Longform

The Master Bilkers

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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.

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Howard Stansfield