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Thursday, March 15, 2018 12:09 am

Mortgage mayhem

State shuts down Springfield broker

Chris Schaller isn’t your typical mortgage broker.

He once had a show on WMAY radio, where he was known as the Illinois Mortgage Man. Sam Madonia on WFMB has broadcasted live from Schaller’s office on Greenbriar Road. On front-page State Journal-Register ads, Schaller appears in a coat and tie, smiling pleasantly, like any other workaday loan officer from pick a bank. On his Facebook page, where he goes by Shot Caller, Schaller is a broker with attitude, complete with a photo of himself in mirrored sunglasses with “Straight Outta Loan Closings,” in lettering cribbed directly from the infamous NWA album, emblazoned over his torso.

With annual pay north of $700,000 a year, Schaller has been a financial success. But he’s in trouble now.

Chris Schaller

The Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation on March 7 declared an emergency and suspended Schaller’s broker’s license after department investigators seeking loan files visited his office, a branch of Diamond Residential Mortgage Co. based in Lake Forest, which failed to produce the records. The department obtained the files from the principal of Diamond Residential Mortgage, according to the order suspending Schaller’s license. It’s not clear why the department wanted to see the files. The director of IDPFR’s banking division yanked Schaller’s license on the grounds that the branch office did, in fact, have copies of loan files and that a shredding service had been summoned.

Diamond Residential has suspended Schaller, shut down the Springfield office and launched its own investigation, a company spokesman says. Schaller appeared at a Monday court hearing in his pending divorce – he filed the same day IDFPR sent investigators to his office – but he says via telephone that he’s now in the wind.

Schaller says that he’s paid a $100,000 nonrefundable retainer to a Washington, D.C., law firm to deal with his legal woes, whatever they might be. He says that the Illinois attorney general has asked about Operation Fight Veteran Homelessness, a charity he helped found that has held at least one fundraiser but lacks standing as a 501(c)3 nonprofit – he says that the state inquiry turned up nothing. There also is the lawsuit filed against him by Dan Fricke and his mother, Esther, who claim that Schaller defrauded them out of land in Menard County worth well into the six figures.

There is, in short, a lot to talk about, and Schaller likes to talk. After telling a reporter that he can’t talk about anything on advice of his lawyers, Schaller stays on the phone for nearly two hours, professing innocence. He says that the U.S. attorney’s office has asked for mortgage records, but that was in 2015. His very life, he says, might be at stake, and so he has fled Illinois.

“I need to be around some of my brothers who protected me when I was in Iraq in 2003 and 2004,” Schaller says. “I wasn’t scared in Iraq, bullets whizzing by my head. But I’ve been scared the last two weeks.”
Just why isn’t made clear in the course of a conversation that moves from the IDFPR case to the Fricke lawsuit to homeless veterans.

A year ago, Schaller told the Springfield Business Journal that he’d gotten eight homeless veterans off the street, but he could not provide to Illinois Times any names of formerly homeless veterans he’s helped. Schaller said Operation Fight Veteran Homelessness will turn over keys and the deed to a home to a veteran – he couldn’t provide a name – on April 2. It will be, Schaller says, straight out of Extreme Home Makeover, with a stunned veteran handed the keys to a home that’s been all fixed up.

Where is the home? Schaller says that he doesn’t know – it will be one of 10 houses that a trust he controls owns on Springfield’s East Side. All of the homes have delinquent taxes, and most have fair market values south of $30,000, according to county property records. Schaller says that he’s worked with the city to address code violations. “I’ve never been to any of these properties,” he says.

What about the Fricke lawsuit filed last June? Schaller said he’s done nothing wrong. But Fricke says that Schaller took advantage of him, telling him in 2011 that he would loan him $15,000 to save 40 acres from a bankruptcy auction. Schaller, according to the lawsuit, also paid taxes on the land, spent $7,000 to provide an access point to the property so it could be farmed and loaned Fricke an additional $5,500 to buy a vehicle. Fricke says he thought that he was getting loans but discovered last year that documents he’d signed without carefully reading had actually deeded the property to Schaller, who somehow also got the deed to adjoining property that included the house where Fricke lives. Fricke says he never signed paperwork concerning the house, which was given to him by his elderly mother. Shortly after paying $15,000 to Fricke and getting deed to land, Schaller got a $500,000 mortgage on the two parcels, according to Fricke’s lawsuit.

Noting floods of Facebook postings from folks who support him, Schaller says he’s not a crook. “Literally, I’m getting 50 emails a day of support,” he says. And, while Diamond Residential Mortgage has suspended him, Schaller says that business prospects are bright.

“I got recruiters calling me left and right,” he says. “I just had a company offer $2 million to sign a three-year deal with them.”

Contact Bruce Rushton at brushton@illinoistimes.com.

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