Like the housing industry, real estate “guru” Mark Bosworth is in crash mode

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Last November — which featured signs of both the high and low watermarks of his career — was the turning point.

That was the month when he and two of his employees, Berne Fleming and Bosworth's cousin, Rod Howell, appeared in the Arizona Republic's "Match Me With My Wheels," a feature that appears Fridays in the newspaper's automotive classified ads section.

The other men in the article sport decent rides. But Bosworth shows off a Ferrari F430 Spider convertible.

"[It's] one of the list of things you have to check off in life," Bosworth boasted to the Republic.

By then, Bosworth had left a long trail of unhappy customers and investors. Some of them told New Times they were outraged by the article. (According to Bosworth's bankruptcy paperwork, he collected insurance money on the Ferrari after it burned up while in for repairs at a dealership. That was in October, a month before the Republic feature ran).

Also in November 2007, Bosworth lost the biggest lawsuit of his life.

He had been entrusted to buy and sell rental homes as investments for a client, Ben Magelsen of Salt Lake City. A dispute arose over the deals, and Bosworth sued Magelsen — in retrospect, a major bungle by the real estate "guru."

Magelsen countersued, and a jury returned a whopping $17 million judgment against Bosworth.

Jurors were appalled by evidence of Bosworth's bad business practices — $12 million of their judgment was for punitive damages.

Findings against Bosworth listed in court documents associated with the suit seem out of a property-management horror movie:

• Breach of sales contracts.

• Inflating the cost of homes bought for Magelsen to make more in commissions.

• Forging signatures on deeds and fraudulently altering power-of-attorney paperwork.

• Swiping appliances from rental homes that belonged to Magelsen, then charging Magelsen for their replacements.

• Overcharging the tenants in Magelsen's properties on their rent taxes, then pocketing the extra money.

• Charging Magelsen for maintenance on homes that was never performed.

• Collecting a bogus labor tax on maintenance charges.

A judge affirmed the verdict in January. Bosworth says he'll wage a vigorous appeal.

Meanwhile, like the real estate industry itself, Bosworth's life is in crisis.

On March 25, Maricopa County sheriff's deputies appeared at his $2.5 million Scottsdale mansion and began unloading furniture and art — he was able to stop them only by filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Since then, he's listed his home as a rental for $14,500 a month and says he plans to move into a smaller place if and when he finds a renter.

"Mark Bosworth's Real Estate Seminar at Sea," a 12-day cruise from Monte Carlo to Venice, planned for this summer, has been canceled. (The minimum $5,740 per-room price included two seminars and an "exclusive cocktail party" with Bosworth, according to an ad.)

Lately, Bosworth has become a favorite target of Sam Wercinski, commissioner of the Arizona Department of Real Estate.

The agency has already dealt harshly with Bosworth's brother, Russell, whose attempt at mirroring Mark's success ended in a failed company and sanctions.

To Wercinski and his investigators, Mark Bosworth is the bigger fish.

Though the brothers' property-management companies were run separately, an agency report reveals some merging of the two after Russell Bosworth's company folded.

Investigators are still looking into a slew of complaints against Mark Bosworth and GoRenter.com. Wercinski, appointed to his post last year by Governor Janet Napolitano, tells New Times that the Arizona Corporation Commission has an open investigation of Mark Bosworth.

Wercinski says he has referred Russell Bosworth's case to the state Attorney General's Office for potential criminal violations, but he wouldn't comment whether he has done the same with Mark Bosworth.

In April, Wercinski banned Mark Bosworth from real estate work in Arizona, citing the problems revealed in the Magelsen verdict.

Even if Bosworth avoids further legal action, whether civil or criminal, he may never be able to shed his new reputation as something quite the opposite of a guru.

To his harshest critics, Mark Bosworth is a con man who's finally getting what's been coming to him.

Bosworth confesses that his cultivated image of real estate genius has been stained by his own blunders.

Mark Bosworth's life has had two rags-to-riches stories.

In person, Bosworth is shorter than his ads make him appear; he's of average build, with sharp features and close-cropped blond hair. During an extensive interview at New Times' offices, he appears nervous, talking fast at times, but with his charismatic salesman personality coming through.

While some of the excuses he offers about alleged misdealings don't ring true, at least one thing seems certain about Bosworth: He's anything but a slacker.

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Ray Stern has worked as a newspaper reporter in Arizona for more than two decades. He's won numerous awards for his reporting, including the Arizona Press Club's Don Bolles Award for Investigative Journalism.