WANTED - Penny Estes for fraud against Wildfire Survivors
When rebuilding be very careful about who you hire to rebuild. After our fire we heard of contractors that were running off with people's money (like the below article). To avoid that situation, we used a Construction Escrow service that held our insurance money in escrow, reviewed the contract with our contractor, did a check on all of their licensing and insurance and then only paid for goods and services that were complete and installed/constructed on our job site.
There is currently no indication that the person named below has moved on to other areas, but people like this prey on disaster survivors who are in a very bad spot. Please be aware that this can happen and if you happen to see this person around get in touch with the Santa Barbara County District Attorney (phone numbers listed below).
Wanted poster can be found here:
The article is included in full below, but can also be found on the front page at http://www.arson.org/
WANTED - Penny Estes
Santa Barbara residents are all too familiar with the devastating fires that occur in our area. The Tea Fire began on November 13, 2008 and destroyed 210 homes after burning 1,940 acres. The Jesusita Fire began on May 9, 2009 and destroyed 80 homes, damaged 15 others and burned 8,733 acres. The people and families that lost their homes were devastated.
Penny “Penn” Estes was an alleged contractor who took advantage of the vulnerability of numerous victims of the Tea Fire and Jesusita Fire by promising to rebuild their homes using “green” building material that Estes claimed was fire resistant, cheaper than traditional building materials and good for the environment. Estes operated under her corporation name of Green Building America (GBA). It was discovered that Estes was not a licensed contractor and her corporation, Green Building America had been suspended and was not authorized to do business in California for at least 7 years. Her modus operandi would be to host gatherings and invite fire victims where she would gain the confidence of the fire victims by playing on their vulnerability and desperation for things to be normal again. Shortly thereafter she would promise to rebuild their homes in an unrealistic time frame, take most, if not all of the victim’s insurance proceeds and other building funds and then abandon the project. In one instance, Estes took in excess of $500,000.00 from a victim/homeowner (a local beloved family practice physician) and all he had to show for it was a concrete slab. This victim stated, “I lost my home once to the fire, and then I lost it again to Estes”. Another victim paid over $440,000.00 of a $455,000.00 contract and had a home that was less than 50% complete when Estes abandoned the project. Other victims were even less fortunate. They paid large sums of money to Estes and never had a single shovel full of dirt turned over. A number of the victims that were interviewed stated very plainly that that they simply wanted to be back in their homes and Estes promised them and assured them over and over that everything was on schedule. “We wanted to believe her because we simply wanted our lives to be normal again after the fire took everything from us. She (Estes) used that against us.”
Estes, on the other hand, was living the high life. A review of bank records show that Estes was using the money she misappropriated for travel, restaurants, shopping sprees, trips to the salon and numerous other expenditures that were in no way related to the rebuilding of the victim’s homes. A conservative estimate reveals that Estes illegally obtained close to 4.8 million dollars from at least a dozen fire victims.
An intensive 9 month investigation was conducted by Santa Barbara County District Attorney Investigators and a Special Agent from the Franchise Tax Board which resulted in the filing of a 24 count felony complaint against Estes and a warrant was issued for her arrest with bail set at $2,000,000.00. Estes was charged with Grand Theft, Diversion of Construction Funds, Tax Evasion and numerous other counts. In addition, special allegations were added to the complaint alleging that she defrauded victims of a natural disaster.
If you have any information on Estes or were a victim of Estes or Green Building America, you are encouraged to contact District Attorney Investigator Norma Hansen or Deputy District Attorney Gary Gemberling at 805 568-2300.
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Navigating Payment Due to Policyholders for Additional Living Expenses
I read this tip online and thought it might be helpful for homeowners in this situation.
Additional Living Expense (ALE) Coverage is one of the provisions in most policies that is usually short and appears to be a straight forward, especially considering the language used in other sections of the same policy, but securing payment under this provision can be frustrating for insureds. Delay for this type of payment can cause extreme hardship. I have watched policyholders who have lost everything, or even those trying to cope without a kitchen, break down in tears because of the hurdles and roadblocks that stand between them and a payment due for covered additional living expenses. Just this week, I received calls from two insureds on different coasts who are fighting for additional living expenses on covered claims. One homeowner had the rental furniture company coming to repossess the furniture and the other faces potential foreclosure because the check has been "in the mail" for five months.
Use Social Media to help with your Personal Property Inventory
After a disaster many friends and family offer their support and say, "is there anything I can do to help?" Their offers are usually brushed aside with a simple thank you, but take advantage of their generosity! With the advent of social media you have a wealth of friends who can help!
I got this idea a couple of months back when a fire survivor from the Waldo Canyon Fire in Colorado Springs asked if we could update our inventory with holiday items. I typed a few items I could think of then went on Facebook and asked people to help with an inventory for a fire survivor by listing every Halloween item they can think of in their house. People came out of the woodwork to provide their thoughts. In the next few days I asked about Thanksgiving and Christmas too and now our inventory includes these items.
You can do the same thing with other parts of your house. Ask people to list kitchen appliances, or gadgets. Ask friends to take pictures of their junk drawers or inside of their cabinets. Have people with kids your age take pictures of their toy chests or closets. This time of year can be especially hard, but maybe as your friends are unpacking their holiday items they can take pictures of the insides of their boxes and send them to you to help jog your memory of things you had.
Social media can be powerful. Use it in your favor!
(PS: We also just posted a Power Point Presentation regarding personal property that you can access HERE.)