Criminal charges filed against real estate firm at center of LAist Studio’s ‘California City’ podcast

In my podcast California city, I told the story of a small town in the Mojave Desert where, for more than six decades, salesmen have been selling nearly worthless desert land to unsuspecting people. Now the California Attorney General has accused nine of these sellers with crimes.

All of the defendants are affiliated with the Silver Saddle Ranch & Club, a remote desert resort in California City, about an hour and a half north of Los Angeles, where vendors were offering free weekends to Latino, Filipino shoppers and Chinese in exchange for sitting in a high – pressure sales pitch. Many of these consumers ended up spending tens of thousands of dollars on land that they were led to believe would be worth much more in the near future. This was not the case.

In late May, prosecutors charged Thomas Maney, the 83-year-old owner of Silver Saddle, Marian Ducreux, 68, one of the company’s top salespeople, and seven other former ranch sales agents, managers and employees. .

Charges include conspiracy to commit a felony, grand theft of personal property, securities fraud and the use of a diet to defraud a consumer regarding the sale of securities. All defendants have pleaded not guilty.

The allegations against the defendants include that they:

“…deliberately targeted investors from the Chinese, Filipino and Latino communities, many of whom spoke little or no English and were unable to read the sales documents that accompanied their investment, by holding raffles on the local markets in Los Angeles County for free dinners that eventually led them to the Silver Saddle Ranch for a sales pitch filled with misrepresentations.”

Ben Perez is one of over 2,000 people who have invested money with Silver Saddle. He spent a free weekend there in 2017, and ended up shelling out over $30,000 for a confusing desert land investment product.

He was shocked to hear the news of the criminal charges.

“I wish (sellers) realize how much they cost all families,” he said. “I would like them to give us the money back.”

When I interviewed Thomas Maney for the podcast in early 2019, he said to me, “Well, first of all, we never made any false claims. We just don’t. I mean, it’s the way I live my life.

In my reporting, I learned that Silver Saddle’s land sale plan was essentially an open secret in Kern County. It had been going on for years.

Consumers had filed nearly three dozen complaints with various agencies: the Kern County District Attorney, the California Department of Real Estate, even the Federal Trade Commission, but the company continued to operate through 2019.

That’s when the California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation raided Silver Saddle’s headquarters, halted all sales operations, and took control of its bank accounts. The agency accused Silver Saddle, Maney, Ducreux and others charged with securities fraud and selling unqualified securities. That case, which is a separate civil suit unrelated to the new criminal charges, is expected to go to trial in September.

The attorney general’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

About The California City Podcast

  • Deep in the Mojave Desert, there is a small town with a big name and a bizarre history: California City. For decades, property developers have been selling a dream here: if you buy land now, you’ll be rich one day. Thousands of people bought this dream. Many were young couples and hard-working immigrants looking to build a better future for themselves. But much of the land they bought is nearly worthless. In this new podcast from LAist Studios, host Emily Guerin tells a story of money, power, and deception.

What questions do you have about Southern California?

Comments are closed.