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By Robert Trussell

RISMEDIA, June 5, 2007-(The Kansas City Star)-Bloggers, always a cynical bunch, haveconsistently voiced their suspicions that some of the “reality” on television house-flipping shows didn’t pass the smell test.

Now a reporter in Atlanta has apparently confirmed their suspicions.

A two-part investigation by Dale Russell on Fox 5 Atlanta this month alleged that real estate developer Sam Leccima, who was featured on the second season of A&E’s “Flip This House,” had staged phony house sales for the TV show.

But the report didn’t stop there. It went on to say that Leccima’s real estate license had been revoked by the state of Georgia before A&E filmed its first episode with him.
Russell also found investors who claimed they had been defrauded by Leccima in transactions unrelated to the TV show.

Leccima wasn’t invited back for the current season, although the network continued airing reruns of his episodes until the broadcast of Russell’s investigation.

“We are dismayed to learn of these allegations,” said A&E in a statement issued by Dan Silberman, vice president of publicity. “A&E Television Networks is not a party to any of these transactions shown in ‘Flip This House’ and has not received any formal complaints about the properties or sales. Based on these allegations, A&E is taking all episodes featuring Mr. Leccima off the air pending further investigation of the claims.”

The show this year alternates episode-to-episode between real estate firms in three cities, including Atlanta. The “star” of the current Atlanta episodes is real estate agent Angela Wilford, who in the second season was shown working with Leccima and his team.

Each episode depicts real estate developers buying a house, renovating it in a hurry and then allegedly selling it for a profit. Russell said all of that was staged in the episodes featuring Leccima. In one episode, Russell reported, a house was “landscaped” with plants that were immediately removed after a phony open house.

“We found Sam Leccima didn’t even own the homes he was renovating and lied about selling the houses and making big money,” Russell tells the audience during Part 1 of his report.

At one point Russell is shown cornering a cigar-chewing Leccima in a restaurant booth and asking about claims that he sold houses he didn’t actually own.

“It’s a television show,” Leccima says.

When Russell asks him if that means it’s OK to be untruthful, Leccima tells him to “call A&E.”

In a Kansas City Star article appearing May 6 about the proliferation of cable real estate shows, including “Flip This House,” everyone interviewed insisted that everything you see on the screen really happened and that nothing is staged.

Armando Montelongo, whose San Antonio real estate firm is one of those featured on “Flip This House,” couldn’t explain why his brother David’s goatee seems to appear and disappear in a single episode (suggesting, perhaps, that certain scenes are re-created and filmed out of sequence), but he flatly declared that nothing is invented for the cameras.

“I don’t know about anyone else,” he said, referring to other real estate firms shown on television. “I’m pretty sure what you see is what you get … I definitely don’t play up to the camera.”

A&E didn’t explain why Leccima wasn’t invited back, other than to say: “After the second season … A&E decided to change direction and focus on different cast members, as we did after the first season, and we no longer work with Mr. Leccima.”

None of this surprises denizens of the real-estate blogosphere.

“I find nothing shocking about this story and would only be surprised if A&E finally verified their other episodes and learned that none of the other developers were just scammers,” wrote a contributor to “I suspect most episodes in the last 2 years have been largely works of fiction.”

SOURCE: Kansas City Star