By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
In a Newport Beach café not far from the little white house he rents in Newport Heights, Thomas "Randy" Orbach talks freely about a "crazy" time in his life.
Online readers of the Weekly may know something about it. Orbach, a former investment banker, is the subject of a March 3, 2010, Navel Gazing blog post titled "Ex-Bush Official's Son Headed to Prison for ocregister.com Harassment." The story describes how Orbach, the son of a former UC Riverside chancellor and George W. Bush administration Department of Energy director, was sentenced to five years in state prison for repeatedly harassing and physically assaulting his ex-girlfriend. A judge later suspended the sentence and allowed Orbach to spend his days working as a financial adviser in Laguna Niguel and a year's worth of nights in the private Seal Beach city jail.
But after leaving jail, Orbach was busted for violating parole by contacting the woman through The Orange County Register's online real-estate listings, which included a "Send to a Friend" function that allowed a user to create an email address, enter a message for someone who might be interested in a particular property, and then send the listing to that person. Orbach used it to send his ex personal messages that devolved from apologetic and mournful to insulting and vulgar. Orbach also met with his ex-girlfriend in person. All of it was enough to break his probation and send him to state prison for the full five-year stretch, although he got a year off for the time already served in Seal Beach.
Now paddling a piece of breakfast pastry on his plate, the 51-year-old father of two who at one time led a $10 million company he founded only to see it implode, makes it clear he did the things that he was accused of doing and he deserved to go to prison.
But Orbach swears he's not the man he was back then.
"When it came to guys in prison, I used to think, 'Fuck 'em; lock 'em up and throw away the key,'" he says, not long after having described his latest venture, which came to him while he sat in prison.
Called the Medici Foundation, the nonprofit will serve as a bank that converts charitable contributions into job opportunities in inner cities and places such as Santa Ana, Orbach explains. The idea is to ultimately help some of those he served alongside in the California corrections system. "We can make a lot of difference in people's lives," he says.
He knows—his is one of them.
* * *
Orbach was born in Boston, where his physicist father Raymond Orbach had been teaching at MIT. Randy was just a year old when his parents and sister moved to Pacific Palisades so they would be closer to Los Angeles-born Raymond's new job as a professor at UCLA.
The younger Orbach graduated from Pacific Palisades High School and attended UCLA, where his father rose to become the provost and later the chancellor at UC Riverside, whose science library would be named in his honor. The elder Orbach spent eight years of the Bush administration overseeing the Department of Energy. When the Energy Policy Act of 2005 created the position of Under Secretary for Science, George W. Bush nominated Ray as the country's first; he served in that role from 2006 to '09. He's now a professor at the University of Texas at Austin.
Randy was different. While the father had no interest in business, the son had none in science. Nor did the younger Orbach like LA much, moving to Orange County in the mid-1980s after he'd "had enough." He was hired at a local office of Shearson-Lehman but despised working with mortgages. So he walked in cold to Drexel Burnham Lambert and got hired "on the spot."
He married in 1987, and the union produced two children before ending in divorce. Dylan, 19, now lives in the Lake Tahoe area, and Nicole, 24, is a hair stylist in Newport Beach.
Orbach stayed at Drexel Burnham Lambert for four years before moving on to the Orange County offices of Union Bank, Mellon Bank and Merrill Lynch. In 1998, he started his own "boutique bank," with clients who, Orbach says, were so wealthy they did not need to borrow money, the mechanism that is the lifeblood of banks. Instead, he found himself simply managing wealth, and those he started the bank with were using it as a "country club hangout." So Orbach sold his interest in 2000. "I saw the writing on the wall; it was never going to grow," he says. "It's kind of sad because we started from scratch. It was a great learning experience."
He founded TRO Advisors Inc. in 2002, and the name eventually evolved to Pacific Financial Advisors Inc., the Laguna Niguel company he was allowed to go back to work at while serving his original jail sentence in Seal Beach. By then, he'd also served as vice president of the Santa Ana College Foundation and was a member of the Rancho Santiago College District Foundation. And while working on the trust-fund side at Merrill Lynch, he had overseen 20 different charitable funds and family foundations at once.