A real estate investor once described by tenants as a "millionaire slumlord" was charged Friday with defrauding banks of $10 million in an effort to shore up his rowhouse empire in Kensington and Port Richmond.
The charges against Robert Coyle Sr., 66, of Glassboro, were handed up by a federal grand jury in Philadelphia.
Coyle is accused of defrauding the East River Bank and Republic First Bank of more than $10 million in 2007 - at the height of the real estate bubble - by lying to the banks about property titles and income from rental houses put up as collateral.
The U.S. Attorney's Office said Coyle operated a real estate business out of 2332 E. Allegheny Ave. in Port Richmond, through which he controlled more than 300 properties.
City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones Sánchez, who has been grappling with the fallout from the collapse of Coyle's business in her district, said that by her count he controlled 480 rowhouses, and that about half now were vacant and involved in complex civil litigation.
The area has long struggled with crime, poverty, and abandoned housing.
"We're trying to preserve housing for residents where that is possible," said Quiñones Sánchez, "and where possible create home-ownership opportunities." She said negotiations were under way involving the city, banks, the courts, and federal prosecutors. Many of Coyle's homes are in foreclosure. Quiñones Sánchez said some lenders let Coyle use his own firm to run title searches.
Meanwhile, the city is inspecting the vacant homes and ordering the owner - whomever it might be at this point - to maintain the properties to a "higher standard" in an effort to prevent neighborhood deterioration, said Department of Licenses and Inspections spokeswoman Maura Kennedy.
Defense attorney Jeffrey M. Miller said his client got in financial trouble after one of his loans was called in by a lender. Coyle was investing at the height of the bubble. Previously, Coyle had "dozens of million-dollar deals with banks. Never was there a problem," said Miller. He also disputed the characterization of Coyle as a slumlord.
He said Coyle is a "lunch-pail, blue-collar kind of guy" who was a bus driver before he started investing in real estate.
According to the indictment, Coyle borrowed more than $3 million from East River Bank and more than $6.6 million from Republic First. A third institution, Polonia Bank, also invested in the deal.
The proceeds were to be used to fix properties, refinance existing loans, or invest in new properties.
The indictment alleges Coyle defrauded the banks because he did not hold good title for 12 properties he put up as collateral.
In 31 other instances, he allegedly lied to the banks about the amounts of rent he collected, or listed vacant buildings as occupied.
In 2009, the Philadelphia Daily News reported that Coyle purchased once-stable houses on Port Richmond's west side and let them rot.
According to the stories, low-income tenants had homes with no heat or window panes, leaky roofs, crumbling ceilings, creeping mold, and seeping sewage.
The case was investigated by the FBI and the Economic and Cyber Crimes Unit of the Philadelphia District Attorney's Office, and is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorney Mary Kay Costello. Coyle faces his first court appearance Tuesday.