Cox Media Group Investigative Teams Harness Power of Local News Reporting to Protect Homeowners Across U.S.
ATLANTA, Dec. 20, 2022 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A Cox Media Group (CMG) collaboration across all of its TV stations’ investigative reporting teams is gaining national attention after exposing a business practice criticized by homeowners in at least seven states. A new reporting model implemented by CMG earlier this year enabled reporters across the country to work together to uncover the larger scope of the issue, even beyond their own markets.
The story involved MV Realty, a Florida-based company which offered quick cash to unsuspecting homeowners across the country in exchange for a contract ensuring homeowners would use the company as their realtor if they later decided to sell their house. Many failed to realize the contract was secured with a 40-year lien on their home. When some homeowners attempted to sell their home using other realtors, the company then demanded many thousands of dollars - much more than the quick cash originally offered.
CMG’s WFTV-TV in Orlando first investigated MV Realty in January 2021 after a homeowner contacted the station. Later that year, Atlanta’s WSB-TV reported a similar story, revealing how a woman had trouble selling her fire-damaged home because of an MV Realty agreement. In 2022, after CMG’s station in Seattle, KIRO7-TV, ran a story on another company with a similar business model, a whistleblower who had worked for MV Realty contacted the station and spoke on camera about the company’s questionable sales tactics and other practices.
From there, CMG’s TV stations in Boston, Charlotte, Dayton, Jacksonville, and Pittsburgh joined in the investigation, finding homeowners in those markets also had concerns about MV Realty’s business practices. CMG’s TV station’s investigative teams interviewed former MV Realty company insiders, talked with homeowners who signed contracts with MV Realty, and researched thousands of documents, including more than 12,000 liens on properties in seven states. Of particular concern, WSB-TV reported on an Atlanta Legal Aid Society and Georgia State University effort to map homes with MV Realty contracts, which found more than 70 percent were in majority Black communities.
The CMG stations worked together to share the interviews, video, graphics, and investigative leads, collectively airing more than 30 news stories on MV Realty. They even produced a documentary video on their reporting process.
“Cox Media Group remains dedicated to investing and leading in local news and journalism excellence, and our investigative units within each of our TV stations are a demonstration of that commitment,” said Marian Pittman, EVP of Content, Product, and Innovation at CMG.
The collaboration was made possible by a new CMG investigative initiative created earlier this year to facilitate coordination among news teams, monitor trends affecting viewers in each of the markets, and help produce news stories with a larger, national impact. CMG added new journalists dedicated solely to elevating the company’s focus on results-driven investigative reporting that makes a difference in viewers’ lives.
“This allows us to look at our communities with a wider lens, dig deeper into stories, and connect the dots across our entire Cox Media Group footprint nationwide. Ultimately, that allows us to positively impact the people and communities we serve,” Pittman said.
This week, attorneys general in Massachusetts and Pennsylvania each filed lawsuits against MV Realty, asking the court to halt any new Homeowner Benefit Agreements, to strike all existing MV Realty mortgages recorded in those states, and to order restitution for those who’ve suffered losses, as well as civil penalties.
“Pennsylvania homeowners are falling victim to MV Realty’s calculated deception in hiding the terms of the Homeowner Benefit Program,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “MV Realty is a scam that exploits Pennsylvanians in vulnerable financial situations, and my office isn’t buying it.”
His news release included a comment from Pittsburgh-area resident Thomas Halapin, who was interviewed by CMG station WPXI-TV during the original investigation.
“MV Realty did not represent themselves fairly in their dealings with my wife and me,” said Halapin. “I was unaware a mortgage was placed on my property until a news reporter showed up at my house the following morning. The terms we discussed with MV Realty never mentioned a mortgage, and they represented the agreement was for 10 years, not 40.”
On November 29, Florida’s attorney general filed a lawsuit against MV Realty, calling the business model “a deceptive scheme to swindle customers out of their home equity.” Attorneys general in Georgia and North Carolina confirmed they are also investigating. MV Realty has denied any wrongdoing.
A Washington state legislator held a hearing and drafted legislation to curtail the company’s operations there. And U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) told CMG station WHIO-TV he was glad to see the results of the collaborative reporting project.
“There are always con artists ready to pounce,” Brown said. “And when we see people taking advantage of homeowners or renters, we spring into action.”
Brown said the company’s business model could face scrutiny from the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, which he chairs.
“I want to know more about it,” he said. “That’s why I’m listening to what Cox [Media Group] is doing on this. We are just beginning to look at it - it will not be before the first of the year, but I’ll be chair of this committee in January again.”
About Cox Media Group
CMG Media Corporation (d/b/a Cox Media Group) is an industry-leading media company with unparalleled brands, award-winning content, and exceptional team members. CMG provides valuable local and national journalism and entertainment content to the people and communities it serves. The company’s businesses encompass 14 high-quality, market-leading television brands in 9 markets; 52 top-performing radio stations delivering multiple genres of content in 11 markets; a Washington, DC news bureau; and numerous streaming and digital platforms. CMG’s TV portfolio includes multiple primary affiliates of ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, Telemundo and MyNetworkTV, as well as several valuable news and independent stations. For more information about CMG, visit www.coxmediagroup.com.