Propsed Urbancrest development investigated as hoax

Last summer, a developer from Texas said he wanted to build an upscale shopping center in the village of Urbancrest. On June 10 of this year, that man was arrested on federal charges of bank fraud.

U.S. Secret Service Agent Jamie Fitch is part of a task force that is investigating Christopher Keener, otherwise known as Christopher McPherson, of the Simons/McPherson Property Group (SMPG). Investigators allege Keener enlisted a local financial institution to help fund the $120 million Metrovia project – a project officials think is a hoax.

"We are looking into the proposal but it doesn’t look like that proposal was feasible," said Fitch.

The property group came to the area with plans to develop 34 acres of land in Urbancrest and Jackson Township. The site, located near the Interstate 270 and State Route 62 interchange, was to be turned into an Easton-like project that included retail, office space and living space. In August, the would-be developers pulled the plug on the project, citing reasons such an environmental issues and subjective concerns from Jackson Township residents.

Township Administrator Mike Lilly said township officials were skeptical about the project from the beginning. He said township officials heard someone wanted to develop local land, but had never been contacted by the developers.

"We spent time tracking down the company then lined up a meeting," he recalled.

He said they (Lilly and township trustees) found the office but felt something was off.

"It was just very odd," Lilly said. "The office looked like something that had been put together overnight, like out of a movie. Then Chris McPherson comes out and tells us how wonderful this project will be."

Township officials even held a public meeting, where Keener (McPherson) and his business partner, Nathan Simons, attended and fielded questions. Lilly said they had architectural renderings and everything. He said most of his dealings with Keener were questionable, like when he recorded a phone conversation with Lilly.

"In 20 years of government, I’ve never had anyone tell me they were recording our phone conversation," he said. "The whole thing never smelled right from day one."

Apparently, the financial lenders felt the same way.

Fitch said the financial company contacted the police. They suspected fraudulent transactions.

Investigators say Keener never owned the 34-acre parcel of land as he had claimed. Fitch explained that Keener has a prior record of bank fraud and theft from other states. He also said Keener’s partner, Simons, would also be investigated.

"He must have schemed this for a long time," said Lilly. "He had marketing professionals, engineers and architects involved. If anyone was duped, it was those professionals."

Lilly added, "I guess the long arm of the law is catching up to him."

Keener’s attorney could not be reached for comment.

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