Longform

The Master Bilkers

Page 6 of 7

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.

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Howard Stansfield