Monday, December 28, 2009

JNS BLOG EXCLUSIVE: While T.J. Waconia Real Estate Fraudster Jon Helgason Does Prison Time, His Family Enjoys This Spectacular Lake Home...

Photos By John Hoff

T.J. Waconia has almost fallen off the radar since its principals went to prison for investor fraud, an event this blog reported with exclusive pictures, click here. But recent digging into the Pamiko Properties scandal can't help but remind me--and other citizens of North Minneapolis (NoMi)--about the real estate fraud perpetrated by T.J. Waconia. There is considerable overlap: many houses in North Minneapolis gone vacant, and an affluent exurban lifestyle supported on the bleeding back of our neighborhood.

Hopefully, the overlap will extend to Paul and Michelle Koenig going to prison, just like Thomas Balko and Jon Helgason.

For this blog, there are a few pieces of unfinished business involving T.J. Waconia. First, I wanted to publish photos of the spectacular lake home where the family of Jon Helgason still resides. The lake home was mentioned a few times on the "T.J. Waconia victims blog" but, as far as I can tell, no photos or further details were ever published about the lake home. At the time Jon Helgason went to prison, the house was owned by "KCH Holdings," which appears to be an LLC created by Jon Helgason or somebody closely associated with Jon Helgason.

Second, I would like...

...mug shots of Helgason and Balko in their new Duluth prison digs. This has proven harder than I anticipated. Recently, I located online mug shots of two other real estate fraudsters--Donald Walthall and Marlon Pratt--but Helgason and Balko are sitting in a FEDERAL prison, and the "inmate locator" doesn't include a mug shot.


Well, third is a suprise.

So, yesterday I had an errand to run and I realized I would be near Chisago Lake. It was a great time to take care of T.J. Waconia Blogger Goal Number One.

Finding the lake home was not difficult, but PHOTOGRAPHING the house was a much more complicated matter. Suffice to say, I was forced to cross not-completely-frozen lake ice to get a good quality photo without trespassing. More on that in a moment.

The Helgason residence, located at 30686 Wallmark Lake Drive, Chisago Lakes, has a long driveway that goes in the direction of the lake, and disappears out of sight. The spectacular lake home is, however, visible from the other side of the lake.

From an excursion all around this lake (which is relatively small by Minnesota standards) it is clear the Helgason family occupies the nicest, possibly the biggest and most exclusive piece of property on this lake. The massive, kingly house is visible from the other side of the lake.

In fact, a storage shed appears to be part of the same Helgason land holdings and that shed, alone, is the size of three regular-sized North Minneapolis houses.

What would you KEEP in a shed that size, I wonder? A recreational vehicle like the "rock star RV" owned by the Koenigs? Snowmobiles, motorcycles, three wheelers and other toys? A workshop to putz around with fun hobbies like, I don't know, maybe classic cars? In any case, the unearned affluence and in-your-face-God gluttony is stomach-turning. While our neighborhood struggles to throw off the cruel yoke of slumlords and their destructive influence, ill-gotten Northside gains appear to flow to exurbia, where a man might be in prison until 2016 but his family still lives like royalty. Not such a hard bargain, really, when you consider how badly many people in the world live, how long some folks have to be away from their family to make a living.

Why didn't the authorities go after the Helgason lake home as part of the legal action against Jon Helgason? (Click here for a "consent order" where Helgason admits to being a no-good scammer and gives up his license) The value of this property could do much to compensate the victims of the T.J. Waconia fraud. I'm just saying.

Here, above, is the mailbox for the Helgason family. There are some messed up metal numbers hanging off the box, but the box bears no name. A neighbor going by on a snowmobile was unaware that a jailbird was associated with this property. Now he's aware.

From speaking to the snowmobiler, I found out there is no public access to get to the lake--a situation I find unconscionable in Minnesota, where lakes are supposed to be a public resource and often the DNR finds a way to create at least ONE public access to a lake, so the lake itself doesn't become, in effect, the private holdings of only the individuals who live on the shore.

In any case, I realized I couldn't enter the Helgason turf without trespassing (and let's call the property what it is--the HELGASON property--despite this thin and cynical corporate charade of "KCH Holdings, LLC") but if I could get access to the lake, I could walk on the frozen lake and remain on public property--the lake itself--even if I was mere FEET from their dock. (I couldn't see their dock at that point, but I assume every spectacular lake home has some kind of dock)

But walking on the frozen lake was another matter. I figured sticking near the shore would be the safest and easiest tactic, since even if the ice was thin and mushy I could smash through without much risk, except hypothermia. (And, really, as a native Minnesotan I find mild hypothermia somewhat pleasurable, like being numb with alcohol) The problem was whether the lake shore was CONTINOUS, or did the lake go into some other lake, some inlet, something which would force me to cross ice which concealed deeper water?

Well, I figured I'd find out when I got to that point.

So--over the protests and warnings of my driving companion, Megan Goodmundson, who is NOT FROM MINNESOTA--I found a "fair and square" access point to the lake and walked just a few feet from the shoreline, all along the edge of the lake, toward the spectacular Helgason home in the distance.

One small step for Johnny Northside, I giant leap for blog-based journalism.

Only feet from the shore, my boot prints would fill with water. I could feel the ice giving way under my feet but, unlike in the movies, you don't really get an auditory warning of lake ice cracking. The ice just gives way. So, all along the shoreline, I went crunching along. In some places, the ice seemed quite solid, but in other places, I was breaking through and sloshing all the way where the lake was only a few inches deep.

And then I got to this area, above. A swampy inlet, where water flowed out of the lake into the marsh or (more likely, I suspect) out of the marsh into the lake. But the ice here was, for some reason, surprisingly solid.

Obviously, when you see reeds growing, you have an indication of how deep the water may be at that point. Reeds don't have stems 30 feet high, but grow in areas of water just a few feet deep, or even INCHES of water, or--often--right in sloppy lake mud. (And, I've heard it said, "reeds create land." The reed matter keeps dying and turning into soil and, after a while, under the right conditions, a small swamp may dry up or a lake shore may advance farther into the lake. Forgive my enthusiasm for reeds, dear reader, I grew up in backwoods Minnesota swamp land with hundreds of Bohunks who were all my cousins)

But, in the meantime, there I stood on the Helgason's lake, looking at that wide space between the reeds, tracking it with my eye, imagining how it looked in summer. I realized there was some kind of watery inlet between the reeds. The water beneath the ice was clearly deeper in that area. The water might be a mere two or three feet, with reeds cleared away by boats being continuously driven through the inlet. But, I figured, the frozen inlet could be as much as five feet.

Well, maybe six. If the flow of water dug the channel deep, that inlet might be relatively deep.

I snapped photos of the still-distant Helgason house while figuring out what to do. I thought to myself how the character known as "Johnny Northside" was born on a chat thread about T.J. Waconia--a chat thread that grew so hot it radiated an unearthly energy, transforming and changing me into a super blogger. At the same time, arch-villian Jim Watkins was born, the "evil anti-Johnny." This blog and everything it does, everything it all started with a chat thread about T.J. Waconia on Behind The Mortgage Dot Com.

So, I thought to myself, "he that liveth by the T.J. Waconia fraud scandal, by that same scandal, he shall die." So crossing the ice was probably a really BAD idea, a brazen tempting of destiny.

But then I remembered stuff from my days as a Boy Scout--I achieved the undistinguished rank of Tenderfoot, but practically MEMORIZED AND ATE the entire Boy Scout Manual, both the 1970s version and the 1950s version--stuff about rescuing people who break through ice, and how to survive if you break through ice yourself. I figured if I was going to cross the frozen inlet--and I knew I was going to, the crazy urge was rising up in me the longer I stared at that luxurious lake home--then I should distribute my weight and ARMY CRAWL ACROSS THE ICE.

I put the camera in front of me--the same way a soldier keeps his weapon in front as he army crawls--telling myself that if I felt the ice give way, I would hurl the camera forward hard in that moment. Also, I thought to myself, I would keep going FORWARD instead of trying to retreat. Even if I got soaked with water, I'd still find a way to get to the other side and take my pictures. I'd just have to figure out how to get off the lake by another route once I already had my pictures.

Fortunately, I'd already made preparations by leaving my wallet with my friend, Megan Goodmundson, taking only my drivers license in case I were put in a situation where I had to identify myself.

And so--there on where "Swamp of Fraud" flows into "Lake Helgason," I got down on my belly like a snake and--not even daring to get up on knees or elbows--I writhed my way across the frozen inlet to the other side of the reeds.

Pleased with the success of my strategy, I walked all the way to the shoreline in front of the Helgason house and snapped pictures. Nobody seemed to be at home, but a large dog barked constantly. I noticed a paddle boat on the snowy lakeshore, right next to a nice and adequate dock, partly pulled ashore for the winter. A wooden bench with wrought-iron features sat on the end of the dock. What a lovely place to fish, I thought. What a lovely place to IMAGINE you are fishing while serving a prison sentence, I thought.

On the way back, retracing my route, I thought I was in the clear at the other side of the swampy inlet. But when I stood up, my right leg smashed through the ice all the way to above my knee. I felt the bottom of the lake beneath my foot, so the water wasn't THAT deep, at least not at the point where I smashed in.

My camera hit the snow as I fell forward, but I lunged toward the safety of "shallow ice." Soaking wet, I thought first of the snowy camera and the precious pictures it contained. Unable to shake all the melty snow loose, I actually LICKED the snow off the camera.

I wrung some water out of the leg of my pants, and pressed on. A short time later, I bought some long underwear and wool socks at the local CENEX gas station, made do with my damp boots and pants, and had a steak dinner at a place called Trappers. The camera was fine. The pictures were fine. The steak was pretty good, too.

I wondered if Jon Helgason had ever eaten at Trappers.

So, what do we learn from all this?





Pond-dragon said...

The story sounds like a Pro9vate detective version of Lake Wobegon & G.K.! Nice piece of work.
It does make you wonder if crime really does pay?

Anonymous said...

As far as I know, Helgason has a wife. Maybe, just maybe she has a JOB and pays for the home.

Johnny Northside said...

Yeah, but the home isn't owned by Jon Helgason's WIFE. It's owned by some scummy, shifty, "holdings LLC" and the wife just LIVES there.

So what does the slimey, shady LLC do to make money?

Johnny Northside! said...

Huh. Here's a link to the consent order where Jon Helgason gave up his licenses. Don't know if I've seen this before or posted this link before but this blog post is a good place for it.