Orange County District Attorney Press Release
For Immediate Release, Case # 11CF2747: December 18, 2013
SANTA ANA – A fugitive “hard money” lender has been extradited back to Orange County from Panama for embezzling nearly $3 million from investors in a Ponzi real estate fraud scheme. Thomas Franklin Tarbutton, 54, Newport Beach, is charged with 29 felony counts including grand theft and forgery, and sentencing enhancements and allegations for loss over $100,000, property loss over $3.2 million, and aggravated white collar crime. If convicted on all counts, he faces a maximum sentence of 30 years and eight months in state prison. The defendant is being held on $2 million bail and must prove that the money is from a legal and legitimate source before posting bond. Tarbutton is scheduled to be arraigned tomorrow, Thursday, Dec. 19, 2013, in Department CJ-1, Central Jail, Santa Ana. The time is to be determined.
Between 2004 and 2010, Tarbutton is accused of operating Villa Capital Inc. as a “hard money” lender by soliciting money from private investors for borrowers looking for funds from non-bank lenders. The defendant is accused of defrauding nine people in a Ponzi real estate fraud scheme. A “Ponzi” scheme is a fraudulent scheme that offers investors high, short-term returns on investments. Instead of using the money to generate actual income and legitimate profits, the money from the investors is kept for the benefit of the defendant or used to repay earlier investors.
Tarbutton is accused of embezzling from his private investors by keeping the money they lent for borrowers and not funding the loans as promised. He is accused of providing his victims with fraudulent and forged real estate documents from the Orange County Clerk-Recorder Department showing that they were lien holders on property deeds. He is accused of supplying investors with false and forged mortgage payments and fraudulent documents of investment of the mortgage payments. The defendant is accused of supplying investors with small interest payments using funds from their initial investment to prevent them from discovering that the loans had not been repaid. He is accused of stopping all payments when the real estate market collapsed.
The fraud was reported by four victims to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in October 2010. The FBI, with assistance from the Orange County District Attorney (OCDA) Investigators, investigated this case.
In October 2011, charges were filed against Tarbutton and a $2 million warrant was issued for his arrest. The defendant is accused of fleeing the country, ultimately living in Brazil. In December 2013, Tarbutton is accused of flying from Brazil to Panama. He was detained by Panamanian authorities on the Orange County warrant on Dec. 14, 2013, attempting to cross the border from Panama to Costa Rica. Panamanian officials returned Tarbutton to Los Angeles International Airport to the custody of the FBI and OCDA on Dec. 17, 2013.
The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with additional information or who believes they have been a victim is encouraged to contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Eric Akerlind at (714) 347-8691.
Senior Deputy District Attorney Pete Pierce of the Major Fraud Unit is prosecuting this case.
Tony Rackauckas, District Attorney 401 Civic Center Drive West Santa Ana, CA 92701
Susan Kang Schroeder Chief of Staff Office: 714-347-8408 Cell: 714-292-2718
Farrah Emami Spokesperson Office: 714-347-8405 Cell: 714-323-4486