The Master Bilkers

Los Portones doesn't look that different from all the other beige subdivisions sprouting from the desert of northeast Scottsdale.

Lying just north of Pinnacle Peak Road, homes in the 100-unit complex are priced from the low- to mid-$100,000s. Mesquite trees and cactuses flourish in small, neatly landscaped front yards. In the evening, as shadows fall across narrow, winding streets and footlights illuminate the sidewalks, all seems serene.

But all is not as it seems. For the past two years, Los Portones has been in an uproar. The dozen or so unfinished homes at the subdivision's western edge--some of which are little more than pipes sticking up through the ground--stand as testament to as much as $2 million in money squandered from investors. Contractors who were never paid lost another $1.1 million. And behind many of those salmon-colored stuccoed walls, homeowners are seething.

Sharon Anton has fiery red hair and, when riled, a matching temperament. Like many who have flocked to the Valley from the East Coast and the Midwest, she has embraced the Scottsdale lifestyle. Native American motifs cover her walls and, on this evening as she tells the story of her arrival at Los Portones, she wears a blue denim dress sporting a stylized sheriff's badge.

Anton recites the particulars with the weary air of someone who has done so many times. She describes how she heard about Los Portones from a Realtor and drove out to take a look.

She liked the models, which were airy and spacious. What impressed her most, though, was the development's quiet desert surroundings--a far cry from her native Chicago.

She met with a representative from the subdivision's developer, selected a floor plan and signed the paperwork to set things in motion. She even agreed to spend $5,000 extra to buy a "premium" lot--one where she could take in the unspoiled desert from her back porch.

After months of hectic negotiations via phone and fax, Anton flew out to close the deal. Afterward, she returned to Illinois, packed up her things and headed west.

Just days after moving in, while unpacked boxes still lined her hallway, Anton was slapped with nearly $50,000 in liens from workers who had never been paid for the work they performed on her house.

Then the rains came, and Anton discovered that a closet-size atrium in the side of her home had been built without a drain. Once the water rose above the level of the foundation, it began to gush through her garage and into the street. Some of it began seeping in above the baseboard in her living room.

More trouble followed. Anton quickly learned that her home's electrical wiring had been hopelessly botched, with dozens of outlets wired into circuits meant to handle a third as many.

"And I swear--although you'd have to drill through the walls to prove it--I swear they built this front room without insulation. Even with the double-paned glass, the place turns into a furnace the second the sun hits it."

Today, many in Los Portones utter the name of its developer like a curse: Ronald Gregory Orians. It's probably not much of an exaggeration to say that if Orians were to visit his bastard stepchild of a subdivision today, he'd be lucky to escape.

Orians, however, isn't the only one homeowners like Anton would like to make run the gauntlet: They also wonder why the City of Scottsdale approved, at every step, the shoddy work they now find themselves living with.

Likewise, the investors who lost millions bankrolling Los Portones--some of whom have ruefully started to call the subdivision "Lost Portones"--and four other Orians developments across the Valley feel just as betrayed, and not just by Orians.

"This wasn't like some get-rich-quick scheme," says Bill Flanigan, a retired engineer who lost $100,000 on the deal. "Everyone we were dealing with was supposedly in good professional standing."

Now, all of the principals Flanigan dealt with are under indictment for fraud and theft. And there is evidence that all of them should have--and could have--been stopped long before things reached such a critical point.

Take Brian Winski, the lawyer who was supposed to have watched over investors' money. At the time Orians' subdivisions began to hemorrhage, Winski was a member in good standing of the state bar association.

Yet as far back as 1988--the year Winski took the bar exam--the bar had proof that he was not to be trusted, especially around money. In 1994, in fact, Winski even pleaded guilty to fraud in an unrelated case. Though indicted along with Orians, Winski continues to practice law today.

Likewise, the state Banking Department knew the mortgage company working hand-in-hand with Orians was the financial equivalent of a ticking time bomb; that Brian Winski's wife, Amy, served as the company's president and had used her inside knowledge of the mortgage industry to help her husband commit fraud in 1994; and that Winski's father, Carl, and brother, C.J., both of whom had reputations for brokering shady deals, played key roles in the company.

The Banking Department finally shut down the mortgage company once Carl and C.J. Winski were indicted. By then, though, it was too late.

The case has yet to go to trial. In the meantime, high-priced defense attorneys try to buy time by insisting that investors knew what they were getting into, and that Orians and his backers did nothing wrong.

Prosecutors call such arguments nonsensical, saying that victims had every right to expect their money would be safeguarded. In the meantime, victims ranging from contractors to investors to homeowners are hoping to recover whatever they can.

Los Portones didn't happen in a vacuum. It's a story that touches on just about every aspect of the Valley's much-storied explosive growth, in which a murky stew of developers, lenders and contractors attempts to cash in on those who flock here with the hope of realizing their own version of the American dream.

Ronald Gregory Orians grew up the oldest of four children near the shores of Lake Erie in the tiny town of Bucyrus, Ohio.

Greg, as he was called, went to Notre Dame on a football scholarship, but was sidelined early on after separating his shoulder. He graduated with a degree in finance and economics in 1969. By 1976, when he married Constance Evans, his third and current wife, Orians had moved to Arizona and begun working in real estate.

That same year he was charged with forgery, but acquitted. Four years later, his luck soured and he was convicted of five counts of fraud in a home-equity skimming scheme against the Federal Housing Administration.

While serving a three-year sentence in the federal prison at Safford, he was convicted again, this time for having embezzled nearly $200,000 from a pair of Canadian investors. One of the swindled Canadians told the court Orians "was a charming individual whom he had been taken in by."

More than 10 years later, those burned by Orians say much the same thing. One of them, a contractor still hoping to recoup some of the money he lost, remembers Orians as "the smoothest son of a bitch you'll ever meet."

"You'd be talking to him for a while, and he'd have you convinced that down was up and up was down," he says.

Orians served two additional years for bilking the Canadians. The probation officer handling that case pointed to a string of lawsuits filed against him before his conviction that appeared to represent his "less-than-honest" business dealings. The officer added:

"The defendant appears to have a character defect . . . he has established a pattern of fraudulent business activities, showing little remorse for the victims."

Even in prison, Orians continued to try to drum up deals. Valley developer Kerry Klotovich remembers a telephone call he received from Orians during the early 1980s.

"We were talking, and, every once in a while, I'd hear these announcements go out over the PA system," Klotovich says. "I don't know why, but I didn't put it all together until later, when I found out Greg was in prison. He never even mentioned it."

Klotovich did not ink a deal with Orians.
After his release, Orians again plunged into business. Court records show a succession of civil suits over the past decade, all settled out of court.

In 1994, Orians founded Intercontinental Builders of Arizona, Inc., or IBI, with an eye toward building a handful of subdivisions throughout the Valley. One of those, Los Portones, had gone into bankruptcy in the late 1980s under a different developer.

According to Bruce Halvax, an investor Orians turned to for money, the developer needed $868,000 to pay off the bank and take over Los Portones. He also wanted to borrow $1.75 million to buy his way into two other residential projects.

Halvax, who invests money on behalf of trusts representing, as he explains it, "about 15 or so extremely wealthy families," agreed to lend Orians the money after receiving assurances from his own appraiser that the properties were good investments. Orians, Halvax says, knew how to spot a deal.

"He recognized that the market was taking off, and he found some very good properties," Halvax says. "And that's the thing that gets me: If Greg had just done things the honest way, he probably could have made $2 million to $3 million, easy."

Though clearly the boss, according to investors and others, Orians was never listed on IBI's filings at the Corporation Commission. Instead, the developer had convinced another man, Richard Doyas, to act as his front. Homeowners at Los Portones describe Doyas as a disarmingly oafish man who billed himself as a retired scientist.

In addition to Doyas, Orians found a succession of general contractors willing to do his bidding. Records at the Registrar's Office show that from the day IBI opened in August 1993 until it filed for bankruptcy in November 1995, five general contractors cemented deals with Orians. Orians also located a real estate broker who was willing to let him use his license, according to investigative reports.

Greg Orians, two-time convicted felon, had the whole operation, from building homes to selling them, under his control.

All he needed was cash.

Vacuum cleaners. Fire and security alarms. Home-movie setups. As one of his sons would later tell investigators, Carl Winski Jr. had hawked just about everything before moving to the Valley from Pennsylvania in 1978.

The next year, Winski and a man named Donald Mowery became partners in a company called Insurance Marketing Services. Among other things, the pair acted as mortgage brokers--middlemen who arranged commercial and residential loans, often to people who wouldn't otherwise have qualified.

In 1986, Winski and Mowery were hit with a pair of lawsuits accusing them of securities fraud for grossly overstating the value of properties they had convinced investors to finance.

One of those was a piece of land in Yavapai County that was supposed to have been transformed into a resort called Grey Copper Ranch. When the development never materialized and borrowers stopped making payments, lenders foreclosed--only to find that Grey Copper Ranch was little more than a few acres of near-worthless dirt that was, quite literally, in the middle of nowhere.

"The land was a joke," says David Ramras, who represented the Grey Copper Ranch investors. "There were these old, abandoned mine shafts all over the place--there wasn't even a road leading to it. It was completely landlocked."

Winski's sons, Brian and Carl III, or "C.J.," also were named in the suits. In 1988, Ramras questioned Brian, then a newly minted 25-year-old law school graduate, about his role in the family business.

Even though Brian had been listed as the company's qualifying broker, he claimed his law studies kept him too busy to participate in the business's day-to-day affairs. He explained how he would fly to San Diego several times each week to attend classes at the California Western School of Law, then return home to spend time with his wife, Amy, and the family.

Brian Winski also used the occasion to trumpet his own achievements, explaining how he had finished high school in just three and a half years and received his Realtor's license while still a senior. And he told how he had worked his way through Arizona State University while running his own vending-machine business.

The wunderkind would soon be able to add a far more dubious honor to his list of achievements: the Arcadia High School grad would be on the losing end of a lawsuit alleging securities fraud.

In 1988, Grey Copper Ranch investors were awarded more than $3 million against Mowery and the Winskis. Another group of investors, who had brought a similar suit arising from a separate string of deals, won a $4 million judgment against the elder Winski and Mowery. Both judgments were tripled because the lawsuits fell under the state's racketeering laws.

Mowery promptly declared bankruptcy, dissolved Insurance Marketing Services and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas, while Winski shuffled his assets to protect them from creditors. Ramras says he is still trying to collect against both of the men. Jim Nicgorski, who represented the second group of investors, says he has collected about $150,000 from Mowery so far, but has gotten little from Winski.

Ramras says he negotiated a separate settlement for Brian and C.J., because neither had significant assets at the time.

The suits never resulted in criminal charges, but Grey Copper Ranch piqued the interest of the state Banking Department, which conducted its own hearings into IMS' dealings in 1988.

Meanwhile, even while embroiled in the Grey Copper Ranch lawsuit, the Winskis were moving on to more fertile financial hunting grounds. Carl Winski had founded a new mortgage firm, and Brian Winski was listed as its president; his wife, Amy, was its vice president, while C.J. served as a broker. The new company's name, "Cambria," blended the first several letters of Carl, Amy and Brian Winski's first names.

Brian wouldn't remain the firm's president for long. During one of the Banking Department hearings on Grey Copper Ranch, Brian acknowledged that, contrary to what he had said in a sworn deposition, he was involved in the family business at every stage.

The state Banking Board ordered Brian to resign from Cambria immediately and prohibited him from acting as the company's lawyer for five years. Brian Winski pleaded for leniency.

"My intention in going to law school," he wrote to the board, "was to become a lawyer so that I could be an even more effective manager of the firm and to help ensure our compliance with the law."

The board didn't buy it. It even wrote to the bar association's character and fitness committee, which at that time was considering Brian's bar application, outlining the prospective lawyer's shortcomings. Despite the Banking Board's warnings, the state bar deemed Winski to be acceptable lawyer material. Bar officials now say they have no record of the warning from the Banking Department.

"We purge those files every seven years," says Carolyn DeLooper, who heads the bar's character and fitness committee.

Brian remained in exile from the family business but went about practicing law and living his life. He and Amy had two children and, in 1992, took out a loan to purchase a home in north Scottsdale.

But they lied on their loan application to get it, inflating the value of the house by $100,000, faking the sale of a phony business to show money for a down payment and recruiting a Winski employee to help trick the lender. Later, the employee found himself in trouble with the IRS and tipped the FBI to the whole scam.

The Winskis' loan application contained a few other stretchers: Brian said his salary was $94,000 at the time, and Amy said hers was $71,000. The couple's actual incomes were $47,000 and $19,000, respectively, according to the FBI.

The Winskis also claimed they had more than $155,000 in antiques, while witnesses reported that their home was almost barren.

And finally, the couple told the lender they owned more than $180,000 in gold coins and jewelry. Investigators said they couldn't disprove this, but added that "fraudulent loan applications often reflect large dollar values for noncash items like furs, jewelry and coins."

Brian was charged--Amy wasn't--and he pleaded guilty to the fraud. As sentencing neared, his court file grew thick with letters from former and current law partners, pleading for leniency and vouching for their colleague's character. The head of a local charity golf tournament benefiting children with cancer even took up for Winski, calling the 31-year-old attorney a tribute to the spirit of volunteerism.

Finally, on December 15, 1994, Winski wrote to Judge Ronald S. Reinstein on his own behalf:

"Please be assured that while this entire matter will never be forgotten, the events which led up to it will never be repeated. Once again, thank you for all you have done and your faith in me as an individual."

Reinstein sentenced Winski to two years' probation. Most important, though, Winski's defense attorney convinced Reinstein to reserve the right to downgrade the young barrister's felony to a misdemeanor if he completed probation without a hitch.

That defense attorney was A. Melvin McDonald--the former U.S. attorney who had sent Orians to prison 14 years earlier and who, ironically, would soon find himself defending Brian Winski again--for the alleged swindle of investors at Los Portones and other Orians' developments.

By convincing Reinstein to leave Winski's felony offense undesignated, McDonald all but ensured that the bar would not take action against his client.

"A misdemeanor conviction under our rules does not mean that we go to the next step of imposing discipline on the attorney," explains bar attorney Alan Shayo. "We would need a felony for that."

Just as the bar was aware of Brian Winski's lapses, the state Banking Board knew that Amy Winski, Cambria's president at the time, had been named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the home-loan fraud case.

Banking Department investigators also had reported that, on a previous loan application to another lender, Amy Winski had submitted a series of forged checks from Cambria in an attempt to convince the loan officer that the family company was paying off personal debts for Amy and Brian.

Indeed, the Banking Department's files are replete with scores of other gripes against Cambria, ranging from the imposition of arbitrary fees to the failure to file its licensing paperwork on time.

Yet the department never moved against the company's license.
Neither Richard C. Houseworth, the state Banking Department's superintendent, nor John Coyle, division manager for the Banking Department, returned calls seeking an explanation.

It's not entirely clear how the Winskis met Orians. Investigators' reports quote Brian Winski as saying his brother C.J. may have known Orians for years, while C.J. Winski has said it was his father who had first dealt with Orians.

Whatever the case, by early 1994, Cambria had begun soliciting lenders to finance construction at four Orians subdivisions across the Valley, including Los Portones. Such deals were not unique in the home-mortgage industry, and they were nothing new to Cambria, which, at the time, was handling about $32 million in residential and commercial mortgages annually.

According to prosecutors, the deals were supposed to have worked like this: Lenders--usually individual investors--would write checks to Cambria for between $80,000 and $110,000, depending on the type of home they were financing. About a third of that money would be used to buy the lot on which the home would stand; the rest would go into a "construction impound account" used to fund the home's construction.

As the developer--Orians--built the home, he would submit an invoice of completed work to Cambria and attest that he had paid off the workers. Carl Winski would then inspect the homes to ensure that the work had been done. Once satisfied, the elder Winski would write a letter to the law firm overseeing the account and authorize it to release the funds to the developer.

Typically, funds would be released in seven "draws," each one representing a separate stage of construction. For instance, once the foundation had been poured, the developer would request the first draw. Once the walls were framed, he would request the second, and so on until the account was empty.

The lenders would get their money back once the completed home was sold, plus about a 15.5 percent profit on what had been a nine-month loan.

"It looked like a safe deal," says Bill Flanigan, who heard about Cambria through a solicitation he got in the mail. Furthermore, Flanigan adds, the contracts he signed specified that his money would be watched over by the law firm of Brandes, Lane and Joffe.

What investors weren't told, he says, was that the lawyer handling their account for Brandes, Lane and Joffe was Brian Winski. Likewise, Gregory Orians' name never appeared in any of the contracts.

"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.

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."

Other contractors--the ones who performed work on homes that were never sold--weren't so lucky. According to claims filed against Orians' subdivisions in bankruptcy court, contractors lost as much as $600,000 at Los Portones. For the other three subdivisions, the total is well over $500,000.

On a recent evening, Anton leads the way to her back porch and points to the view that so captivated her she was willing to fork out an extra $5,000 in upgrade money. When she saw it two years ago, it took in a narrow wash, behind which rose low, rolling bluffs studded with mesquite and saguaros--the perfect place to take in a desert sunrise, or relax on warm evenings and take in the stars.

It won't stay that way for long, though. The City of Scottsdale has big plans for the strip of land running along the wash's far bank.

Soon, Sharon Anton will have a breathtaking view of a major four-lane thoroughfare.

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Howard Stansfield