The Arrest of Vanilla Ice and How Honest People Helped Cause The Great Recession

Recently, home renovation reality star and former rapper, Vanilla Ice, of the DIY television show “The Vanilla Ice Project” was arrested and charged with burglary and grand theft. He was accused of orchestrating the removal of personal property from a vacant foreclosed home. The million dollar foreclosure, located in Lantana Florida, is near a home Vanilla Ice and his crew were in the process of renovating for his show.

An unoccupied house in close proximity is usually attractive to thieves, but usually not one so prominent. “The Vanilla Ice Project” is in its 5th season and it’s star has no known history of burglary.

His lack of “Street Cred” contributed to his failure as a rapper. He spent years looking for a comeback after his rap career failed and finally found a comeback. Why would he risk the success he has finally found? If the criminal accusations are true, what was he thinking? Maybe it was the same thing that thousands of people were thinking when they participated in the activities that created the foreclosure crises and nearly toppled the US economy.

“Who am I really hurting here?” There is a widespread attitude that certain actions are not all that criminal when the victim is not a actual person.

vanilla ice
Vanilla Ice

Abby Kaufman wrote in his book, “steal this book” in 1971, “to steal from a brother or sister is evil. To not steal from the institutions that are the pillars of the peak empire is equally immoral.” In other words, it is normal and expected for the little guy to try to “stick it to the man.” The man being big business and the government. This attitude has remained and seems ingrained in so many of our citizens.

It is problematic that anything that is owned or controlled by big business or the government is viewed by some differently than if it were owned by an individual. This is the reason foreclosed homes are so vulnerable to theft and fraud. They attract illegal occupants masquerading as squatters and theft of personal items that have not yet been removed from the home.

Thieves will gut such homes of anything of value, taking things like copper wires,furnaces and light fixtures even the wood beams from the ceiling. Even before the home completes the foreclosure process, former homeowners have been known to illegally remove items before vacating the premises.

During the height of the US real estate bubble, many former owners removed items like appliances, light fixtures, doorknobs, air conditioners, furnaces – even garden plants. In 2009 (according to HUD) 1 in 5 foreclosed homes were gutted and in such a state that their market value was substantially lowered.

There were 3 million homes that foreclosed in 2009.

Do the 600,000 homeowners who gutted their former homes see themselves as criminals? Probably not.

It is a reasonable possibility that the home that Vanilla Ice was accused of burglarizing has some form of theft or fraud in its history. Many of todays foreclosures (due to long holding times) are actually casualties of the housing bubble.

Most people will agree that widespread fraud caused the foreclosure crisis and subsequent housing bubble that nearly toppled the US economy. When people think of mortgage fraud, they think of the banks, but actually, the fraud was at all levels – from the bank employee down to the home buyer.

For example, according to a report by Fitch ratings and published in business wire in April 2008, it is estimated that anywhere from 40 to 70% of the entire pool of 2006 to 2007 nonprime mortgages contained fraudulent information. When you sign off on a fraudulent load application, that is a crime. Thousands of ordinary people committed this crime for a myriad of reasons.

The broken window theory famously explained in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Tipping Point, shows the correlation of disorder to criminal behavior. It suggests that small things – such as a home in a neighborhood with a few broken windows invites more crime into the situation. This may explain how the disorder that a vacant home with an owner unknown to the area could invite theft. It also explains how a few people fudging a loan application snowballed into widespread abuse.

When the person in charge is a corporation and not a person, some people don’t foresee the negative results that may come from their actions. All actions bring results and sometimes they are painful. During the height of the housing market crash, the value of real estate owned by US households fell by nearly $6 trillion dollars and nearly tanked the economy – resulting in the great Recession.

In Vanilla Ice’s case, the actions he was accused of landed him in jail.

Tarron Houston
Tarron Houston is a Financial analyst and consultant with an extensive business background. She holds a B.S. in real estate and finance, a real estate brokers license and Masters Degree in Business.She has been a business journalist for over 15 years and enjoys writing on various topics with the central themes of business, real estate, entrepreneurship and taxes.