Driving through West Baltimore’s Carrollton Ridge neighborhood on a recent weekday, a large pile of charred debris sat on the sidewalk in front of a rowhome. More than three weeks earlier, the home had caught fire, critically injuring a 58-year-old man who was rescued by firefighters from inside. A woman suffered less serious injuries. Eleven dogs died.

Property records show the blaze occurred at a home tied to a foreign investor who bought the property through ABC Capital, which has sold thousands of vacant properties in distressed neighborhoods of Baltimore and Philadelphia. The company told the investor, a plastic surgeon in Argentina, that it would acquire the home for him, renovate it, and rent it out — none of which occurred, the investor says in a lawsuit.

The story is common as more investors come forward saying they were ripped off by the company. But the records related to the burned home also highlight another way ABC Capital owner Jay Walsh was enticing investors — and that business model is also coming under scrutiny.

Since 2021, another investor, this time in Israel, has had control over a $40,000 mortgage loan used by the Argentinian investor to buy the home. It was transferred from a company called Wall Street Wealth Management LLC.

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A Jan. 25 fire critically injured a 58-year-old man, also hurt a woman, and killed 11 dogs. The home was owned by an ABC Capital investor, among scores of people who say they were ripped off by the company, and highlights another wrinkle of the organization’s business: a loan company called Wall Street Wealth Management. (Justin Fenton)

In addition to arranging the purchase of homes and offering to manage the properties, Walsh ran Wall Street Wealth Management, making loans to investors unable to pay cash to close their deals.

Walsh pitched this company, which was formed in Pennsylvania in April 2020, as a way for investors to get involved with the rental market by funding mortgages without acquiring and maintaining property. “There are some people that are interested in investing in the U.S., but don’t want to deal with the complexities of tax returns and dealing with tenants and property managers,” Walsh told a Canadian real estate publication in 2020. “This is the more passive, easier way to invest in the United States and make US Dollars.”

An illustrated portrait of Jay Walsh, the co-founder of ABC Capital Investments.
Jay Walsh, the co-founder of ABC Capital Investments. (Adam T. Jones for The Baltimore Banner)

Maryland property records show Wall Street Wealth Management lending money or obtaining interest in a note for about 40 properties in Baltimore between 2020 and early 2022. In at least 20 of those instances, Wall Street has since transferred the note to another investor.

In the case of Yossi Boker, the Israeli investor, the note was transferred to him in what he says was a deceptive effort to make up money that ABC Capital owed to him. Boker, too, says he was a victim who invested in properties that were not renovated or rented as promised. He sued Walsh in 2018, seeking to enforce payment on a settlement worth more than $600,000, and again in 2020. He was transferred mortgage notes to two Baltimore properties in 2021, but both were vacant homes owned by other investors.

Boker, in an interview with The Baltimore Banner from Israel, said Walsh and his partners ran “a really stupid organization in terms of operation, but very sophisticated in terms of fraudulent actions.”

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Thomas Valkenet, a Baltimore attorney who represents several investors, described the dealings as the “gambler’s fallacy: ‘I’ll make it up to you on the next hand.’”

Walsh sent The Banner photos that he said showed the property had been renovated. The photos are dated more than two months before the contract to complete renovations was signed, and the home appears very worn, with missing door handles, damaged walls and mildew.

“The house was done, the house had a squatter and the owner received rent and was paying the loan,” Walsh said. “People are alleging many things that are not true. I will have my day in court to prove it.”

Matthew B. Weisberg, an attorney for the property owner and several others suing ABC Capital, said: “We look forward to Mr. Walsh’s testimony.”

Walsh declined to answer further questions about the renovations.

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Visits to the homes, like the overall housing stock tied to ABC Capital, show them in various conditions, including some that from the outside appear secured and lived in, while others were vacant. One woman who lives next to a vacant property on Harlem Avenue told The Baltimore Banner that it is constantly being broken into and she fears it will catch fire.

This vacant home on Edmondson Avenue is owned by an ABC Capital investor. (Justin Fenton)

Walsh, who runs another company called IPP USA and is residing in Aruba, has denied intentionally deceiving anyone. He told The Banner that there were a variety of factors that led to homes not being completed as promised, and that others are making up claims about their dealings with him. Some of Walsh’s companies have filed for bankruptcy, listing $4 million in judgments, while the attorney general’s office in Pennsylvania says it has been conducting a consumer protection investigation for more than a year. A new Chapter 11 bankruptcy was filed last week.

An investor named Nicolas Spessot wrote on a message board two years ago that he had bought a home in the 2900 block of Presbury Street through ABC Capital, financed by a $40,000 loan from Wall Street Wealth Management. Spessot could not be reached for comment, but property and business records confirmed his account. He wrote that ABC was paid $70,000 for renovations to the home and he was assured in Zoom calls that they were in process of doing the work, but a friend who visited the property told him nothing was taking place.

An excerpt of a post Nicolas Spessot posted on a message board two years ago about ABC Capital Management.
An excerpt of a post Nicolas Spessot posted on a message board two years ago about ABC Capital Management. (Handout)

“They said they will sell the property and I will get the money back with 1 year rental in the period of 60 to 90 days,” he wrote. “Of course I don’t believe that, and the bigger problem for me [now] is the loan.”

Spessot’s loan is one of the few listed as paid, and he sold the property in May 2022 to a buyer in Prince George’s County.

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Boker said he got involved with ABC Capital around 2017, after hearing good things from other Israelis who had invested. He said he dealt with Yaron Zer, one of ABC’s principals based in Israel. Zer did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Boker’s company, Yaviv Investments, bought five properties through ABC, one in Baltimore and four in Philadelphia, with the expectation that ABC would renovate and rent them.

“Very soon, I realized things are not going as planned,” Boker said.

In court papers filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas, his attorney said Boker had been a victim of “false representations, mischief and fraud.” The parties reached a settlement agreement in 2018 in which ABC would buy back the properties for $572,000 and pay Boker an additional $65,000, according to court documents. By spring 2020, Yaviv filed suit again, saying ABC had “fundamentally breached” the agreement. The suit is pending.

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Meanwhile, around the same time, an Argentinian plastic surgeon named Dr. Javier Rossi purchased three properties in Baltimore through ABC Capital.

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One property was at 558 S. Bentalou St., in the distressed neighborhood of Carrollton Ridge. His agreement with ABC Capital Baltimore LLC said the condition of the home was warrantied for two years and that he would incur no maintenance costs, and receive monthly rental payments of $1,150 for two years.

On top of the sale price of $44,000, Rossi paid another $44,000 for demolition and renovation, according to his lawsuit.

Despite the rent guarantee, Rossi says he never received any rental payments, and that no renovations were made to the home, which was in a state of disrepair. He sued ABC Capital in U.S. District Court in Pennsylvania on Jan. 20, five days before the fire.

Rossi financed the purchase of the Bentalou home through Wall Street Wealth Management, receiving a $40,000 mortgage loan with a 9% fixed interest rate. He also bought two other homes in Baltimore using loans through Wall Street Wealth Management.

With Boker clamoring to be paid back, in July 2021, Wall Street Wealth Management transferred its interest in Rossi’s mortgage to Boker’s company, records show.

Rossi allowed the home, which has unpaid water bills in the amount of $9,300, to fall into foreclosure, a process initiated by Boker in September.

Boker said he would have to pay $2,000 to get the deed, and he would have to pay thousands to eject a squatter. He walked away from the process, unwilling to sink any more money into the property — which is in bad shape in a troubled neighborhood, he said — and expects the city will eventually take the property in a tax sale.

“I just decided to cut the losses. Enough is enough,” he said.

Walsh said Rossi “did receive rents and in fact owes us money.” He said after the loan was transferred to Boker, “the loan was being paid and was paid for some time.” He said he was nevertheless engaged in settlement discussions with Rossi.

“The owner of the house for some reason stopped working with us to resolve his issues,” Walsh said.

He lamented that an unauthorized tenant moved into the property, and said police refused to eject the person “during COVID.” He said he obtained a forcible entry and detainer order, which court records show was applied for in September. The order was to be served in mid-December, but the sheriff’s office said it paused evictions that month due to cold weather and the holidays, and so staff could be retrained.

The fire broke out six weeks later.

“This is very sad about this occupancy and the dogs,” Walsh said. “They should not have been in the house. We did everything we could to remove them.”

Boker said he was impressed with ABC’s business pitch and admits not knowing much about Baltimore. “Foreigners are not fluent with the exact characteristics of the neighborhoods and cities in the U.S.,” he said. The business plan is sound in theory, Boker said, but ABC Capital was disorganized and maintaining property in distressed areas carries far more challenges than he anticipated.

He said he took a hit, but will recover.

“But I know they cheated simple people, for what might have been their life savings,” Boker said. “It’s so unfair and so unjust, and the fact that they did it for so many years to so many people, this is really crazy if they escape.”

Meanwhile on a recent weekday at the site of the fire, a city worker sat in an idling dump truck, with an excavator parked nearby. A reporter asked if they were there to clean up the belongings. He shook his head no.

The charred pile of belongings from the fire continue to sit on the sidewalk. There are few people to complain: The four homes north of the house that caught fire are also vacant.