Our Team

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Richard J. Felker
Principal

Richard Felker began his business career in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where he owned and operated furniture/appliance stores. After 10 years or so, in the early 1970s, he moved into the real estate development business in Wisconsin, and for the last 27 years he has focused on real estate developments in the Phoenix metropolitan area. During his 40 years of real estate experience, Mr. Felker has developed over 100 projects valued at over $1 Billion. Those projects have included more than 1,845 apartment units; 128 apartment units converted to condominiums; 835 condominium units, 5,110 single family lots (consisting of lots sold to builders; custom lots sold to upscale buyers and single family/townhouse homes) and more than a dozen retail/commercial/office projects. His vision, ability to recognize current and future trends, extensive contacts with lenders, brokers and municipal and community leaders and his wealth of experience in all phases of residential and commercial development, financing, construction, and property management, combined with his ability to assemble and lead great teams, have all helped create the success of his investment/development entities, collectively known as The Empire Group. These accomplishments have led him to be the recipient of nine National Awards for Excellence for his projects, including recognition for Design and Excellence by the Pacific Coast Builders Conference, Professional Builder Magazine and the National Association of Realtors; Builders Magazine “Best in the West” Award, and the MAME Award.

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Geoffrey Jacobs
Principal

Mr. Jacobs currently serves as a Principal with The Empire Group, LLC. Mr. Jacobs started his business career in the early 1990’s with a real estate company where he helped to plan mixed-use developments in mainland China. In 1998, he accepted the opportunity to work with Richard Felker, take responsibility for the commercial real estate operations of The Empire Group, and assume an ownership position in the company. His responsibilities include (a) acquisition, financing, planning, zoning, entitlement, development, improvement, and management of all of the Empire Group’s anchored and non-anchored mixed-use, retail, and office projects, (b) supervising the leasing of the company’s projects, including ground leases, build-to-suit leases, and space leases in company-owned shops buildings to such tenants as Staples, Ace Hardware, Fresh & Easy Markets, Circle K, Jack in the Box, KFC, and others, and (c) supervision of the sale of shopping center pad sites. In addition, Mr. Jacobs was responsible for the overall development, improvement, and operation of a series of gas stations developed by The Empire Group before he arranged for and completed the sale of the gas station operations. Mr. Jacobs is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers. In 1991, Mr. Jacobs graduated magna cum laude from the University of Southern California with a bachelor’s degree in international finance. In 1992, Mr. Jacobs graduated from the Thunderbird School of International Management, where he earned his master’s degree in international management.

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Randy Grudzinski
Head of Capital Markets

Mr. Grudzinski currently serves as the Head of Capital Markets for the Empire Group. Since entering the alternative investments industry in 2001, Randy has structured and raised over $350 MM for private investment programs, including approximately $150 MM for eight separate, Empire-managed partnerships. By focusing on the retail investment community, Randy has built lasting and valuable relationships with hundreds of registered investment advisors and investment brokers throughout the United States, as well as the 1200+ accredited clients that they and the Empire Group serve through Empire’s various investment programs. Prior to joining the Empire team, Randy was a Senior Managing Director with Advanced Equities, Inc., where he acted as external Placement Agent for Empire’s family of Phoenix-based distressed housing funds. Mr. Grudzinski was also a Senior Vice President with GK Development, Inc., a $500 MM value-added owner and redeveloper of retail real estate properties, and the President of InvestLinc Capital Services and InvestLinc Securities, which are the merchant banking and broker-dealer divisions of The InvestLinc Group, LLC, a boutique financial services firm. Mr. Grudzinski is a High Honors graduate of the JL Kellogg Graduate School of Management at Northwestern University and acts as a guest lecturer at both Kellogg and the University of Chicago’s Graduate School of Business. Mr. Grudzinski also is a graduate of DePauw University and the London School of Economics – earning his Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. Mr. Grudzinski is a FINRA registered representative with Series 22, 24, 28, 62, 63, 79 and 99 designations.

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Rich Zacher
Principal

Mr. Zacher began his real estate career in 1987 by working with a private production homebuilder located in Phoenix, Arizona. Mr. Zacher held several positions with that company over a five-year period, focusing in the areas of market research, land acquisition, product development, financial analysis, and capital formation for the company’s projects. In 1993, Mr. Zacher joined the Phoenix division of Centex Real Estate Corporation, heading up that company’s land acquisition and development department as a senior level manager. At Centex, Mr. Zacher also coordinated and brought to market all of the company’s new residential communities. His duties at Centex ranged from identifying the specific property through the completion of the model home complex. In August 1994, Mr. Zacher formed his own company, Zacher Homes, which he ran successfully until 2008. During this 14-year period, Mr. Zacher grew his company from approximately $1,000,000 in sales to a peak level of $104,000,000 in 2004. As owner of Zacher Homes and its related entities, Mr. Zacher was involved in the development and sale of residential land, single family spec and custom homes, commercial office condominiums, multi-family rental communities, commercial office buildings, and private golf communities. His overall experience resulted in the development, construction, and sale of over $335,000,000 in real estate projects. Mr. Zacher is a native of Phoenix, Arizona, where he graduated from Brophy College Preparatory High School in 1982 and then went on to receive his Bachelors of Arts in Business Administration from Loyola Marymount University in 1986.

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Michael E. Woolf
General Counsel

Michael Woolf has been a lawyer in Arizona since 1974. He was an undergraduate of Arizona State University where he graduated with honors in 1971 with a business degree. In 1974 he graduated from Arizona State University Law School, cum laude. Before being employed by The Empire Group as in-house counsel in 2006, Michael was a shareholder in the Phoenix law firm of O’Connor, Cavanagh, Anderson, Killingsworth, Westover and Beshears, PA and an owning shareholder in the Phoenix law firm of Mariscal, Weeks, McIntyre and Friedlander, PA. During his professional career, Michael has been a transactional lawyer with an emphasis on documenting business transactions, real estate financing, and all aspects of commercial, retail, and residential real estate, including extensive experience in construction, development, sales, brokerage, leasing and community development documentation. Michael has been honored by Phoenix Magazine as one of the top lawyers in Arizona. During his long history of representing Empire entities while with the above law firms, Michael has also represented national and local developers, homebuilders, lenders and real estate brokerage companies as well as many local non-real estate oriented businesses. Michael is currently a member of the Board of Directors of the Homebuilders Association of Central Arizona; has been a member of numerous committees formed by the Arizona Department of Real Estate to recommend changes to Arizona real estate statutes and regulations; is a member of the American Bar Association, Arizona State Bar Association, Maricopa County Bar Association; and is a member of the International Council of Shopping Centers.

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Cindy Thimmesch
CFO

Ms. Thimmesch began her Finance career working in the hotel business for various legendary properties such as the Willard Inter-Continental and the Arizona Biltmore.  Honing her skills in budgeting, forecasting, and process improvement, her specialty was working with department managers in developing skills to achieve financial performance while maintaining operational standards.   Beginning in 1998, Ms. Thimmesch served as the Vice President, Controller and later the Vice President of Investor Relations of Visitalk.com, an internet startup dedicated to providing VOIP and Video/Data Conferencing through a permanent directory.  During the course of Business, She assisted in the raise of $45 million from Angel Investors. She coordinated SEC filings, Private Placement Memorandums, and Annual meetings for shareholders.  Additionally, she worked with Ernst & Young in implementing back office and front office integration in call accounting and financial systems.   Ms. Thimmesch worked as the Controller for Geoffrey H. Edmunds and Associates from 2004 – 2008. Projects she was involved in ranged from The Scottsdale Waterfront, a luxury 198 condominium development, to the  Ranch Cottages at Talking Rock, 48 cottages designed for luxury high country living. During her tenure at Geoffrey Edmunds, the financial operations for some projects were entirely in house:  from cash flow management, risk management, work in process, Sales tax, financials, property management, loan administration to home closings.  Others she coordinated in conjunction with various joint venture partners such as Opus West, Harvard Investments and the Pivotal Group.   Most recently, she was the Controller for Green Street Communities, an infill real estate developer and home builder.  There, she developed specialized Asset reporting for investors along with various dynamic cash flow forecasting tools that allowed for multiple scenario analysis.  Ms. Thimmesch also created budgeting and forecasting models designed to ROE needs.  Ms. Thimmesch earned a business degree with Honor from Michigan State University and holds her Master’s in Business Administration from the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University.  She is also a Certified Managerial Accountant (CMA).

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Shelby Duplessis
VP of Land Development

Ms. Duplessis recently joined the Empire team as Vice President of Land Development. Prior to joining Empire, Ms. Duplessis served as a Managing Partner at CMX, a Phoenix based Civil Engineering Firm for 12 years, until its closure in 2009 and more recently at Bowman Consulting, a national Civil Engineering Firm, which she served as a Senior Project Manager for nearly 6 years. While with these firms she managed the Peoria office, which consisted of 50 plus employees, along with multiple projects and consultants.  In addition Ms. Duplessis chaired several internal departmental committees including the Community Foundation.  Ms. Duplessis has more than 18 years of experience in civil engineering, zoning, entitlement and land development. She is responsible for team management; client, project and municipality coordination; public presentation and relationships; and civil design.  Ms. Duplessis has had significant involvement with capital improvement projects for various municipalities, including the Cities of Phoenix, Avondale, Peoria, Laveen, Surprise, the Town of Gilbert, and is very knowledgeable in their processes.  Shelby received her Bachelor of Science in Civil Engineering from Arizona State University in 1997 and received her Professional Engineer License from Arizona in 2001 and her Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Professional Accreditation in 2008.  Along with these accreditations Ms. Duplessis has continued her professional affiliations with Leadership West as an Alumni of Class XX, and now serving on the Board as Education Chair, member of the National Society of Professional Engineers, City of Peoria Historic Preservation Commissioner, previously as a member of the City of Peoria Board of Adjustments and APS Corridor and Line Siting Committee, and graduate of the Leadership in Engineering Administration Program (LEAP), American Council of Engineering Companies of Arizona in 2007 and City of Peoria Leadership Institute in 2009.  Her areas of expertise include land development, project management, facilitation and understanding of municipal capital Improvement projects, infrastructure design and improvements, cost estimating/bidding, value engineering, ROW acquisition and coordination, General Plan Amendments, property zoning & annexation, master planning, property due diligence, 404 and environmental coordination and memos of understanding and development agreement preparation and coordination.  Her notable developments in Arizona include Prasada, Desert Ridge, Sonoran Mt Ranch, Sonoran Foothills, Vistancia and Dynamite Mt Ranch.

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Karen Gaabucayan
Director of Land Acquisitions

In 1996, Ms. Gaabucayan joined Bailes and Company, a real estate firm specializing in residential and land development projects in Arizona, Colorado and California.  During her time there, Ms. Gaabucayan gained experience in multiple aspects of residential real estate development, including acquisitions, development, marketing and asset management.  As a Project Manager, Ms. Gaabucayan supervised the construction, marketing and development teams for semi-custom, condominium, fractional ownership and tract housing projects.  She was responsible for securing entitlements, managing A&D and construction lines, and devising and implementing project marketing strategies.  In 2008, Ms. Gaabucayan served as VP of Acquisitions and Development and was charged with identifying and analyzing land investment opportunities in the Phoenix Metro market.  Over the course of her career, Ms. Gaabucayan was involved in 11 projects which resulted in the development of over 1,200 lots and the construction of 375 homes, with approximate revenues of $70 million.  Ms. Gaabucayan earned a Master of Business Administration from the WP Carey School of Business at Arizona State University in 2003 and a Bachelor of Arts in English Literature from University of Dallas in 1995.

 

 

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Edward Barasch
Senior Advisor

Mr. Barasch is presently engaged as a consultant to the Empire Group of Companies, responsible for the property disposition programs of the Empire Residential Opportunity Funds.  He holds an Arizona real estate broker license.  Before returning to the Empire Group, Mr. Barasch was Vice President, Acquisitions and Director of Acquisitions (West) for Progress Residential, a large ($2.5 billion) institutional single family home rental fund, from September 2012 through June 2014.  He was responsible for the acquisition of more than 5,000 homes in 14 markets throughout the US.  Prior to joining Progress, Mr. Barasch was responsible for acquiring homes for the Empire Residential Opportunity Funds.  Mr. Barasch was semi-retired from 2000 until 2010 and was engaged as an investor in single family homes in Phoenix.  From 1979 through 2000, based in the San Francisco Bay area, he was President of GALE Services Corporation, financing and operating equipment leasing businesses (heavy duty trucks and personal computers) in the western US.    His earlier career included 8 years with ITEL Leasing Corporation where he was Vice President, Fleet Services, a business that he conceived and started.  At ITEL he was also responsible for creating ITEL do Brasil SA, the company’s entry into the Mercosur group of countries in South America.  Prior to his ITEL experience he worked for Alphanumeric Corporation, one of the companies that pioneered electronic typesetting and was also an IBM salesperson.  He graduated from Cornell University with a Bachelor of Arts in Economics and attended New York University in their MBA program.

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Lauren Broeman
Controller

Ms. Broeman has worked in Commercial Construction and Manufacturing accounting and finance for over 25 years. She has acted as Consultant and Controller for multiple remote clients engaged in building, manufacturing, publishing, and construction industries. For 16 years she acted as Treasurer, Controller, and CFO for Homes & Son Contractors. Her financial management allowed her to capture a yearly gain of $100K in interest revenue for the company. As controller for building and construction companies, Lauren has expert knowledge in capital expenditures, cash flow projections, budget and revenue forecasting, as well as extensive experience and knowledge of construction procedures and cost mitigation. Her audit expertise reclaimed $65K in payable sales tax for one of her remote clients, experience she used in her very first project with Empire, the annual year-end Fund audits. Ms. Broeman joined The Empire Group of Companies at the end of 2014. As Controller, she gathers, reviews, and balances all financials for 40+ companies and prepares them for review by CFO and outside tax accountants and auditors. She performs budget vs. cost analyses for special construction projects and budget reviews for all land development.

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Cheri Palomino
Investor Relations

Ms. Palomino has worked in the Real Estate industry for over 18 years. In 1998 she headed the Real Estate Investment Department of an international and domestic tax consulting firm located in Old Town, Scottsdale. While there, she completed Series 6, Series 7, and Series 66 securities licensing classes. In 2003 she began an 8 year employment with Marken Ventures, LLC, a real estate investment firm specializing in short-term, hard money loans and Kenmark Deeds, LLC, a licensed mortgage brokerage. She managed over $45 million of assets for the companies and all Investor Relations. She acquired her Real Estate license in 2009 and completed Mortgage Broker licensing classes. She facilitated the licensing and State banking audit for Kenmark Deeds, LLC and eventually acted as Property Manager for over 150 single family homes under Marken Ventures, LLC, in addition to her duties as CFO of both companies. Ms. Palomino went on to work in the accounting department of a Paradise Valley builder and developer of custom homes before finding her place with The Empire Group of Companies. As Investor Services Specialist, Cheri is responsible for ensuring the compliance and accuracy of self-managed and outside managed reporting, distributions, and documentation. She executes the closing of investor capital and accounting, while maintaining proper reporting procedures with custodial and financial institutions. As Sr. Accountant, Cheri catalogs closing real estate financial transactions ensuring accurate cost reporting and reconciliation. She reconciles all accounting with outside fund administrators as well as internal fund management. She is a 6th generation Arizona native and attended Arizona State University for her Bachelor of Arts in Medical Anthropology and Global Health.

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Mark Kass
Director of Property Management

Mr. Kass started his real estate career in 1990 working for his brother at Kass Management Services as an onsite manager for a luxury downtown high rise in Chicago. In 1993, Mr. Kass joined ICM Properties, Inc., a Chicago property management firm with over $100,000,000 in assets under management. Mr. Kass started as a leasing agent, and over the years, was promoted to Operations Manager responsible for overseeing a portfolio of over 1,500 units. In 2000, Mr. Kass moved to the valley to start his own property management firm, T&M Management & TerMar Property Maintenance Services. T&M and TerMar managed a portfolio of over 1000 single-family and multi-family assets and generated annual net revenues exceeding two million. As Director of Property Management, Mr. Kass brings 26 years of expertise to The Empire Group. Mr. Kass holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Liberal Arts and English from Northern Illinois University. He holds Arizona and Illinois real estate licenses.

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Shona Peterson
Accounts Payable/Receivable

DETAILS COMING SOON

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Marissa Mudrock
Executive Assistant

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Tracy Grewe
Land Development Coordinator
Dani Lanz
Dani Lanz
Director of Sales and Marketing

DETAILS COMING SOON

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Renae Penuel
Accounting

DETAILS COMING SOON