By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Orbach read about the Medici family while locked up. Before his release from prison in August 2013, he started the paperwork to create his nonprofit Medici Foundation. "I thought it would be cool to call it that," he explains.
The foundation's mission is to generate wealth not for the haves, but for the have-nots, including those behind bars who truly want to make their lives better once they are sprung. It isn't based in corporate offices, as were Orbach's banks of the past, but his little white rental in Newport Heights. Total staff: 1.
"We're getting some momentum," he says excitedly as we drain our coffees. "I want to raise a good amount of money so we can be self-sustaining and loan funds from [the foundation]. We would be like a bank or university endowment. We would rely on investments, and my investments would be loans."
From his past life in finance, he knows those who run major corporations want to encourage businesses owned by minorities. But the risk, stigma and charges of favoritism make it problematic to directly fund such ventures, which many banks won't even touch. That's where the Medici Foundation would step in, soliciting donations from corporations and wealthy individuals, and then doling out loans to franchisees who locate or expand their businesses in poorer areas.
Orbach concedes the foundation would not be able to place covenants on loans that require the hiring of former prison inmates, but because so many seeking jobs in the targeted communities have arrest records, "the odds are a lot better" that they will be among those hired for new jobs.
"I want to be a benefit to places such as Santa Ana, Oakland and Fresno," he says.
During his former banking days, many of his clients were new-car dealers who operated several lots, sometimes in multiple states. Orbach believes they would be perfect fits for the Medici Foundation. A dealer might find it difficult to open a new store in Santa Ana, he throws out as an example. Bank financing could be difficult to acquire, and an automaker—Orbach uses Ford in his example—would not want to show favoritism to a particular potential dealer by providing start-up costs. But Ford could contribute to Medici, which in turn could loan the dealer funds.
"They are great clients, and they always need money," said Orbach of auto dealers, who he is convinced will be "great for the foundation" along with businesses in the service industry, especially food service.
There is one hurdle: the Internal Revenue Service, which since the Great Recession has been wary of nonprofit banks. Then again, the government realizes private banks are not lending these days, or at least not much. That is among what has been blamed for slow to no job growth, especially in places Orbach would be looking to help.
The Medici Foundation founder is confident he can convince the IRS its loans make business sense. All he says he needs is for four or five corporations or wealthy individuals to get on board, and the foundation's future will be set.
When he has managed to make his pitch to potential investors, Orbach reports, "Everyone loves it. They think it's a great idea."
But Orbach admits that helping his fellow unfortunate man is not the only reason he's gone the nonprofit route. "Seeing where my tax dollars have gone the past 30 years, I really don't want to pay taxes anymore," he says. "The amount of money we're wasting is terrible." He saw it firsthand in the California corrections system, quick to remind me the prison-guard union is among the state's biggest.
Orbach swears he does not miss his former fancy cars, corporate suites and big house, which he lost around the time of his $10 million business implosion.
"I have such a different mindset now," he says. "I like the simplicity. I've slayed my dragons; I don't need to be the next Wells Fargo."
(Parnell, who stuck by Orbach through it all, paused a moment when asked if he's the same person he was when he got in trouble. "I'd say he's more mellow," she finally answers. "He's slowed down a little bit and reassessed things.")
Orbach credits his children, parents and friends for helping keep his priorities straight.
"Friends who found out what happened looked me up [in prison] and wrote me letters, which was nice," he says. "They would say, 'I will not judge you; I know who you are.' I had some great visits. I have really great friends."
He knows he disappointed his family, but, he says, "My kids have been great." Also, "My mom and dad have been unbelievable. They have been my rock. They are incredible, so supportive."
(His parents were in London at press time and could not be reached for comment. Raymond Orbach reportedly said recently of his son to The Orange County Register, "He did some foolish things. We hope he can get back on his feet and contribute to society. I hope people understand he's as honest as can be. He knows it's going to be tough getting his life back.")