Six Orange County men face criminal fraud charges in an alleged $52-million investment scam that was said to promise big profits from luxury developments next to golf courses designed by Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.
The criminal cases, filed Thursday in Orange County Superior Court by the office of California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown, follow civil charges brought by the Securities and Exchange Commission against the operators of Irvine-based Carolina Development Co.
"This is a very serious case, an unusually large fraud," Brown said in an interview. The defendants "callously conned" more than 1,000 people, including retirees, he said.
The SEC in 2007 won a $29.2-million judgment against Carolina's president, Lambert Vander Tuig, and a $2.1-million judgment against the vice president, Jonathan Carman.
Vander Tuig, 50, of Rancho Santa Margarita, and Carman, 45, of Laguna Hills, were arrested Thursday along with two other defendants in the case. They were being held in Orange County jail with bail set at $52 million each for Vander Tuig and Carman.
The four defendants appeared Friday in Superior Court in Santa Ana. They agreed to postpone their arraignments until Feb. 11 and will have lawyers appointed for them by the public defender, Brown's office said. No one could be reached for comment at the public defender's office.
Promoters of Carolina Development distributed glossy folders with pictures of Palmer and Norman, stuffed with descriptions of planned resorts and residential neighborhoods adjacent to golf courses. They promised to make early investors rich by taking the company public, according to federal, state and local authorities.
The promotions took place from August 2001 to February 2006, authorities said, when a state and federal task force shut down Carolina Development.
Of the $52 million raised, Vander Tuig and Carman allegedly diverted more than $24 million for their personal use, engaging in a Ponzi scheme by paying early investors "returns" using money from new investors. Carolina did own some land and other assets, but Vander Tuig and Carman grossly overstated the value of the holdings, according to the SEC's suit against them.
When the alleged scheme came to light in 2006, SEC officials told The Times that Vander Tuig and Carman were members of Saddleback Church, had recruited salespeople from an addiction recovery program operated by the Lake Forest mega-church and had handed out copies of the bestseller "The Purpose-Driven Life" by Saddleback pastor Rick Warren to prospective investors.
Warren, who gave the invocation Tuesday at the inauguration of President Obama, said in an e-mail in 2006 that he could remember neither Vander Tuig nor Carman. But he said in an e-mail: "With over 30 million copies of 'Purpose-Driven Life' printed in 51 languages, it doesn't surprise me that somebody somewhere may have tried to use the book for personal gain."
Thomas A. Seaman, the court-appointed receiver in the case, said Friday that a federal judge had approved a plan to distribute proceeds from the liquidation of Carolina Development's assets. The process has been held up by a need to settle accounts with the Internal Revenue Service because Carolina failed to properly withhold payroll taxes, he said.
A settlement with the IRS is likely "in the next week or two," with distributions to follow, the receiver said. Most investors will get back about 18 cents on the dollar initially, he said, with the possibility of additional, smaller distributions later.
Investors who withdrew money or were paid bonuses for recruiting other investors will get less, he said.
Each defendant was charged with grand theft and securities fraud. In addition to Vander Tuig and Carman, they were identified as:
* Mark Sostak, 50, of Ladera Ranch, who was being held with bail set at $4.5 million
* Soren Svendsen, 43, of Coto de Caza, who was being held with bail set at $2.2 million
* Scott Yard, 47, of Costa Mesa, who was being sought on an arrest warrant
* Robert Waldman, 48, of Irvine, who was scheduled to turn himself in to authorities Monday. His attorney, Paul S. Meyer of Costa Mesa, declined to comment on the charges against Waldman.