CHICAGO (CBS) — A few years ago, then-60-year-old Darlene Simmons…
met a woman named Candace Clark…
who would change her life forever.
Over the course of a year, the two women became friends confiding in each other about their hopes, dreams and struggles.
Simmons said Clark shared with her the difficulty of having a husband who was away from home, serving in the military. Simmons was struggling with her own concerns about her family’s safety in her current neighborhood: someone had slashed her car tires, broke her car windows and threatened her son’s life.
Simmons wanted to find a new home, but knew her bad credit score would make that goal nearly impossible to achieve. She said Clark presented herself as a budding restaurateur, an established owner of several properties, and the bearer of a stellar credit history. Who better to help her find a new place to live?
“My credit was bad and so she was going to purchase the property with my money and then the following year, she’ll have it turned over in my name. I felt she was on the up and up,” Simmons said.
According to a lawsuit Simmons eventually filed against Clark, the first cashier’s check Simmons gave Clark was for $5,000 on March 25, 2014. It was a deposit to start the property search. Shortly afterward, Simmons gave Clark another $3,484 for insurance and inspections on a two-flat building on South Calumet Avenue.
“Now, that’s the first place we fell in love with. It had everything that we wanted. It was nice. Hardwood floors. It was like a dream come true,” Simmons said.
She said Clark told her one of those inspections found mold, which would cost another $10,000 to remove. Simmons asked for more documentation and got an email back, without an attachment.
“That’s when she said something must be wrong with my computer,” Simmons said.
Between March of 2014 and October of 2015, the lawsuit claims Clark showed Simmons three properties – the one on Calumet Avenue, another on California Avenue and a single-family home in the area of 95th Street and Lowe Avenue.
Clark convinced Simmons she was actually in the process of purchasing the last two places – one to live in and one to rent out for investment income. Simmons gave Clark a total of $65,776.56 for things like deposits, inspections, repairs, furniture, a new furnace, back taxes and storage fees and got nothing in return, according to court documents.
In addition, Simmons’ daughter wanted to hold her wedding at an Alsip venue. Clark again offered to help because she had a friend who worked there. Simmons said Clark told her to “just give us $8,000 in cash and we’ll set it up for you. I gave Candace money for a limo, a hummer limo, flowers, photographer for my daughter’s wedding.”
Just days before the date, Simmons called the venue and learned there was no reservation.
“They said Candace did call them and said she was interested in booking a room for a wedding, but she never came up with the money,” Simmons said.
Simmons said Clark promised to make amends, writing her a check for $7,200. That check bounced.
There were some red flags along the way, like the lack of receipts. There was always an explanation too.
“Every time I met up with her, it’s not like I didn’t ask for proof or a copy. Every time I met up with her, ‘Oh, I forgot my paperwork, but you can trust me. I got you. I wouldn’t do anything to harm you,’” Simmons said.
By, the end of October of 2014, Simmons was out a total of $73,776.56. All the money had come from her retirement fund, draining it dry.
“That 401k I worked 40 years at the Tribune for, 40 years. To have it taken from me, not even less than two years. How? How could you do that,” Simmons said. “She’s a devil. I mean, anytime you take advantage of people who don’t have anything.”
Simmons sued Clark for fraud in 2017. A judge dismissed the lawsuit because they couldn’t find Clark to serve her. Now, they know where she is and Simmons’ lawyers have recently refiled.
While the case winds its way through the legal system, Simmons is 65 years old and trying to make ends meet. Retirement is not in the picture.
“Now, I’m back working two jobs, seven days a week. I’m not going to be able to move now. I don’t have the money to move with. Even working two jobs, it’ll never happen,” Simmons said.
As for Clark?
“She needs to go to jail. We’ll probably never see any of the money that she got, but my satisfaction would be to see her behind bars for what she has done,” Simmons said.
CBS 2 Investigative Reporter Dorothy Tucker caught up with Clark at a recent event.
When Tucker asked about Simmons’ lawsuit, she replied, “Get out of my face.”