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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on January 23rd, 2014, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 14, Issue 46 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 46

A Guadalupe case triggers five arrests in a multi-county fraud case

BY RYAN MILLER

In mid-January, Attorney General Kamala D. Harris announced the arrest of five people suspected of running a fraudulent housing scheme that spanned nine counties throughout the state, including Santa Barbara County, where the allegations first came to light.

According to a complaint filed Jan. 14—one that lists 288 counts spread among the five suspects—the first alleged victim to report fraud did so to the Guadalupe Police Department in February 2011. The complaint and a press release from the attorney general state that Nancy Zelepsky was seeking an equity loan for a home she owned in Guadalupe in 2010, but the title company she contacted told her that the listed deed holder was a woman named Sandra Barton. Zelepsky sought help from the Legal Aid Foundation of Santa Barbara County, which helped her restore ownership and led to a state Attorney General’s office investigation kicking off in June 2011.

Sandra Elaine Barton, 30; Christopher Spencer Barton, 31; Daniel Paul Vedenoff, 29; Sheldon W. Feigel, 50; and Craig Merrill Mortensen, 60—all of Fresno—were arrested on Jan. 14, 2014, and charged with 288 felony counts between them all, including perjury, filing false court records, and preparing false evidence.

All were booked into the Fresno County Jail on bail ranging from $27,500 to $1,795,000 and face restitution payments of at least $3.5 million. Sandra Barton faces a maximum state prison sentence of approximately 103 years, Mortensen faces 108 years, Feigel faces 15 years, Christopher Barton faces seven years, and Vedenoff faces eight years.

Another suspect—Cambria Lisa Barton, 21—remained at large as of press time.

The group allegedly used what are known as adverse possession laws to seize at least 23 homes in Fresno, Kern, Los Angeles, Madera, Merced, Santa Barbara, San Mateo, Sonoma, and Tulare counties. Through adverse possession, a person can take possession of a property if he or she satisfies a number of requirements, including occupying or claiming the property continuously for five years while paying property taxes.

The attorney general’s office is alleging that the Bartons and Vedenoff worked with lawyers Mortensen and Feigel to identify seemingly abandoned properties, fraudulently file for adverse possession, and then sell or rent them.

Jennifer Glimp—an investigator with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office who first brought the Guadalupe case to the state attorney general’s attention—said this case is a “perfect example of how [investigations] are supposed to work when they work right.”