Fall of the House of Findel

The House of Findel

All the world was a depressing grey. The cold air bit at our skin as we made our way up the long driveway, meandering through downed tree limbs and collapsed piles of stone which were once retaining walls. The only greenery in sight on this cold January morning was that of a small bamboo forest which was now growing wild just off the edge of the leaf-covered pavement. We rounded one last bend and our destination finally came into view – A grand mansion, or the remnants of one at least.

It too was grey, desaturated as was the sky and the winter forest that lay beyond it. Massive and broken, it stood tall over a stagnate brown pit that was once a beautiful landscaped pond and brook. Nearly every one of it's countless windows were sealed shut with weathered plywood, all that remained of the few that weren't was bits of shattered glass. The lawn had grown tall and brown, as we approached the front steps a light snow began to fall. It's an incredible sight, and one that conjures up many questions, the most obvious being – Just how on earth does a sprawling estate (last listed for sale at an astounding $8,000,000) come to be forgotten and neglected in a patch of NJ woods? As it would happen, this home is the sad end to a sordid tale that involves the federal government and a $11 million mortgage scheme.

The story of this forsaken mansion begins and ends with a single man - David Findel, who was the president and CEO of the successful financial planning company 'Worldwide Financial Resources' of Marlboro, NJ. A bulk of the business was in creating mortgages for their customers. How it would work is this – The customer would approach WFR seeking a loan, for which they would mortgage their home. WFR would get the customer their money via a 'warehouse lender', a company that fronts money to people, which is repaid with interest. After WFR obtained the customer their funds from the lender they would then sell the mortgage to a third party, typically a bank, which would handle the mortgage until it was repaid. WFR profited by fees associated with the mortgage creation (paid by the customer) and by the sale of the mortgage (paid by the bank). The business was wildly successful by any definition of the term, handling around $90 million monthly. So much so that in 2002 Mr. Findel purchased a plot of land in Colts Neck, NJ, upon which he had a massive (21,000 sq ft) mansion constructed. It was clearly built to impress, with a tremendous master staircase at the entry, and an enormous ballroom, inside which could easily fit an average sized house. At the time it was the most expensive home built in Colts Neck.

We entered through a shattered window, minding the broken glass, experiencing that uncomfortable temporary blindness one does when entering into a dark and shadowy interior from the bright daylight outside. We were in the ballroom, or at least that's what it used to be not long ago. A cavernous space, one that cast upon us a dizzying sensation as more and more of the room became visible as our eyes adjusted to the enshadowed home. We moved inward, the glass cracking under our feet echoed out into the void, resonating back at us many times before dispersing in a whisper. We stood in silence on the cold marble for some time, taking in what we were seeing. All was silent save for the wind in the trees which could be heard through the broken windows. It was immediately evident that this vacant property has not gone unnoticed by the local kids, and graffiti covers most surfaces, punctuated by the occasional hole kicked through sheet rock. This unfortunate house has already seen so much during its relatively short lifetime.

In 2008 the housing market was in the throws of a collapse - The bursting of a bubble which had been inflating since the 1990's. One doesn't need to have a background in real estate to understand the impact that a market disaster like this had on Worldwide Financial Resources a company built upon a foundation of obtaining mortgages. Simply put, the business was drying up, rapidly. It was then that Mr. Findel's scheme was born. Using paperwork the company had on file from previous customers, he set about creating false mortgages. He utilized these false documents to acquire the funds from lending warehouses, and then sold these fake mortgage contracts to various third parties, just as he did with the legitimate ones. His nefarious plot worked well, to the order of some $11 million. To say that the income led to a life of excess would be putting things mildly. Mr. Findel's spending actually made national headlines in 2008, when he bid $400,000 to purchase season tickets for fifty-yard line seats at the new Meadowlands Sports Complex, which was still under construction at the time.

The Findel estate was more a castle than a home. Beyond the massive ballroom stood a grand staircase that could very well be the physical definition of 'grand staircase'. It's railings were so wide that they seemed better suited as shelves than as a guide for your hands. The oversized rails outlined two sets of curved stairs, each acceding to a landing and meeting at a balcony which overlooked both the main entrance and the ballroom. Off from there, on the upper floor, was found the hallway that led to the bedrooms, with the master found beyond a double door at the far end. On the ground floor could be found the kitchen, a cooking space large enough to properly cook for a platoon let alone a single family. There were also numerous common rooms, a dining room, and a large living room. Considering the design and imposing scale of the mansion, many of the rooms felt sterile and exceedingly empty, factors that were amplified by the sparse sunlight. It was as if the entirety of the house had been drained of its life, and unceremoniously discarded. One of the lone remainders from this house's days as a home was a single 8x10 portrait of a young boy. The face was burnt away, leaving the child in the photograph unrecognizable. It lay on the marble floor, the only item in a pitch black corridor. A cryptic harbinger of things yet to come.

The house impressed, that much was certain, but appearances defied reality. In essence Findel was robbing people and riding high on their stolen money. Unlike a typical robbery though, misdeeds against banks, credit unions, and loan institutions constitute a federal crime, and the United States government isn't one to let millions of dollars just slide. Findel's scam imploded quickly, and come the fall of 2011 he found himself in court, pleading guilty to the $11 million scheme. His money, house, and possessions were from stripped him upon sentencing.

For years the home existed in a kind of limbo, vacant but caught in the middle of a legal battle between multiple mortgage lenders, each claiming to be the rightful owner of the sprawling estate. It simply sat in silence, a depressing sight that greeted anyone who wandered up it's long, overgrown drive. Or so it did until just after midnight on February 2nd, 2017. Reports of a fire on the property reached the police just before 12:30am, and by the time fire crews arrived at the scene the entirety of the mansion was in flames. Come afternoon of that same day all that remained of the estate amounted to little more than smoldering ashes in the footprint of where, just hours earlier, a manor stood. A fiery end to a building that will never get a chance at redemption, to be forever remembered in infamy as a home destroyed by greed, many years before flames finally took it away.

The maw.

Grand ballroom, as viewed from a balcony.

Door to the master bedroom... or what once was anyway.

The former study, ransacked.

Tall grasses had reclaimed the rear of the property.

To better put the scope of the mansion into perspective, here is the full set of images which accompanied the listing of the mansion on Realtor.com

And finally, as noted in the writing above - Today the Findel mansion is no more than a patch of scorched earth. 
The following photos of the homes final moments were captured by the Tinton Falls Fire Company No. 1.