NORWOOD, Ohio — Ohio’s Attorney General has won a $93,750 judgment against a Norwood condo developer who left town without refunding deposits for his unfinished project.
But questions linger for the victims of developer Scott Byron Call, including his former customers and the buildings he promised to revive.
In a Feb. 4 ruling, Hamilton County Common Pleas Judge Terry Nestor ordered Call and his company, Legacy Lofts on Courtland LLC, to pay a $50,000 civil penalty to the state. The judgment also required payments ranging from $3,500 to $10,000 to seven would-be condo buyers.
“This brings a new light, a ray of hope,” said Monica Brown, a Colerain Township resident who would receive $7,000 under the judgment. “A lot of people they said, ‘We’re not going to get our money back.’ But hopefully now we will.”
The court order comes nearly two years after the WCPO 9 I-Team first reported on the demise of Legacy Lofts, a $12 million project that aimed to convert Norwood Baptist Church and three adjacent school buildings into 112 condominium units. To help finance the project, Call took reservation deposits from would-be buyers in 2017 – refunding some of the money before relocating to North Carolina.
Ohio Attorney General David Yost got involved in the case after reading about it on WCPO.com. His consumer protection unit quickly won a default judgment against Call last May. By that time, Call had already left North Carolina.
“I have no earthly idea where he is now,” said Crawford MacKeythan, a commercial real estate agent who nearly sold Call a Linden, N.C. church in 2019.
The I-Team reported in 2019 that Call incorporated a company in North Carolina, Portico Crowd Capital LLC, with a mailing address in Raleigh. But MacKeythan said Call negotiated the purchase of Parkers United Methodist Church in Linden with a deal that was similar to the one he struck in Norwood. It gave him access to the church property before the scheduled closing.
In Norwood, Call used his access to the church and school to convince potential buyers he owned the properties. Real estate records show he never owned either.
“We allowed him to occupy the fellowship building for a very short time until he could not come up with the proceeds to purchase it,” said MacKeythan, an agent for Franklin Johnson Commercial Real Estate in Fayetteville, N.C. “He was just moving and grooving and using other peoples’ money, I guess.”
Brown has tried to keep tabs on Call since then. But her most recent number for the developer has been disconnected. She recently heard he left the country.
“One day he popped up on my news feed as people I might know on Facebook,” Brown said. “He changed his name and he changed his looks.”
Brown forwards every lead she finds to the Attorney General’s office, figuring they have more resources to track down her nemesis than she does.
“It’s like chasing a tail,” she said.
The Ohio Attorney General’s office typically uses its internal debt collectors to seek payment on new judgments for at least 60 days before turning over collections to outside attorneys, said spokesman Luke Sullivan.
“We can’t predict chances but we will pursue collections,” Sullivan said. “We are going to try our best to help those harmed by Scott Call.”
In the meantime, the buildings where Call once roamed the halls with prospective buyers lie dormant.
The former Allison Elementary school complex hasn’t been listed for sale since early 2019, according to meeting minutes and agendas from Norwood City Schools. The last action taken by the school board was to donate its playground equipment to the city “due to safety issues with Allison Elementary building and lot being vacant.”
Blue Water Real Estate Holdings Inc., which bought Norwood Baptist Church in November 2018, listed it for sale five months later, said Nat Comisar, a Sibcy-Cline Realtor who is seeking $550,000 for the property.
In December 2019, Blue Water Real Estate asked the Norwood Planning Commission to re-zone the property – and others around it – for business use. It said it needed the change to create a technology incubator and develop flu vaccines in the former church.
Former Norwood Mayor Tom Williams lambasted the idea when he learned the company was trying to sell the property for $550,000, or twice what it paid a year earlier.
“Somebody flips that building and makes themselves 2 or 3 hundred thousand dollars in profit,” Williams said, “and these people are now stuck with a zone change next door to them.”
Despite the recent turmoil, Sibcy-Cline Realtor Nat Comisar said there remains interest in the building. He said one potential buyer put it under contract last year but couldn’t obtain financing.
“The Norwood Baptist Church has a great future,” Comisar said. “The current owner has dramatically improved the school side. It’s ready to roll. But the church side needs a roof and needs plaster work.”
Norwood City Councilman Chris Kelsch hopes the buildings can survive long enough to find a responsible owner.
“It’s unfortunate to have some predatory investing like that in our city,” said Kelsch, who attended Allison Elementary and represents the Ward 1 council district where the school and church are located. “Hopefully those people do get to collect and get their money back and going forward we can really see some good investment here in the city of Norwood.”