CHICAGO (CBS) — After a months-long CBS 2 Investigation into Candace Clark – accused, among other things, of living in upscale places without paying rent – we got a tip about a high-rolling power couple also living in upscale condos without paying rent.
CBS 2 Investigator Dorothy Tucker started digging and found a background mixed with professional accomplishments and legal troubles.
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When the well-dressed, good looking couple wanted to rent a luxury West Loop condo in December, the owner, Andrew, didn’t hesitate to give them a lease.
“They portrayed an image of success and seemed like people that would have no problem paying the rent,” he said.
Jim and Lisa Levin, listed as tenants, agreed to pay the $4,500 monthly rent and promised to pay all nine months upfront, in cash. They never did.
“It was one story after another and we finally had enough. We finally filed the eviction,” said Andrew.
A photo, taken on March 13, captured the moment Jim Levin was slapped with a summons to appear in eviction court. But on the very same day at his daily press briefing, Gov. JB Pritzker said, “Last hour, the president announced a national emergency.”
That emergency was in response to the coronavirus pandemic. Gov. Pritzker would eventually announce a statewide shutdown. The courts were included.
“The timing of it was particularly unfortunate,” said Andrew.
Just days from getting the Levins out of his home, all evictions were canceled. For Andrew, it meant losing $20,000.
“My wife and I just started a family. We have two kids under 2. To add this into what is already a pretty big change in our lives both personally and financially is really tough,” he said.
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Jim Levin, the man accused of squatting in Andrew’s home, has both a distinguished and a checkered past.
In 1986, when he was just 26 years old, Jim Levin partnered with Italian designer Gianni Versace and opened a high-end boutique on Oak Street. He sold it in 1990.
He was the president of Tru-Link Fence, a legendary company he inherited from his father and famous for its ads during Cubs games.
Levin was part owner of a gentlemen’s club and a fundraiser for former president Bill Clinton. Attorney Ariel Weissberg was an acquaintance of Levin’s back in the day.
“Mr. Levin was a highly visible guy, well put together. He was basically well-known for having a good time at a high level of spending,” said Weissberg.
But the good times began to fade. In 2001, Levin’s family sold Tru-Link Fence, but a few years later, Levin was indicted for fraud in connection to Tru-Link. The company was accused of winning nearly $2.7 million in contracts from the Chicago Public Schools because women or minorities “would perform a certain percentage of the work.”
Levin eventually plead guilty to mail fraud, received probation and was fined $200,000.
It’s unclear if he ever repaid the money.
“I think there should be a warning put on him – don’t trust this guy,” said Paul Zimmer.
It’s a lesson he learned the expensive way. A few years after the CPS scandal, Zimmer rented his $1.5 million condo to Levin for $8,500 a month.
Why did Zimmer trust Levin?
“He gave me a lot of money upfront. He gave me $50,000. I was in a bad position, so I took it,” said Zimmer.
That covered the first six months’ rent, but Levin lived in the condo another year without paying a penny in rent. There were other consequences as well.
“I had to short sale the place he was renting because I couldn’t make the mortgage any more,” said Zimmer.
Zimmer wound up selling his condo for $700,000 less than it’s estimated value.
“It crushed me,” said Zimmer.
And remember Ariel Weissberg?
The former acquaintance of Jim Levin is suing Levin and his wife Lisa. He represents the owner of a four-bedroom condo on Monroe Street. Weissberg’s client rented to Levin in 2017. Instead of paying the $7,000 monthly rent, Levin sent a series of bad checks.
Weissberg won a judgment against Lisa Levin to garnish her wages to collect the debt.
“She has less of a history than Mr. Levin but she is still involved in a number of cases,” said Weissberg.
CBS 2 investigators discovered nine eviction cases involving Jim Levin or both Levin and his wife dating back to 2009. Landlords were swindled out of $281,543 in unpaid rent. Combine those judgments with other losses landlords suffered and the total comes more than a million dollars – $1,027,793.
“While I do understand that the federal ban on evictions came from a good-natured place, it allows scammers like this to take advantage of it even further and go to new heights with what they’re able to do and get away with,” said Andrew.
We called, texted, emailed and even knocked on the couple’s door to give them a chance to respond.
They never communicated with us directly.
Andrew’s lawyer sent us a letter saying the Levins had moved out of the house. Andrew was satisfied and no longer wants to be involved in the story.