An up-and-coming California real estate agent reportedly acted as a buyer’s agent for 16 Sacramento-area homes that were allegedly converted into indoor marijuana-growing operations.
Kevin Parker, an agent with Prudential California Realty, was the 2004 Rookie of the Year and a top producer in 2005 at the company’s Antioch office, according to his home page on a company Web site.
But a DEA raid of 21 Sacramento area homes that were converted into pot growing operations has the news media — if not law enforcement agencies — raising questions about some of Parker’s most recent deals.
Using local multiple listing service data provided by real estate industry professionals, Sacramento-based KXTV News10 reported that between October 2005 and June 2006, Parker acted as the buyer’s agent for all but five of the homes involved in the raids.
Parker told News10 he was "shocked" by the raids, and had no idea the homes were being used to grow marijuana. When contacted by Inman News Tuesday, Parker referred questions to Mansfield Communications, a public relations firm hired by Prudential California.
"We are aware that one of our agents represented buyers who acquired properties which were later discovered by authorities to have been converted for marijuana cultivation," Prudential California said in a statement released by Mansfield. "We will cooperate with law enforcement in their investigations of these matters. We are also conducting our own internal investigation to ensure that all of the proper procedures and guidelines were followed in these transactions. Until all investigations are complete, we are not at liberty to discuss these matters."
Gordon Taylor, the DEA agent in charge of the agency’s Sacramento office, declined to comment on whether Parker is now a subject of the investigation into the "pot houses." Taylor would not say whether investigators were even aware of Parker’s role as buyer’s agent for most of the homes before News10 broke the story.
Taylor did say the operators of the indoor growing operation went to great lengths to conceal their activities, which were detected with the help of tips from neighbors and real estate professionals.
Five people have been charged in connection with the raids, including three San Francisco and two Oakland residents. The scale of the operation is "unprecedented for this region" and "appears to have the markings of Asian organized crime," Taylor said.
In a series of raids on the homes, DEA agents and police discovered they had been completely "retrofitted" for growing marijuana, Taylor said. Sheets of reflective Mylar were placed behind closed drapes to concentrate the light from 1,000-watt grow lamps. Electrical meters were bypassed to avoid tipping off utilities to increased power consumption. Holes were punched in walls and ceilings to install elaborate hydration, ventilation and filtration systems.
The homes were never inhabited, and the more than 13,000 plants seized in the raids were maintained periodically.
"They (the operators) were seen very rarely — once a week, once every two weeks," Taylor said. "They would arrive in a van, pull into the garage, and stay an hour or two. So there was very little contact with neighbors."
After the first homes were raided, the visits apparently stopped. But the lights, filtration systems and fans in the remaining homes continued to operate on timers, creating a fire risk.
"The water basins hadn’t been filled, so the plants were getting dry and withered," Taylor said. "All it takes is one spark, and those houses would have gone up in flames."
Regardless of whether Parker is a subject of the ongoing investigation, his name has now been connected to the raids through KXTV’s use of MLS data compiled by MetroList Inc., which provides property listing data in areas of Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Yolo, San Joaquin, Stanislaus and Merced counties.
KXTV reporter George Warren told Inman News the MLS data was provided to News10 by real estate professionals. "We don’t have any more access to MetroList than members of the general public," Warren said in an e-mail.
"I’m not sure if investigators knew about Kevin Parker before we did our stories, because broker information would not be included in public property records," Warren said. "The affidavit filed in support of at least one of the search warrants suggests DEA used Lexis-Nexis to determine property ownership."
Warren reported that Parker acted as the buyer’s agent in 16 home purchases, which had an average sales price of $532,000. The sales involved 12 individuals who obtained no-money-down financing, News10 reported.
The use of MLS listing data to connect Parker to the raids concerns MetroList Vice President Bill Miller. Miller said MetroList will provide listing data to police if "provided with the proper documentation," but was not asked to in this case.
"We’re concerned because … nobody here provided that information," Miller said. "If there was a real estate agent doing that, that’s a concern also, because that’s a misuse of the information."
Miller said it’s not uncommon for real estate agents to handle multiple transactions in the Sacramento area for investors.
"I know nothing about this guy, but that’s pretty flimsy evidence" linking Parker to the raids, he said.
June Barlow, vice president and general counsel for the California Association of Realtors, said she was not familiar with the details of the investigation and could not comment on it. In general, she said, real estate agents are not obligated to investigate the backgrounds of their clients and cannot control what buyers do with a property after it has been purchased.
"But if you see something right in front of you, you might want to ask a few probing questions before you participate," Barlow said. "Something that’s very prized among real estate professionals is their reputation. People go to you for service and integrity. You want to guard against something that would impugn that. One of the hardest decisions a professional faces is to walk away from a deal because it has too much risk, or because there might be something inappropriate going on."
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