Video from House District 45 candidate Fabian Calvo twists truths

In the online ad, the pitchman says he had been going nowhere fast: working dead-end jobs, living in a ratty apartment, dining on dollar burgers and tap water.

But one day, he recalls, he woke up: He reflected on his Hispanic heritage, got into real estate and, just six years later, had become a multimillionaire.

And now, he says, anyone can — with La Familia Success, "the original financial freedom system created by a Hispanic for the Hispanic community."

"Through research, I've developed a technique that utilizes the innate nature of the Hispanic household," he says in the Internet video. "Tested and proven, I've simplified it to work in all economies and for everyone."

So who's the pitchman in this 2007 video? Fabian Calvo, now a Republican candidate for the House District 45 seat, who touts his real-world business experience as the owner of a property management company and rails against lax federal immigration laws.

Calvo, the 32-year-old son of Cuban immigrants, owns a property management company that he says oversees rental units in five counties plus is poised to purchase a number of larger apartment buildings for sale.

He said in an interview that he started La Familia to capitalize on the strategies he developed a few years earlier, though he added he had never actually taken the program to market. He and a partner, Robert Castro, also wrote and marketed an e-book called Foundation Factor, which promised lessons on "modifying personal behavior and mindset to instill positive, forward-thinking."

Calvo said he targeted Hispanics with his real estate programs, which come in English and Spanish, because he thought it was a way to empower them to be private entrepreneurs who don't depend on the government.

He said his methods range from taking advantage of family assistance in fixing up homes to fostering a sense of personal responsibility. The Web video talks about Calvo's "unique cash flow analyzer."

How can he say such methods are "proven"?

"I've tested it personally myself," he said. "It's worked for me."

His video says it worked for several other satisfied customers, too, including a man who says the program was a gamechanger in his life.

"When I started La Familia system a few years ago, I was thinking, five, 10 properties," the man said in his video testimonial. "Now I'm thinking in the hundreds and thousands. It's completely changed my life. And I owe that to Fabian Calvo."

That man is Bart Baker, a prominent Malibu insurance agent who's an officer in La Familia — and Calvo's father-in-law.

Why didn't Calvo identify Baker, or another customer praising his program — his partner Castro — in the video?

Calvo said he didn't need to.

"They've started with no knowledge in the real estate firm whatsoever and they've both done well despite some challenges in the real estate," said Calvo. "Both of them went through that program and did well."

Property records suggest, however, that Baker played a key role in Calvo's real estate business. Baker, who did not return a phone message from the Times, has been involved in a number of local real estate ventures with Calvo.

In 2003, three years before La Familia was registered as a Florida company, Baker and his wife purchased an investment home on Lexington Street in Dunedin for $64,000.

That's the same house that Calvo describes in his campaign materials as the first piece of inventory for his own property management company.

Calvo Management International, he says in his campaign Web site, "started with one $64,000 property … and has grown into a $20 million property and growing company."

Calvo agreed Thursday morning to provide the Times with documentation for that $20 million figure but did not do so by Friday evening.

In his 2007 video, Calvo says he's worth $3.5 million. Calvo said this week that number has probably changed but his campaign is still working on his financial disclosure report, which is not due until July.

Calvo is the underdog in the Republican primary for the House 45 seat covering southwest Pasco and northwest Pinellas, which Tom Anderson must vacate due to term limits. His opponents are Kathryn Starkey, a Pasco School Board member from a prominent ranching family, and Richard Corcoran, a former Marco Rubio chief of staff who now works as a lawyer for Pasco Sheriff Bob White.

Though Calvo now argues that Florida needs an immigration law similar to the one that Arizona has, reports show he has given hefty contributions to a liberal organization that would argue just the opposite.

Calvo gave $1,000 each year in 2005, 2006 and 2007 to National Council of La Raza, the nation's largest Hispanic civil rights and advocacy organization, according to the group's reports.

Calvo said that the group is wrong about 2005 and 2006; he says he gave in 2007 only. And that was because he was trying to get information.

"La Raza is a group that does the exact opposite of what a program like mine would. It's not an empowerment agency whatsoever; it tries to keep people more dependent on government," he said. "I gave the money to find out more."

Why give away a lot of money just for information?

"That may be a mistake on my part," he said, "because I can tell you those people are nutcases."

Calvo initially said he was gathering intelligence for his conservative radio show. That show did not start until late 2007 or early 2008, he said later.

"I've continued to receive their e-mails for my radio show," he said. "I had a program that was about empowerment. And I was looking at another program that labeled itself empowerment. But the reality is it was not."

Times researcher Shirl Kennedy contributed to this report. Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Video from House District 45 candidate Fabian Calvo twists truths 05/29/10 [Last modified: Saturday, May 29, 2010 1:14pm]

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