Milwaukee’s residential real estate investor is also a cellmate

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In some ways, Martell Rogers’ journey towards becoming a real estate investor is not all that uncommon.

Rogers Company, LLC Investment Group of the First Family Real Estate, buys, refurbishes, and leases small residential properties in downtown Milwaukee, a method used by firms throughout the United States.

But Rogers helps manage First Family from Stanley Correctional Facility in northern Wisconsin.

This is where Rogers is serving time – with a scheduled release date of August 2033 – after being convicted in 2011 of crime racine including charges of burglary, armed robbery and kidnapping.

Rogers, 36, says he is no longer the man behind the crimes. And he says his real estate investments not only generate income to support his family, but also provide an opportunity to give money back to the community.

“Investment is about progress, about perspective,” Rogers told the Journal Sentinel.

Rogers runs First Family with outside help, including investors.

This is a lot of work, made even more difficult by the fact that Rogers is in a medium-security prison located almost 250 miles outside Milwaukee.

Rogers has limited access to email and telephone.

In addition, the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, which runs the prison, imposed disciplinary action on Rogers last year in connection with running the First Family.

Records provided by Rogers to the Journal Sentinel show that he was subjected to “disciplinary separation,” or solitary confinement, for violating separation rules for fellow inmates doing business.

Rogers said he didn’t want to break department rules. An outside friend is the CEO of First Family and runs the company in consultation with Rogers.

But Rogers also doesn’t understand why department officials want to make it harder for him – or any prisoner – to do business.

This goes against the goal of reducing the likelihood that a freed prisoner will commit crimes again, Rogers said.

“We’re leaving here without a plan,” Rogers said. “And then we are expected to suddenly understand how to become great citizens.”

How-to books sparked interest

Rogers’ entry into the commercial real estate industry began after reading many books in prison “to find out what interests me.”

This included a series of practical real estate tutorials written by Gary Keller, founder of Keller Williams Realty Inc

“The more I read, the more I realized that I can,” Rogers said.

Rogers began seeking help from friends and family about five years ago.

“I don’t think anyone took me too seriously at first,” he said.

But this dating network led an investor to contact Rogers about joining forces to buy a duplex and four-unit apartment building in downtown Milwaukee.

Rogers said that in two years he raised $ 50,000 from dozens of people to invest in the property as a partner.

Rogers then left on his own and First Family launched in 2019.

The company operates four properties on the north and northwest side of Milwaukee: a duplex, a three-story building, and a couple of four-story homes.

He works with his external partners to raise money, buy “somewhat problematic” buildings, hire people to renovate, and sell them to tenants.

“The community is very excited about what I’m trying to do,” Rogers said. “I get a lot of support.”

Childhood friend helps out

One of the key assistants is Ryan Atwood, a childhood friend of Rogers. Their families knew each other from visiting Eastbrook Church, on the north side of Milwaukee.

Rogers and Atwood were close until Rogers got into trouble as a teenager, culminating in his arrest for a string of robberies and other crimes.

Rogers later “returned with Jesus” and was reunited with the Atwood family, Atwood said.

He also took responsibility for his crimes and began taking various courses at the prison, Atwood said.

So Atwood agreed to help when Rogers began his real estate career. “It takes intelligence and perseverance,” he said.

“He’ll spend all day in line to call,” Atwood said.

Atwood, a software engineer, is First Family’s chief executive, helping run the company under Rogers.

Atwood put Rogers in touch with other people who helped the First Family.

Including Kyle Mack, which operates Mackximus LLC, a commercial real estate investment and development firm.

“I was very impressed with his commitment,” said Mack, whose Milwaukee firm sold the three-story building to First Family in June.

Mack said he had known Rogers for two years and had weekly conversations with him about real estate.

“I could tell that he was really digesting certain things that I told him,” Mac said.

Mack said he understands why some people may be reluctant to work with a long-term prisoner.

“I think people are really easy to judge,” Mack said. “I think it’s just human nature.

“I know he’s trying to turn his life around and improve his situation,” Mack said. “I think it’s all good.”

The prison system is crumbling

Wisconsin Department of Corrections officials take a different view of Rogers’ business.

His emails were checked by a correctional officer in February 2020 when it was discovered that one of them had named Rogers “an executive, chief executive officer and business owner,” according to a disciplinary report.

“Additional emails detail real estate transactions indicating that the imprisoned Rogers is in business for a profit,” the report said.

This led Rogers to be found guilty of violating the department’s code that prohibits prisoners from doing business.

It was classified as a serious misconduct that poses a “risk of serious disruption to the site or community” and “a risk of serious financial impact,” the report said.

Rogers was ordered to serve 15 days in solitary confinement. Rogers said he spent nine days in solitary confinement before being released back to prison.

The department’s code states that a prisoner who “runs a business or enterprise, whether he is for profit, or who sells anything other than specifically permitted by other sections, is guilty of business and fraud.”

One exception is for prisoners who owned a business before sentencing. They can contact their manager, partner or attorney about the business.

In addition, the prisoner can “write and seek publication of works” in accordance with the department’s policy.

“The department’s rule is designed to protect the public by preventing inmates from obtaining personal information such as date of birth, address and credit card number that can be used to identify theft or other crimes,” said John Beard, director of public relations … …

Rogers said he didn’t know the rules. He said this is counterproductive and reflects a mindset that inhibits rehabilitation.

“Here they make sure that you are judged by your past,” he said.

The punishment for running a legitimate and successful outdoor business was heartbreaking and inhuman, Rogers said.

“Anything you try to do outside of here will have a positive effect on turning them off,” Rogers said. “It puts us in a situation where you are in a box.”

Rogers said that as a real estate investor, he learned to closely monitor his business, work closely with people, and take a compassionate and objective approach when dealing with occasional difficult tenants.

It is not First Family’s policy to reject rental applicants solely on the basis of past eviction.

Meanwhile, First Family has raised $ 20,000 to help buy another property.

Rogers wants to earn extra income in part to help his family, which has two children and two foster children.

“At least I know when I leave here, I know that I am not in a position where I cannot feed my family,” he said.

You can write to Tom Deikin at tdaykin@jrn.com and followed Instagram, Twitter and Facebook

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