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"My personal opinion is that sooner or later she's going to be removed as the trustee and we're going to discover that there is little, if anything, left," he says.
While Lisa Krempasky was attending to Chuck Norman's affairs in the late 1990s, Doug Hartmann was planning his first and only foray as a boxing promoter. It didn't go well. Having secured a television contract and a downtown hotel to stage the five-bout match in January of 1999, Hartmann failed to provide an ambulance. The oversight cost a young boxer his career and the hotel millions of dollars.
Dropped to the mat with a knockout punch, Mexican pugilist Fernando Ibarra Maldonado gathered himself on the canvas only to collapse soon after entering the dressing room. It would be 90 minutes before he eventually reached a hospital. By then the fighter had suffered irreversible brain damage.
A jury later awarded Maldonado $13.7 million in damages in a lawsuit filed against the Regal Riverfront Hotel. Hartmann was originally named as a defendant in the suit but was released from the case prior to trial. Attorneys associated with the case say Hartmann didn't have enough assets to include him in the civil suit.
By 2001 Hartmann re-emerged, this time as a developer buying derelict buildings in St. Louis and rehabbing them for a substantial profit. He called his company DHP Investments, standing for Doug Hartmann Productions. In May of 2004, Hartmann established Krempasky as the registered agent or legal contact for DHP Investments. One month later, according to files at the Recorder of Deeds office, Krempasky began lending tens of thousands of dollars from the Charles Norman Trust to DHP Investments.
The influx of cash led to a spending spree, with Hartmann buying up dozens of properties throughout the city. Soon others joined in as many as 50 individuals in total lured by Hartmann's promises of high returns on their investments. As Hartmann met with new investors and drove around the city in his Mercedes sedan looking for new real estate opportunities, investors say, Krempasky worked behind the scenes, setting up corporations between Hartmann and his new financers. In almost every case, Krempasky established herself as the attorney of record for the new corporations.
Many of Hartmann's investors were so-called hard-money lenders, wealthy individuals who make short-term loans at interest rates of up to 20 percent. Others were acquaintances of Hartmann or people who attended weekly services with Krempasky at Victory Fellowship Church in Crestwood.
A pastor at the church describes Krempasky as a quiet member of the congregation who in years past helped raise funds for foreign and domestic missionaries. The money that the handful of church members invested with Hartmann, says the pastor, was supposed to benefit those missions.
"They weren't investing for themselves," he says. "This was all about taking the money from these investments and giving it to the poor in Africa widows and orphans."
Gary Detmer knew Hartmann from their days at Southwest Missouri State University in the early 1980s. A 43-year-old pharmaceutical salesman, Detmer wouldn't fall into the category of a wealthy, hard-money lender. He drives a Chevrolet Impala company car and lives in a modest $200,000 home in west county. A friend of his invested in several of Hartmann's real estate deals and made a substantial profit. The friend suggested that Detmer do the same.
"Doug's sales pitch was that the city was hot," recalls Detmer. "He told me at worst-case I'd see a 10 percent return on my real estate investments not 40 percent, but still the return would be substantial."
So convinced was Detmer of the fortunes to be made, he converted his retirement savings into a fund for the exclusive purposes of investing in properties to be rehabbed by DHP Investments. Other money he borrowed from banks, taking out more than a million dollars to purchase seven buildings, most all of them in destitute city neighborhoods marred by crime and vacant properties. Detmer says that in each case Krempasky served as his and Hartmann's personal attorney, setting up the legal work for the real-estate transactions.
Still, Detmer says, his investments showed significant returns at least on paper. Last fall, though, the payments stopped, and Detmer claims Hartmann abandoned all work on the rehabs. Today all seven of Detmer's properties sit empty, and he's come to realize that Hartmann completed little if any significant work on the buildings despite drawing large sums from the escrow accounts set up to pay for the renovation of the properties.
Detmer also learned that his ownership in several properties is in limbo, with several other investors also holding deeds to the buildings. One of his investments, a two-family flat in the Shaw neighborhood, has thirteen deeds filed before his.
"I've given up thinking of where all the money could have gone," says Detmer, whose bloodshot eyes reveal the sleepless nights he's spent pondering his situation. "All I think about now is how to get out of this mess."
Early this summer, Detmer says, FBI and HUD agents interviewed him about Hartmann, and he remains optimistic that the developer and Krempasky will face criminal charges. Reached for comment, the federal agencies would neither confirm nor deny that an investigation is underway.