The Master Bilkers

How a Valley development scheme ripped off investors, contractors and homeowners while bank, building and bar officials watched

"We had no idea who Greg Orians was," Flanigan says. "All we knew was that the general contractor was IBI."

Along with about 50 other investors, Flanigan began cutting checks to Cambria to finance construction. At first, all went well, and homes began sprouting up at Los Portones. Flanigan made back thousands of dollars on his investments in Los Portones, and agreed to start investing in the other subdivisions once he saw how well the system worked.

"Los Portones was their jewel," he says, "and they used it to draw people into the other projects."

But, despite appearances, the projects were in trouble. On scores of homes, Orians had not been performing anywhere near the amount of work he said he had.

In March 1995, Brian Winski left Brandes, Lane and Joffe. He set up shop in the same suite of offices as Cambria, and continued to handle the company's legal affairs. Brian later told investigators that his father became authorized to sign on the construction accounts at that time.

Around the same time, realizing that something was fishy with Orians, Carl Winski began releasing funds into an account through which he could pay contractors, without going through Orians. The elder Winski's intentions may have been honorable, but his methods were illegal, since investors' contracts stated that their money would remain separate and would only be used to fund construction on the lot it was intended for.

By July 1995, fractures were beginning to appear in the carefully constructed façade. Despite the steps Orians had taken to ensure that his name appeared nowhere on any of the documents, investors were beginning to find out about him. One of them, Rick Blumburg, approached Brian Winski and told him he had learned that Orians was a felon. Brian would later tell investigators that he passed the information along to his father.

"He [Brian] recalls his father asking Orians about his criminal conviction," wrote one of the investigators assigned to the case. "Orians said it was a problem of his youth and it had nothing to do with these transactions."

Investors began asking Brian about the status of their accounts. He shared some financial information with them, but it wasn't until they drove out and inspected the property themselves that they learned the shocking truth: Many of them had been sucked dry. Little or no work had been performed.

The whole deal was starting to crumble. Yet, even though the Winskis knew Orians was siphoning off money without performing any work, Cambria continued to solicit investors for his developments.

In August 1995, 12 investors dumped their money into a midtown Phoenix project called the Heights at Glenrosa. Of the $924,000 they lent, $356,000 was drained from their accounts almost immediately. All the lenders had to show for their money were nine vacant lots.

At another subdivision near 22nd Avenue and Greenway, another 20 investors lost roughly $1 million. And five more investors lost at least $163,000 in another Orians subdivision near 30th Street and Thunderbird.

Meanwhile, at Los Portones, construction had ground to a halt as workers walked off the job, leaving 25 homes in various stages of completion. All told, investors there saw around $1 million of their money disappear.

Sharon Anton moved into Los Portones in July 1995. Hers was the last home completed there, and she immediately saw that it was riddled with problems. At the time, Orians himself was living in Los Portones, just a few doors down from Anton. One day, Anton says, she cornered Orians, and the developer followed her back to her place to inspect the work.

"He knew I had him, cold. Then he looked at me and said, 'You know, Sharon, I could really use someone like you in my customer service department,'" Anton remembers.

A short time later, Orians was gone from Arizona. For their part, the Winskis continued to do business at Cambria until late 1996, when the Banking Department revoked their license--after they were charged with theft.

Last October, after nine months of investigation, deputy attorney general Warren Granville won an indictment against the Winskis and Orians on four counts of theft--one count for each of the bankrupt subdivisions.

This wasn't the first time Granville had gone after Orians. In 1994, Orians and partner George Ansell were indicted for allegedly bilking a third partner out of $50,000. The case was dismissed after a judge found the state's evidence inconclusive.

After the recent indictments, a warrant was issued for Orians, who was picked up near Denver by sheriff's deputies. He later appeared in Phoenix for his arraignment along with the Winskis but has since returned to Denver.

Earlier this year, the case was sent back to the grand jury after defense attorneys contended that Granville hadn't disclosed all of the facts surrounding the deal. The strategy backfired, however, and the state obtained an additional four fraud counts against the Winskis and Orians.

All are out on bail and still practicing in their respective professions. Brian is a lawyer in private practice in Phoenix; Carl is trying to put together another mortgage brokerage; and C.J. is a broker for a local mortgage company.

Orians has a whole new set of legal problems to contend with. In December 1996, Orians and his wife, Connie, were indicted in federal court for tax evasion. According to the indictment, the Orianses substantially understated their household income--saying it ranged from $28,000 to $36,000--between 1988 and 1990 when Greg Orians was working as a Phoenix developer.

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