Three months after Wanpen Florentine resolved identity fraud charges against her, the town of Hingham is urging her to sell an affordable-housing unit that officials say she has misused and may own illegally.
“I’m cautiously optimistic we’ll come to a resolution of open issues,” Susan Murphy, real estate counsel for the town, said of the home at Ridgewood Crossing.
Florentine, who attracted attention last year after being charged with identity fraud, recently offered to sell the parcel to the town. Though town officials said Florentine’s attorney has told them she was thinking about rescinding the sale offer, they also said they expect to close on the property Tuesday.
Officials have been eager to see Florentine move out of the affordable property since discovering she had turned the parcel into a multifamily home and was renting it without the town’s consent. Under zoning laws and rules in the condominium agreement, any changes to the unit or who lives there must first be authorized by the town.
Moreover, questions have also swirled about the legality of Florentine’s ownership, obtained at a below-market rate intended for buyers who fall within certain income brackets. Florentine purchased the home from a developer working with the town in 2008 for $181,750.
Murphy said she does not yet have documentation that shows whether Florentine bought the property illegally, and neither Florentine nor her attorney could be reached for comment.
Yet according to deed records, Florentine also owns a $1.9 million house on Crooked Meadow Lane in Hingham under a different name.
“To me, a violation has occurred,” said Selectman Bruce Rabuffo. “Has it been corrected, and if not, what’s the recompense we have to pursue that?”
Florentine’s troubles with the town started when police responded to a landlord/tenant complaint at 23 Ridgewood Crossing in early 2012. Not only had that the affordable housing condo had been rented out, but police discovered that Florentine had a number of different identities.
During a search of Florentine’s Crooked Meadow Lane home, police found five Social Security cards with different names, two resident alien cards with different names with her photo, a photocopy of an additional resident alien card and Social Security number, 11 Massachusetts drivers licenses with her photo, 11 credit cards, six US passports with her photo, and multiple bank books and checkbooks.
According to police, several names were listed on the cards and documents, including Penny Collins, Penny Siridee, Wanpen Collins, Laciga Rachaisri, Wanpen S.J. Collins, and Hieng Kridaratikon.
Florentine was placed on house arrest at her Crooked Meadow home for a year until pleading guilty in February to two charges — applying for a false license and one count of mortgage fraud. An attorney for Florentine said at the time that the other charges were dropped because the multiple names were the result of multiple marriages.
While Florentine’s criminal case has been resolved, problems with the affordable housing unit, which has been vacant for nearly a year, have been ongoing.
According to Murphy, town officials had been working through possible scenarios, when Florentine approached the town with plans to sell the property. Under affordable-housing rules, homeowners must offer the property to the town before going out to the general market.
In a Feb. 28 meeting, the Board of Selectmen voted to act on the offer, designating funding from the Hingham Affordable Housing Trust to buy back the parcel for the maximum resale price of $182,655, as determined by the state Department of Housing and Community Development.
“The ultimate goal, returning again to the goal of the town, is to have the unit be owned and occupied by someone who is an affordable-eligible purchaser. Therefore, the town will take whatever actions it [thinks] would be most expeditious in reaching that goal,” Murphy said.
The closing had been set for Monday, with Florentine needing to clear all three of the mortgages on the property for the sale to proceed, Murphy said. But before the deadline, Murphy said, Florentine’s attroney indicated she was no longer interested in selling.
Yet according to Murphy, even if Florentine decides against the sale, the town now has a right to the property.
“Once we’ve exercised the sell, she doesn’t have the right to elect not to sell it,” Murphy said. “You have to sell it. She triggered the right of first refusal with her notice to sell, the town elected to purchase it, and the town is in the position of any purchaser.”
Murphy said she had this conversation with Florentine’s attorney, who asked for more time to work through the interpretation of the law.
“He needed time to go back and discuss these legal interpretations and get [Florentine’s] final decision,” Murphy said.
Murphy said the town would review its legal options should Florentine not follow through on this week’s closing date.
In the meantime, officials at both the Hingham Housing Authority and the DHCD, which both have oversight authority for the Ridgewood Crossing property, have said that nothing will change.
“Intentional fraud by a homebuyer is not common. This could be a first . . . as of right now we’re not changing the processes, and we have very tight standards,” said Matthew Sheaf, the state agency’s director of communications.