Santa Barbara residents charged over nationwide $27 million real estate scam

A federal grand jury in Illinois has indicted two Santa Barbara residents over a nationwide telemarketing real estate scam that allegedly victimized more than 100,000 people out of a combined total of more than $27 million.

Michael S. Davenport, 49, and Cynthia Rawlinson, 51, face multi-decade prison sentences over their involvement with Santa Barbara-based telemarketing business American Standard. Davenport was the owner of American Standard, and he oversaw operations of the company, according to the indictment. Authorities have already seized $853,210 from Davenport’s merchant process accounts and $104,000 in cash from the Santa Barbara man at the Clinton Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Rawlinson allegedly began as a salesperson but was promoted to sales manager for American Standard’s Santa Barbara office. The business, which operated under several different names at various times, also had a sales room in Lompoc, according to a U.S. Department of Justice press release.

American Standard allegedly placed ads on Craigslist stating certain houses were available for sale or rent at very affordable prices. When prospective buyers or renters called, American Standard salespersons told them they would have to purchase the company’s list of homes in order to get more information about the property in the Craigslist ad.

The salesperson would also say the houses were in pre-foreclosure and that the customers could buy the homes by simply taking over the homeowners’ mortgage payments. Then the deeds to the houses would be transferred to them.

Prospective buyers were told there was a $199 fee for access to American Standard’s list, but that the fee would cover title searches and deed transfers.

But, when the customers paid the fee, they discovered the houses on the list were not available for purchase. The prospective buyers determined a substantial number of the addresses were fictional or no house existed at the location.

If customers asked for more information about the houses they saw on Craigslist ads, American Standard’s customer service workers told them the homes were no longer available.

The conspiracy and the scheme lasted approximately from Jan. 2009 to at least Oct. 5, 2016. Both Davenport and Rawlinson are charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, as well as five counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud.

They face extended sentences because the Santa Barbara residents allegedly victimized 10 or more people over the age of 55, a violation of the SCAMS Act.