Frank Ford is talking about an assistant Cuyahoga County prosecutor’s request that he testify at the May 8 sentencing of Blaine Murphy, a bulk purchaser of toxic properties who sucker-punched his way to wealth.
“I have no sense that he is remorseful,” Ford says. “He needs to do some prison time and reflect on the damage he’s done.”
We’re in Slavic Village on East 57th Street. It runs north and south, and we’re looking at a block-long stretch of besieged, blue-collar abodes sporting “beware of dog” signs and front-porch views of condemned properties and vacant lots where friends and families used to live.
Murphy (dba Bryce Peters III and Bryce Peters Financial) wasn’t the only predator who stalked these mean streets, but he is the first to plead guilty to 11 felonies related to a rapacious, remorseless cash-for-trash con that cratered neighborhoods across Cuyahoga County.
He did it from the comfort of a $1.2 million Naples, Fla., retreat complete with spa and swimming pool.
Ford is a number cruncher, a senior vice president for research and development at the nonprofit Neighborhood Progress Inc. and chairman of Cuyahoga County’s Vacant and Abandoned Property Action Council. He tracks felonious flippers through a forest of fronts, following the money, learning little details like how Murphy bought 19 properties that already had been demolished.
“It speaks to how reckless and irresponsible this activity was,” Ford says. “He’s not even paying attention to what he’s buying.”
Murphy’s attorney, Larry Zukerman, did not respond to an email asking for comment on Ford’s accusations in time for publication.
Condemned houses. Open, vacant, vandalized homes. It didn’t matter to Murphy, Ford says. These were just addresses in a city he never intended to visit. “He unloaded them to frequent flyers in Housing Court,” Ford says. Buyers who shared his business model: No money for maintenance, or for paying taxes.
“There are 305 properties Murphy acquired in Cuyahoga County,” Ford says. “The bulk of them, 235, are in Cleveland.”
And he is tax-delinquent on 156 of the 305 properties countywide, according to public records Ford downloaded from Case Western Reserve University. The amount owed, Ford calculates, is $1,044,983, a significant chunk of change for cash-strapped local governments, school systems and health and social service initiatives.
Ford also runs the numbers Murphy has cost taxpayers to raze his rat nests. He estimates the 48 tear-downs completed to date add up to $377,165, according to city records. He also estimates the future cost to taxpayers for the demolition of additional health and safety threats to be $820,000.
As part of Murphy’s plea deal, he agreed to pay $1 million in restitution.
It doesn’t begin to cover the cost of Murphy’s crime spree if you accept the numbers embedded in Case Western’s property data. “I’m gonna argue that the $1 million is not enough to compensate the city, the county, the neighbors,” Ford says.
How much is enough? Murphy annihilated neighborhoods. He drove away families who are never coming back. Guy deserves the Big House.
“I’d rather have him pay another $1 million,” Ford says. “How else are we going to recover the cleanup costs that are put on the backs of taxpayers?”
We walk south into a bitter wind. There’s a vacant lot next door to four condemned properties — one so busted up Ford says, “I gotta get a picture of that.”
There’s a huge hole chopped in the roof. Fire damage is visible on the second floor. Siding is ripped loose and hanging like dead flesh. The satellite dish looks intact, though.
“How’d you like to see that out your front window?” Ford asks.
We cross the street to a house that features a chain-link fence protecting a tiny lawn and a garden with yellow daffodils blooming. A big guy in sweat pants, a T-shirt and flip-flops answers the door. He doesn’t want to give his name. Doesn’t want any trouble.
“Work every day,” he says. “Pay my bills. And this is my view. It’s embarrassing.”
It’s also stressful. “These are shells just waiting for mischief. Don’t know who’s inside, what they’re doing, if they’re watching you, timing you.”
Murphy owned an eyesore just up the street. “It was terrible,” the guy says. “Wide open. Nobody cared about it.”
It’s gone now, replaced by a vacant lot strewn with straw. “Better with nothing there,” the guy says.
Ford tells him about Murphy getting sentenced. “You should come,” Ford says.
The guy looks at him. “Yeah,” he says. “Maybe.”
Truth is — whatever happens to Murphy — the view outside the front window won’t change.
Read it from the source.