The Master Bilkers

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

Three months ago, a Denver news station caught up with Orians, who is building two subdivisions between Denver and Colorado Springs. The segments showed hidden-camera footage of Orians, clad in a jogging suit, shepherding workers around the job site and glad-handing prospective home buyers. When questioned by the reporter about his dealings in Arizona, Orians refused to discuss them.

Carl Winski would not comment for this story on the advice of his attorney, and Brian Winski did not return phone calls. C.J. Winski, who still works as a mortgage broker, did agree to speak briefly.

C.J. says his father and Greg Orians had worked together in the past, without problems.

"He [Orians] paid off all those loans just fine," C.J. says, adding that the most he and his family were guilty of was a simple error in judgment.

"Why would we have wanted to do this?" he says. "I'm out a company. I'm still working, but I'm certainly not working for myself anymore."

C.J. Winski says that, aside from the fees they normally charged, his family took nothing from the deal. And Brian, according to C.J., was only doing what he was told--writing the checks that his father told him to write.

But Granville maintains that Brian's role was far more significant. He says that investors were led to believe a lawyer would be watching over their funds.

"The victims all thought their money was being protected by Brian Winski, and that it would only be used on their parcel," Granville says.

After sitting idle for two years, Orians' former subdivisions--now taken over by the investors themselves--are once again swarming with workers after emerging from bankruptcy free of liens.

At Los Portones, lenders led by Bill Flanigan have hired their own contractor to finish the work. They plan to split the proceeds from the sale of the homes. Lenders at the other subdivisions have made similar arrangements.

There is still much to do at Los Portones. Flanigan has found himself thrust into the role of ad hoc developer, fielding gripes from the homeowners' association about work on the common property Orians never finished.

Slowly, the subdivision is nearing completion. There is one house, though, that likely will never be finished.

Irv Taran is a custom-home builder who moved into Los Portones two years ago. Taran, who built homes in both California and Michigan before moving to Arizona, says he watched his home's construction diligently from start to finish because, as he puts it, no one else was.

Taran's home stands one foot away from a half-finished house. According to the Uniform Building Code, single-family homes can be no closer than three feet from the property line. Taran says construction was halted on the home only after he complained repeatedly to Scottsdale building officials about the code violation.

"That home is actually sitting on my property," Taran says, "which makes me wonder what those inspectors were doing."

Sharon Anton, whose home was completed without a drain in the atrium, wonders the same thing.

"All of this work was signed off on," she says, producing the inspection checklist to prove it.

Bob Petrillo, who heads Scottsdale's inspection department, would not comment, referring all calls to Amy Lieberman, a Scottsdale city attorney. Lieberman says the city waived the requirement that homes have three-foot setbacks on each side.

The three-foot setback would have meant that the homes would actually have been six feet apart--three feet on each side of the property line. Instead, Anton's house is so close to her neighbor's that workers could not get in to apply stucco, leaving patches of exposed chicken wire and foam. And it is doubtful that anyone could squeeze between Taran's home and the neighboring house.

Sharon Anton is slowly working through her home's deficiencies. After two years of complaining to the state registrar of contractors, she finally got her electrical work repaired by threatening to take the contractor before a hearing panel.

Anton and Taran are not the only ones with problems at Los Portones. Intercontinental Builders of Arizona, Inc.'s file at the Registrar's Office includes 22 complaints filed by homeowners at the subdivision. The problems range from minor touchups to cracked floor slabs, leaky roofs and faulty plumbing and electrical work.

The problems at Los Portones are so severe that the registrar's $100,000 recovery fund--a special fund set up by developers for such occasions--has been nearly emptied by just six homeowners. It now holds only $6,000, and Anton has her eye on the rest of the fund's money.

Workers also botched the work around her front door so hopelessly that, every time she hoses off her sidewalk, water seeps in beneath the baseboard.

At least the liens on her home have finally been taken care of. Last month, Old Republic, the title company which Greg Orians used, settled with the last of the contractors who claimed he had never been paid for the work he performed on her home.

Jules Firetag, the company's attorney, says the amount of the settlements it had to pay out on behalf of Anton and other homeowners was "well into the six figures."

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