(clap clap clap clap) DEEP IN THE HEART OF TEXAS
Like having an icky squashed camel spider on the sole of your army boot, the evil Anti-Johnny blogger Jim Watkins is a minor but annoying part of my colorful and rather high-profile existence. Most times I just ignore his rantings, ravings and vile spewings as the price of a kind of intensely local fame that I myself am responsible for, after all. Mostly, I disregard his comments (some quite scary) that come to my blog on a frequent basis (more than half of which I don't publish) some of which are definitely from Jim, and some I merely SUSPECT are from Jim.
For those who don't know, Jim's freaky obsession with this blogger started because of my writings about the TJ Waconia fraud which severely impacted North Minneapolis right about the time I arrived on the neighborhood scene. Indeed, The Adventures of Johnny Northside has a kind of creation legend which is intimately entwined with the spectacular downfall of TJ Waconia.
Early in 2008, when I was doing research on buying a piece of property in North Minneapolis, I became fascinated with the TJ Waconia fraud case. I began...
...researching stuff. In a short while I realized I had some relatively minor, but interesting information that wasn't conveniently available on the internet about the scandal. I began writing this stuff in comments on Behind The Mortgage Dot Com. It was almost out of a sense of citizenship. Here was a high profile scandal and I had picked up some nuggets of info. It was almost like my DUTY to make sure that info became easily available on the internet.
It was there on Behind The Mortgage that a guy named Jim Watkins began to participate in the online discussion, vehemently defending his friend Thomas Balko (and to a lesser extent the other criminal, Jon Helgason) of TJ Waconia. I like to say "the chat thread grew so hot it began to radiate a strange and unearthly energy, transforming me into Johnny Northside, whose powers to fight evil through blogging are directed at evil doers in North Minneapolis."
However, at the same time, the radiation from the "hot thread" created my cartoon nemesis. The evil Anti-Johnny. He's so plodding and uncreative that he didn't even pick his own NAME. I mean, that name was given to Jim Watkins BY ME.
Imagine if Batman had to tell somebody, "Well, you kid around a lot. Joker. Why don't you try calling yourself The Joker?"
There was a time when Jim Watkins and myself could almost be friendly, to "agree to disagree" and sit down and break bread or at least pizza crust together. That's when the photo was taken, above, of Jim holding my cool book about dumpster diving with glossy and professionally designed cover art, produced by a professional publisher and, well, um, Jim's special little booklet he put together all by himself, yay, clap clap clap.
When one of my friends looked at the graphics in Jim's book he asked, quite seriously, "Was this put together in the 80s?"
Jim styles himself a teacher of real estate, with a focus on buying abandoned property in Texas. Though Watkins grew up in New Brighton, Minnesota I've heard him spew at length about how much he dislikes Minnesota and really prefers Texas. I can understand feeling that way about NORTH DAKOTA, but, well, whatever.
The guy doesn't care for his own home state where he grew up and that's just sad. I understand Jim was suspended his junior year of high school for unauthorized candy sales but, really, time to LET GO OF ALL THAT ANGER. (That's not parody. This actually happened in 1988, and was the subject of a newspaper story. I may as well mention I was suspended my freshman year of high school for a water bomb incident involving a vice principal, but do I hate my home state? No, I love Minnesota. Except for the winter. One day I will be a snow bird. Now watch Jim get all unnaturally excited on his creepy blog and claim, once again, that I won't stay in North Minneapolis where I have vowed to live and die while turning our neighborhood around)
But returning to that strange, happy era when I could share pizza with Jim while he was using some kind of weird pen that secretly tapes, and I was all, like, why is there a little light glowing on your pen?
It was March of 2008 when Jim, who was writing for a real estate investment blog called Bigger Pockets Dot Com, sent me an email with the following preamble.
Included in the email was a story Jim apparently intended to publish on Bigger Pockets, where he'd written a number of articles resting upon his "expertise" with real estate. As I read the story, I thought to myself, "Why would Jim publish this? This could be quite damaging to his career as a real estate teacher. The story--
Well, hey. Judge for yourself. Here's what he wrote, word for word.
- Lower the asking price from $128,000 down to $100,000.
- That would give a buyer 20% equity and it would be attractive for an investor looking for a rental property that would cash flow $200 to $300.
- It would also be ideal for someone looking for a great deal on a house for themselves to live in.
- With a sales price of $100,000, it would allow me to clear $10,000 profit, which would be used to reinstate the loan on the Carrolltonhouse.
- Once the Carrollton house is reinstated, I would Quit Claim Deed ½ of the ownership to the 2nd lien holder from the Mesquitehouse.
- That would allow the 2nd lien holder to secure and recover his investment after the Carrollton house was finished and sold after the market recovers.
- The end result would be: The lender is paid off on one house and the other reinstated. The 2nd lien holder on the Mesquite house would not lose his investment. My holding costs would be cut in half, I would pay off one of the two loans and I would sleep better knowing that no one lost their investment.
In response to Jim's email, I talked to Jim on the phone and told him he shouldn't publish this article because it would damage his reputation as a competent teacher on the subject of real estate; a reputation he'd labored long and hard to build and, indeed, his teaching efforts were like a second career. The "Go live with your Grandmother" quote, in particular, seemed like pointless public self-injury. At the time, I was a teaching assistant in Journalism and I'd just recently watched the "ultimate movie about teachers" which is Mr. Holland's Opus. Knowing well the flaws and well-intentioned humanity of teachers, I wanted to help Jim TEACHER TO TEACHER by giving him good advice.
Don't. Publish. This. Confession.
Of course, at some level I thought maybe it would be better for Jim to just go public with the story. Better for the public, that is to say, than for Jim. But what was the point of going public with such an intimate confession of his failures after writing so many articles about his expertise? I think I even told Jim it would be better to publish such an article AFTER the real estate market turned around and he'd completely recovered. Then he could go back and tell students, "Woo hoo, let me tell you about that real estate market back in 2008 and what it did to ME."
It was well-intentioned advice. Jim didn't publish the article. And, indeed, the article was not the complete story of what ultimately happened (or is alleged to have happened) with the house. In fact, here's what Jim wrote about the situation just recently in response to this very article while it was still in the "POST IN PROGRESS" stage.
Lets see what he writes about it now... Shall we?
Fair enough. Jim's explanation in his own words.
Here's more of what Jim had to say recently about his real estate career.
It is no secret I am no longer active in the real estate investment world largely due to the real estate collapse.
However, after the fiasco with his house, Jim tried to pass himself off as (good lord) a "foreclosure expert."
Here's YouTube video of Jim's next incarnation after "Go live with your grandmother," proudly posted by Jim himself. It has been said of Jim that he "fakes it until he makes it." (ADDENDUM, October 2: Jim points out the story was produced in 2006. However, it was posted to YouTube May 2, 2009. Given the date it was uploaded, it appears to be part of an attempt by Jim to cast himself as a "foreclosure expert" following the meltdown of his real estate career)
And somewhere along the way, he became the "Evil Anti-Johnny" blogger, a sort of cartoon nemesis to Johnny Northside.
Obviously, a lot of hurts and personal failures had accumulated by that time. Jim's self-described "best friend" and former business associate Thomas Balko sentenced to prison; and not for a short time, either, like some of the OTHER fraudsters who had an impact on North Minneapolis. (Tynessia Snoddy and her short little sentence comes to mind) His own real estate teaching career another burst bubble. And in 2010, when I asked "Bigger Pockets" if Jim was still writing for them, here's the reply I received.
But there are more pressing issues in my neighborhood to write about at the moment. Yes, it's tempting to write about Jim Watkins and enjoy the delicious irony of the fact I happen to be in Dallas this very moment. (I am an expert on Dallas/Fort Worth! Just call me your "DFW Mentor.")
But unlike Watkins, whose blogging efforts are devoted to trashing one guy trying to improve a rapidly revitalizing neighborhood, I have bigger fish to fry.