not a real estate agent?

Media Hound December 24, 2007 at 3:57 am

“Jim Watkins? Any ideas? Buy me a clue? Does your best friend and chum Balko have something to do with that aircraft or am I barking up the wrong tree”

Self promoter of “Dumpster Diving”

John Hoff is actually, John Hoffman.

John also “runs” with (former?) editor of the MnDaily and activist, Karl Noyes.

Here is a quote from that site:

“This publication, The Appleton TIMES is only to be found online, unless I might have time to throw a few copies in a secondhand orange wheelbarrow and park that wheelbarrow on that main street lot that I own, purchased for $1.

The Appleton TIMES is run by John Hoff, and if you have something to say you can email me at or you can write to me at Box 101, Appleton, MN 56208. Email will get you a much quicker response, believe me.

Do you have anonymous opinions which you can’t get published in the Appleton Press or the bigger, better paper in Benson? Hey, I want to know what those things are”

For anyone who may take this person seriously, do a search of your own on Google for:
John Hoff University North Dakota Minnesota

After writing a book on Dumpster Diving, Mr. Hoff has proven to be an authority on… “Trash.”

John Hoff December 24, 2007 at 6:17 am


Yeah, when I dig for something I usually find it, no matter what kind of crap I have to sift through, ha ha. You nailed THAT part of my personality, the authority on trash, baby.

Jim, Media Hound, whoever…beating a guy who seeks notoriety over the head with with his own publicity isn’t going to get you anywhere, obviously, but it sure makes the discussion more colorful for the folks who are tuned in, doesn’t it?

Like the folks in Dallas. Your customers, Jim. Watching you heatedly wrangle over your reputation with a garbage guru. Ha ha. The information speaks for itself, whether the messenger is having TOO MUCH FUN or not.

(Sing song voice) Balko is your frieeeeend. Balko is your buuuuuddy. Balko’s being quuuuuuestioned by the eff bee eyyyyye.

So enough about me and back to the business at hand.

How does an “honest” Texas businessman rub elbows SO INTENSELY with folks like Balko and Helgason accused of such bad, smelly things? Tsk tsk.

Let’s all hope “Texas” Jim Watkins answers the questions instead (maybe, possibly) just adopting a new screen name and blowing smoke at my lifelong frugality and concern about saving the earth’s resources, Julia Butterfly Be Praised.

Jim, nobody is watching this forum at the moment but you and your semi-anonymous but highly-informed detractors and, of course, a few extra folks in Dallas drawn by the heat and smoke because, well, I alerted them to the discussion.

For fun. Ho ho ho. Go ahead, hum the theme from Sanford and Son. I LIKE THAT.

I did finish that term paper, by the way, so now I’m free to dig up more info. Riddle me this: is there any connection between TJ Waconia and Universal Mortgage?


I must say, popping off rounds at the messenger is truly a desperate move. I told you I don’t worship Mammon, God of Money, but I care about other things.

Like “doing right.” You should try that some time.

Now, then, Jim…do you want a definitive list of questions to help you break it all down? Let’s start with ARE YOU OR AREN’T YOU A REAL ESTATE AGENT? Have you ever BEEN a real estate agent? Have you ever CLAIMED to be a real estate agent, or allowed others to claim that on your behalf, WHILE YOU WEREN’T?

Let’s start with that. That’s easy. Waiting on the answer, here, Jim. If you want to razz me, feel free, but I sit and wait for the answer ABOUT WHETHER YOU ARE OR HAVE EVER BEEN A REAL ESTATE AGENT, JIM WATKINS. And then there are, like, more questions after that.

So many more questions after that.

John Hoff December 24, 2007 at 6:47 am

Oh, isn’t that sweet? Click where it says “media hound” at the bottom of that post and it’s linked to Jim’s “Igotex” website. I guess there isn’t a lot of doubt left about the origins of the poster called “media hound.”

Editor/Alex December 24, 2007 at 6:58 am

Ok, Now that I’ve spent the last twenty minutes reading through the train wreck this thread has become I think we all need to step away from the keyboard.

If anyone has anything else that is both useful and SUBSTANTIALLY, FACTUALLY relevant to share as it might relate to the ongoing investigation of TJ Waconia, please email me Offline.

To readers catching up, please read the entire thread with a critical eye. There is some good, relevant information here, and also a lot of unsubsantiated steam, from all sides, so as always consider the source, and the context of this discussion.

What started out as a pretty good thread with some interesting background color from people who clearly have detailed and specific knowledge has now descended into some sort of bizarre stream-of-consciousness conspiracy theory rant, pissing contest, etc.

I think we all get that Jim was a little coy about his personal connection to Balko/Helgason, and that was relevant information that simply provided some context to his earlier comments. And that is ALL THAT IT IS. Any insunuation beyond that should be considered as credible, as…well, anonymous comments on a website.

Planes in Michigan? Hearts and Minds? Dear God.

This thread has outlived its usefulness, and is now closed.

As a final note to everyone, this thread should serve as a lesson to be careful about the conversations you start online. They have a way of taking on a life of their own, and unless you run a blog and con control them, you might get a little more than you intended out of the excercise.

Terese January 5, 2008 at 10:00 am

If you are a victim and looking to talk or need assistance. Check out the following site.

Terese January 11, 2008 at 7:21 pm

Many more victims coming forward at

Please come and visit and share

Gideon7 March 13, 2008 at 5:57 pm

For the record our company is also a victim of Jon Helgason. We are going to court on Monday (3/17) because he failed to repay us our deposit when we terminated our commercial lease on one of his properties.

From the above comments we expect him to skip court. If we win (expected) we will try to get a judgment for lien on the office building. We since learned he defaulted his bank loan and they started foreclosure, so it is a race to see if we can get the lien recorded before the bank forecloses on the building.

Gideon7 March 17, 2008 at 1:26 pm

Jon E Helgason skipped court. We won a default judgment. In pre-trial we learned that he also blew off paying the building’s 2007 property taxes ($45K), so Ramsey County is also going after him. We are third in line behind the county and the bank.

The office building is assessed at $1.3M; his mortgage is $1M. We may still get something eventually depending on the amount of the Sheriff’s auction. The auction date hasn’t been posted at the courthouse yet.

The fact that Jon E Helgason blew off all 2007 property tax payments means that he’s been stiffing his creditors for at least a year.

Jon E Helgason is currently listed as running an outfit called Complete Real Estate Services out of the building (Prim Rose Office Building, 3101 Old Highway 8, Roseville). It is the same building where TJ Waconia was registered. I’ve also seen signage for TJ Holdings and TJ Properties. They all use the same suites (100, 104, 105, 203).

RonaldMiller March 17, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Has anybody looked into the FRAUD on Cardiff Ln in Eden Prairie. 27 homes in foreclosure on the same street. Does anybody have Startrib contact?

Sue March 28, 2008 at 11:55 am

Hi All, Very interesting! This address 3101 Old Highway 8 Roseville, Mn 55113 is used for lots of mortgage companies, real estate companies and real estate appraisals. Lots of different names with lots of the same people. Just interchanging companies and company names. Really interesting. I feel like I need a flow chart! Anyway I have uncovered a mortgage fraud scheme. I don’t know what exactly to do or whom to contact? I don’t want to publish it as I don’t want to get in trouble physically or otherwise. Can you advise? Thanks, Sue

Laurie March 31, 2008 at 1:38 pm

There are also a number of properties in Hudson, WI being foreclosed on with Helgason, Balko, TJ Land Trust, TJ Waconia, TJ Holdings named as defendants.

Sue April 3, 2008 at 6:20 pm

The Mark Sczepaniak is also inflating property values in sw Minneapolis and N Minneapolis. He is selling houses to the same person whom I won’t mention. I am on to him. Watch out Mark.

Sue April 10, 2008 at 4:11 pm

RE: concerning Complete Mortgage of Roseville, Mark Sczepaniak was the office manager, no longer there. He must have learned a thing or tow from Mr. Helgason. Mark started a company called Aries Properties LLC out of Ham Lake. The bought properties and fliiped them and sold them at inflated prices. The home at 2700 West 60th Street in Minneapolis was sold to Aries Properties LLC for I think it was $95,000.00. The did some work on the house and then it was empty for about 1 year. They sold it to Damon Anderson for $220,000.00 in October. I know someone who was going to buy it from the origional owner but an ispection found the foundation was crumbling and it would be sold for the LOT ONLY! No one I have talked to including the realtor can believe the selling price. The house at 3619 Lyndale Ave N was owned by Mark Sczepaniak and sold to Damom Anderson for 110,000.00. It is worth $57000.00 at best. I believe it is empty and there is no utility service there. Also the same inspector for truth in housing did both houses. Mark S. owns lots of property in the northern suburbs. Let me know if you all have any more info Thanks Sue

marjie May 6, 2008 at 8:40 am

I am hoping someone can help find out if i am renting from Jon Helgason. If i am i think my family and I are in real jepordy. (even if i didnt spell it right)

foofoofeefee November 10, 2008 at 9:23 am

Please consider coming to the victims site and helping us out over there as balkos and the helgasons .. as well as Jim Watson are trashing the victims on a daily basis

The Truth February 6, 2009 at 7:11 am

Sentencing set for March 10th at 9:30 a.m. US Court House, Minneapolis.

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