Broker disappears with thousands from needy moms

Seven On Your Side
December 3, 2008 5:30:47 PM PST
A group of single moms say they were preyed upon by a man who sold himself as a real estate broker, but who they say, took thousands of their savings, did nothing, and then disappeared."Words cannot express how I feel towards him." Santa Torres is talking about Michael Lem, the man Santa says she hired to find her a new apartment. "It's terrible. It's been a nightmare."

Santa told 7 On Your Side's Tappy Phillips she's a single mom. Section 8 helps pay her rent. This summer, she contacted Lem, who told her he could find her a new apartment for $2600. But, Santa says, "(I got) no apartment, nothing."

"I think he's horrible." Nikyra Ward has a very similar story to tell. She's also a single mom. And she gave Lem $1350, but never got the Section 8 apartment she says he promised her. Nikyra didn't find out about a problem until she went to the landlord of the building where Lem showed her the apartment.

"She (the landlord) said she didn't know who Michael Lem was. Never heard of him," recalls Nikyra.

Both ladies went to Lem's business address to get refunds, and found an eviction notice. His former landlord told us Lem left behind a bill for 6 months back rent.

We also found three other Section 8 recipients who all say they gave Lem thousands to find them apartments, but got nothing.

"Yeah, it's terrible, it's really bad," says Santa.

So, We tracked down Michael Lem at a new address. Tappy Phillips came face to face with Lem in his own apartment building.

"They need to get their money back. These are single mothers and you promised them you'd find them a place to live," said Tappy.

"I lost everything. Okay ma'am I'm sorry you know I take care of it, Okay? You got me on TV," said Michael Lem.

Tappy replied, "Yes, we do because nobody else can find you. Because you are not paying these people, it's been months."

Lem did promise the ladies refunds by the end of the year. But neither Santa or Nikyra have both heard Lem's empty promises.

Nikyra says, "He's robbing the poor and it's like you can't feel that bad for him. He knew what he was doing the entire time. Just pray for him."

Two months ago Michael Lem was arrested and charged with grand larceny after he allegedly took a realtor's fee but never delivered an apartment to yet a different lady. The Manhattan District Attorney says this case is pending, Lem is scheduled to be back in court next February. The state of NY says Lem isn't even licensed as a real estate broker.


Story by: Tappy Phillips

Produced by: Steve Livingstone