Allegations of real estate fraud dog former associate of Your Black Muslim Bakery
By Josh Richman, The Chauncey Bailey Project
Even as the murder trial of the former Your Black Muslim Bakery’s last chief executive progresses, a former bakery associate is the subject of several civil lawsuits accusing him of fraud.
Jamall Joseph Robinson, 25, also known as Yasir Hakeem Azzem or Jamal Bey, was among bakery associates charged with aiding bakery CEO Yusuf Bey IV in the 2005 vandalism of two North Oakland liquor stores, an incident caught on videotape that made national headlines. Prosecutors in 2007 dropped charges against Robinson in that case, but a police report indicated he had done security work for a firm associated with the bakery and since then his name has continued to pop up in connection with other bakery associates.
For example, Robinson in early 2009 opened Your Community Café on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Oakland. Among his employees there were Bey IV’s mother, Daulet Bey, and Gary Popoff, who now faces charges of having fired shots into a San Pablo Avenue business in November 2009. Popoff also is suspected in a plot to kill witnesses in Oakland Post Editor Chauncey Bailey’s murder case.
Court records show the café’s landlords sued for eviction after Robinson failed to pay the rent for seven months; they took the property back last May, and in November got a judgment against him for more than $9,400 they’re still owed.
Now Robinson is being sued for real estate fraud in Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
His attorney, Elena Condes of Berkeley, declined to comment. Reached Thursday, Robinson said he was unaware of the Contra Costa County lawsuit, and named two other attorneys he said could discuss the Alameda County case; one attorney, in Los Angeles, is unavailable this week, and the other, in Miami, didn’t return a call Thursday or Friday.
Aunt sues in Alameda County
In Alameda County, Robinson is accused of stealing his aunt’s house out from under her.
Emeryville police records show Margaret Espinoza called Jan. 30 to report her nephew had changed the locks on her Ocean Avenue home. Police advised her this was a civil matter, and she said she would get the locks changed back the next day.
But an officer went to the house Feb. 9 to investigate a dispute between Espinoza and Robinson — who now goes by the name Aafiya Muhammad — about a fence Robinson was having built around the home. Robinson told the officer the home had been given to his company, ABM Enterprise LLC, by his grandmother, Elsie Calhoun, when she died in January; he showed the officer paperwork dated Jan. 19 that showed ABM transferring the deed into his name. Espinoza told the officer she has owned the house since 1974, and presented paperwork with an official seal to back that up. She said she never sold or gave the property to anyone, the police report said.
The officer later contacted the Alameda County District Attorney’s Real Estate Fraud unit, which asked him to fax over a copy of the report so it could look into the dispute.
Espinoza sued Robinson on March 15 in Alameda County Superior Court, seeking $1.5 million in various damages. She claims Robinson served her Jan. 19 with a notice to pay rent or vacate her own property “followed by threats and physical violence.”
Robinson had filed with the county a notarized Jan. 5 quitclaim deed on which Espinoza claims he forged her signature, transferring the property to ABM Enterprise. ABM then transferred the property to him under the name Aafiya Muhammad with a Jan. 12 grant deed. That same day he filed a $900,000 deed of trust with himself as the trustor, or borrower; First American Title Insurance Co. as the trustee, or titleholder; and another of his businesses — the Millionaires Boys Club Corp. — as the beneficiary, or lender. He filed another grant deed Feb. 10 transferring the property’s ownership once again to another of his businesses, Beverly Hills Escrow and Funding Corp. A First American Financial Corp. spokeswoman said she was looking into the matter, and was unable to comment Friday.
These documents all bear the same notary’s signature. Alameda County prosecutors refused to comment on whether a criminal investigation is under way, but a source familiar with the case said the notary has admitted Espinoza never appeared before her to sign the original quitclaim deed, as the notary had attested. The notary didn’t respond to a voice message left at her home.
Curt Novy, a Rancho Santa Fe mortgage and real estate consultant who works as an expert witness in real-estate fraud cases, researched the documents and said they are “highly suspicious transactions of the kind often linked to mortgage and real estate fraud. This is a classic type of history that my firm works on on a daily basis in criminal cases.
“I’m not finding a good, legitimate reason why the property would be transferred in that manner and why there would be a $900,000 loan on there,” he said, calling the loan “highly suspect.”
“I couldn’t locate a lender named Millionaires Boys Club, nothing related to that,” he said. “I don’t think $900,000 was really put up. I found no reason to believe that loan actually took place”
Rather, he said, “it appears to be a series of shell transactions” that could be used to explain the appearance of $900,000 from other sources.
A hearing on Espinoza’s lawsuit has been set for late July.
On March 16, the day after Espinoza filed her suit, Robinson filed a $100 million personal-injury lawsuit against his aunt, claiming she “molested Aafiya Muhammad-Jamall Robinson several times when he was 13 and 14 years (old).” A hearing on that case has been set for late April.
Espinoza’s attorney, Clinton Killian, filed a report with Oakland Police on April 4 alleging Robinson has been “calling him every day leaving annoying messages on his phone.” Killian told an officer Robinson “has made no threats against him at this time but wants this incident documented for all of the annoying phone calls that (Robinson) is making asking him to drop the lawsuit.”
Illegal home sale accusations in Richmond
In Contra Costa County, Robinson is being accused of selling homes he never even owned.
Jordan Wu, a real estate investor from Allen, Texas, sued Robinson — under the name Aafiya Muhammad — for fraud March 1. Wui’s lawsuit says he found Robinson through a real-estate auction website, and eventually wired $71,000 for properties at 680 Fourth St., 545 Fourth St., and 662 Fourth St. in Richmond; Robinson then sent him deeds for the properties.
But Wu soon noticed the deeds had irregularities. On one, the recorder’s date stamp was dated before the notary’s signature — the same notary as in Espinoza’s case. A second bore the same recording seal and document number as the first. And all three had notary signatures, stamps and other markings that didn’t match up in some way.
Before he could ask about these irregularities, Wu was served with a lawsuit by Anatasia Ponomareva, 680 Fourth St.’s real owner. Ponomareva’s notarized signature seemed to be on the deed Robinson had provided, but the lawsuit said she lives in Russia and hasn’t been to the United States in years, and so couldn’t have signed the deed at all. The lawsuit says Wu demanded an explanation from Robinson but didn’t get one, and so he had no choice but to acknowledge Ponomareva’s ownership.
“Absolutely we believe this was a forgery,” Ponomareva’s attorney, Thomas Fama of San Ramon, said in late March. Fama said his client has obtained “a judgment from the court to quiet title and to rescind the invalid deeds, so the title is now back in her name.”
Fama said the Contra Costa County District Attorney’s office contacted him about this case in December. Deputy District Attorney Ken McCormick, in charge of his office’s real estate fraud unit, confirmed Thursday that it’s an open investigation.
After receiving Ponomareva’s lawsuit, Wu went to inspect the other properties, finding that 545 Fourth St. actually was owned by Community Fund LLC, which had taken the property in foreclosure proceedings in June from a family with no apparent ties to Robinson.
Robinson was the owner of the property at 662 Fourth St., having bought it from a foreclosure agency last summer. But although he had promised Wu the house had brand new paint, carpet counters, sinks and other plumbing and would “be in ready-for-rent condition,” the lawsuit said, in reality it had been boarded up by the city and lacked any heating, and so was uninhabitable. And while Robinson had guaranteed this property would be transferred free and clear of any liens, Wu discovered about $32,000 in city code enforcement penalties against the property as well as a property-tax debt to the county of almost $35,000; in fact, the property was to be sold for delinquent taxes in 2012.
“Defendants willfully failed to disclose the city of Richmond assessment and the Contra Costa County taxes in order to transfer the property to another owner in an attempt to relieve themselves of the obligation to pay the assessments and taxes, which total slightly more than two and a half times what the property was sold for,” Wu’s lawsuit says.
A case management conference is scheduled for mid-July.
Contra Costa County Superior Court records show Robinson — who also is an aspiring rapper under the name “J Net Tha Prince” — has tried to legally change his name twice. In a filing made one week before the November 2005 liquor store vandalism in Oakland, he sought to take the name Yasir Hakeem Azzem. While charges in that vandalism were still pending against him in June 2006, he sought to take the name Shakir Khalil Asad Bey IV. Both efforts were denied because he failed to show up in court as scheduled.
And Robinson — through another of his businesses, Fly and Famous Group LLC — also has been doing business as Aafiya Water, a bottled water company. Its website touts its product as “the water of good health,” and until recently said it was an associate of Physicare Laboratories Pvt. Ltd., an India-based company; now the site says Aafiya Water is associated with Adobe (ADBE) Springs LLC in Patterson.
Adobe Springs owner Paul Mason said Wednesday that Robinson, presenting himself as Aafiya Muhammad, first contacted him within the past two or three weeks, and has visited the springs on Mason’s land twice but has not yet taken delivery on any water. Mason said Robinson told him his grandmother had recently died and left him an inheritance.
“He seems to have a lot of money, he’s driving a 2011 Mercedes,” Mason said.
Mason questioned Robinson’s business experience, but said he has put a lot of work into arranging to bottle Mason’s water and export it to Japan, where safe drinking water is at a premium following that nation’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear contamination.
Aafiya Water’s website notes Adobe Springs’ water is rich in magnesium bicarbonate. “If you Google (GOOG) the words ‘Radiation Sickness Magnesium’ and ‘Radiation Sickness Bicarbonate,’ you will find hundreds of thousands of web pages affirming that Magnesium Bicarbonate is useful in treating or preventing radiation sickness,” the website claims.
Actually, many websites discuss the use of sodium bicarbonate — baking soda — for radiation sickness, and a few mention magnesium sulfate being used for exposure to radioactive phosphorous.
A history of fraud
Other Your Black Muslim Bakery associates have a history of real-estate fraud accusations:
Yusuf Bey IV — the now-defunct business’s last chief executive officer — and seven associates got at least 19 loans totaling more than $6 million from 10 different lenders to buy 12 houses in Oakland, Richmond, Hayward and Antioch, according to the Alameda County district attorney, bankruptcy court records and real estate documents. In seven of the 12 purchases, including one by Bey IV, 25, investigators claimed the group used fake identities to qualify for the loans.
Bey IV and four others have been charged with multiple counts of forgery, grand theft and identify theft, but Bey IV’s trial on these charges is on hold pending the outcome of other cases against him including the murder trial now in progress. Two others have been convicted and sentenced to prison.
Esperanza Johnson — who lived with bakery founder Yusuf Bey from 1968 to 1988, had three of his children and continues to be close to some members of the Bey family — racked up a string of real estate deals tainted with allegations of deceit since 2003. Alleged victims claimed to have lost at least $1.77 million in property, cash and equity.
The California Department of Real Estate in 2008 filed charges against Johnson and her business, Signature One Mortgage & Real Estate in Pittsburg, alleging they’d made misrepresentations during real-estate transactions; lost a lawsuit in which they were accused of fraud and deceit; employed an unlicensed broker or salesman; and employed licensed salespeople without a written contract or without notifying the department as required by law.
Johnson and her husband, Antron Thurman, lost their Antioch home to foreclosure in December 2008, and her real estate license was revoked in June 2009 after a judge found her not “sufficiently honest” to keep it.
Staff writers Malaika Fraley and Paul Thissen contributed to this report. Contact Josh Richman at email@example.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/josh_richman.