Asheville NC man lied to get loans for illegal Airbnbs, Vrbos

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A handyman who rose to fame on a local Facebook group and became a property manager for vacation rentals in western North Carolina faces criminal charges after federal prosecutors say he had lied on more than a dozen home loan applications.

The charges are the latest in a series of allegations against Shawn Thomas Johnson regarding vacation rentals in the Asheville area.

Johnson was charged with bank fraud in the Western District of North Carolina on March 11 and is expected to plead guilty later this month, according to federal court documents. He is accused of obtaining more than $3.5 million in home loans by lying to banks and circumventing local ordinances that prevented him from listing many of the properties he purchased as short-term vacation rentals. term.

Defense attorneys representing Johnson did not immediately respond to McClatchy News’ March 15 request for comment.

Johnson became a local celebrity working as a handyman in 2015. He was known as “Shawn of All Trades” on the private West Asheville Exchange Facebook page, where he earned “a reputation as a hard-working, capable and eager handyman.” attack everything. kinds of chores,” the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.

Johnson obtained his real estate broker’s license the same year and began managing vacation properties in Buncombe County. He was even on a panel of local entrepreneurs in 2016 discussing “alternative and innovative ways” to make a living, according to the Citizen-Times.

Then, in 2019, the North Carolina Real Estate Commission revoked Johnson’s broker’s license, saying he pocketed money owed to landlords whose vacation homes he managed and rented on Airbnb without the proper city permits.

The allegations related to at least nine properties he allegedly managed without an agreement in place and three other homes he allegedly rented within Asheville city limits without a permit, according to commission records.

But Johnson’s problems didn’t end there.

At the start of the coronavirus pandemic, the Asheville Police Department announced there was an arrest warrant for Johnson for violating emergency COVID-19 restrictions by repeatedly renting a rental home for non-essential travel to West Asheville.

Johnson repeatedly commented on the police department’s Facebook post regarding the charges, joking, “You all think I can get a reward?”

Later he surrendered.

The most recent charges stem from allegations about how Johnson managed to buy several of the vacation properties he manages.

Prosecutors said Johnson conducted his business under at least two dozen corporate entities. They said he started buying properties in 2012 to list them on sites such as Airbnb and Vrbo while lying to banks about his finances and the houses’ intended use as short-term rentals.

Local ordinances and zoning regulations prohibited many of the homes he bought from being used as vacation properties – meaning banks wouldn’t have approved the loans if they knew about it, the government said .

It was unclear whether Johnson still had ads on Vrbo, and a company representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But an Airbnb spokesperson confirmed Johnson’s account and related listings were removed in 2019.

Johnson submitted his own mortgage applications and recruited others to buy homes on his behalf, court documents show. He reportedly offered to split rental proceeds with landlords and kept his name on loan applications so banks wouldn’t know what financial interest he had.

From August 2012 to November 2019, Johnson is accused of lying to obtain at least 16 home loans totaling more than $3.5 million.

Court documents show a plea hearing for Johnson is scheduled for March 25.

Hayley Fowler is a reporter for The Charlotte Observer, covering breaking news and real-time news across North and South Carolina. She holds a journalism degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and previously worked as a legal reporter in New York City before joining the Observer in 2019.

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