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Celebrity connection

The last vacant lot on Black Oak Drive is an innocuous landmark you might pass without noticing on the way to work, visiting a friend in the hospital, or going to church. A mere chip shot from the first green at Rogue Valley Country Club, it catches your attention mainly because many of the surrounding houses were built a half-century ago.

Who would suspect that this simple piece of east Medford property has links to a fashion footwear mover and shaker, Donald Trump and a Hollywood blockbuster? Turns out someone with local roots who's made a splash or two in the tabloids and celebrity press has acquired both the lot and a nearby house.

Fashion shoe aficionados may recognize the name Steve Madden, whose billion-dollar-plus enterprise sells trendsetting shoes in hundreds of stores nationally and internationally. In 2005, he married 1989 North Medford High School graduate Wendy Ballew after proposing to her in prison.

Moviegoers may remember the 2013 film "The Wolf of Wall Street," in which Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed crooked Wall Street stockbroker Jordan Belfort. Stratton Oakmont, Belfort's investment firm, gave Madden shares in initial public offerings, leading to Madden's conviction for stock manipulation and securities fraud and subsequent imprisonment in 2002.

Madden served 31 months of a 41-month sentence in a Florida prison. It was there he romanced his former operations chief, Wendy Ballew. They were married in 2005 and subsequently had three children.

Last month, the couple announced they were ending their marriage.

Ballew Madden's roots run deep in the Rogue Valley. She attended Central Point's Jewett Elementary School and Medford's Hedrick Junior High School before attending North Medford High School.

She reached celebrity status of sorts in early 1998 when a picture of her and Madden, then a rising star in the shoe design world, appeared in People Magazine.

In a Feb. 1, 1998 story, she told the Mail Tribune she was the company's first employee in 1992 and shared a desk.

"I shipped 15 cases of shoes a day," Ballew Madden said. "They were made in New York, and I would hand-write all the labels and invoices."

There is a telltale paragraph in the 1998 story: "In those pinch-penny early days, the boss often promised Ballew she'd one day have five assistants working for her," the MT reported. "Ballew says she hasn't held him to that promise because he's kept so many others — and her stock options have done nicely since."

Ballew Madden also told the Mail Tribune she would return to the Rogue Valley occasionally to visit her father, Don Ballew, and spend time at Lake of the Woods.

Efforts to reach Madden Ballew and her father for this story were unsuccessful. Asked about her sister's plans concerning the lot, Ashland electrologist Molly Ballew declined comment.

Meanwhile, the vacant lot at 255 Black Oak Drive has changed hands twice in the past year, after having been tucked away in family trust portfolios for decades. In September 2014, a retired couple who had planned to build there bought it, but when they changed their minds they put it back on the market. Wendy Ballew Madden bought the lot in May 2015 for $157,500.

Last fall, prior to buying the vacant lot, Ballew Madden purchased a house three doors to the north of the lot. Don Ballew, who lived in Klamath County for several years, moved into the house. Jackson County property tax statements for the house and the lot are sent to 200 E. 69th St., 47, New York, NY, 10021 — The Trump Palace, where the Maddens paid $15 million for a condominium in the fall of 2013.

For now, a motor home driven by Don Ballew is parked on the lot. There is no indication his daughter plans to move home from the Big Apple and no plans have been submitted for a house.

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/EconomicEdge

A long-time vacant lot on Black Oak Drive, near the first green of the Rogue Valley Country Club, was purchased by the wife of one of the principal characters portrayed in the movie 'The Wolf of Wall Street.' Mail Tribune / Bob Pennel