Longform

The Master Bilkers

Page 4 of 7

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.

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Howard Stansfield