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May 19. 2014 9:46PM

Manchester memorabilia store likely scam target

MANCHESTER — The owners of an iconic downtown business feel fortunate not to have lost any money in what appeared to be a great deal that would send them into semi-retirement and give them an opportunity to run a smaller version of the sports memorabelia store they started 35 years ago.

Sports Fans and Collector’s Heaven almost fell victim to a scam that may still prove costly to owners Mike and Caren Grady about a year after they first put their Elm Street property and inventory on the market.

“This changed everything. We just don’t know what to expect any more,” Mike Grady said Monday.

The Gradys had been in negotions this spring with two friends interested in forming a partnership that would buy the property, inventory and carry on the business well known to collectors throughout New England.

Those discussions were still preliminary when an alleged businessman from China made a cash offer of $729,000 on April 4 for the building and property only. Mike Grady said he forwarded the offer to the other interested buyers, but after a few days those prospective buyers stepped aside.

The offer of thee business man from China was just $3,000 less than the listed price, which broker Bob Bennett said made him at least a little wary of “Makato Kaku” from the start. The “buyer” also said he wanted to initiate the purchase having seen only pictures, saying he and his wife “would not like to lose the property,” according to an email to Bennett dated April 7.

The idea of an accelerated overseas transaction for a property that had been on the market for nearly a year also didn’t sit right with Bennett, who said he proceded cautiously while hoping the deal turned out to be legitimate.

Bennett wrote up a contract April 8 with closing scheduled for June 19. Bennett initially listed his own agency to handle the escrow account for a deposit of $15,000

“I thought something doesn’t seem right but I have a duty to sell the property for my clients,” Bennett said.

Bennett was conerned enough to turn over the escrow to his attorneys at Gauthier & MacMartin, who were already prepared for the likelihood that it was an overseas scam for the $15,000 deposit through a deceptive series of wire transactions.

Bennett told the “buyer” that his attorneys were now the escrow agent. After that, he didn’t hear much from China.

“When the buyer realized I wasn’t the escrow agent, he went cold on us,” Bennett said.

So the property stays on the market and the Gradys hope to speak with the first party soon.

“They haven’t been able to sit down and discuss if there was any chance that they could get back into it. But it’s not where it was,” Mike Grady said. “They wanted it the first time. They may still, but there’s a lot changed since this happened.”

dalden@unionleader.com



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