Longform

The Master Bilkers

Page 5 of 7

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.

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Howard Stansfield