State investigating top real estate group's leader
Posted June 14, 2012
Raleigh, N.C. — The North Carolina Real Estate Commission said Thursday it is investigating the company of one of the state's top real estate group leaders.
Lou Baldwin is president of the North Carolina Association of Realtors, which represents more than 31,000 real estate professionals across the state, and is owner of Winston-Salem real estate business, The Baldwin Companies Inc.
His company came under scrutiny after a 2010 anonymous complaint accused the firm of diverting money from tenant security deposit trust accounts to general operating expenses, such as rent, which is illegal.
"A trust account is a type of account designated at its inception by the broker and the bank," said real estate commission legal counsel Janet Thoren. "By placing that designation on the account, it is clear to all that the money contained therein is being held by the broker on behalf of others, and does not belong to the broker."
Investigators determined the former broker-in-charge, Shirley Truell, diverted $112,000 to pay some of the firm's bills. The firm agreed to repay the account and, on Dec. 6, Truell agreed to have her real estate license revoked.
The state real estate commission found no consumers were harmed, but investigators are trying to determine what Baldwin's liability is in the case.
"Our file remains open as we were collecting additional documentation to determine whether to pursue action against the firm or owner. That report is not complete as of this date," Thoren said, adding that Baldwin is not receiving any special treatment due to his leadership position.
Commission members with close connections to Baldwin have recused themselves from any decisions on the case, Thoren said.
Baldwin released a statement Thursday, saying "these were internal issues involving personnel that were addressed immediately when brought to our attention in 2010."
"I can assure you that no clients or customers were affected in any way," he said. "We will continue to cooperate with the Real Estate Commission until this is resolved."
North Carolina Association of Realtors spokesman Kevin Brafford also released a statement Thursday, saying Baldwin is cooperating with the commission. When asked if the investigation would compromise Baldwin's ability to lead the group, Brafford offered no further comment.