Thomas Franklin Tarbutton, Former Fugitive in $3 Million Ponzi Scam, Faces the Music Today

A fugitive "hard money" lender was extradited back to Orange County from Panama for embezzling nearly $3 million from investors in a Ponzi real estate fraud scheme, according to the Orange County District Attorney's office (OCDA).

Thomas Franklin Tarbutton, the 54-year-old former operator of Villa Capital Inc. and Newport Beach resident, had escaped the law since October 2011, when he fled Orange County for Brazil, the OCDA alleges.

Between 2004 and 2010, Tarbutton's Villa Capital solicited money from private investors for borrowers looking for funds from non-bank lenders. But when it came to nine of these investors, Tarbutton allegedly kept their money without funding the loans as promised, according to the OCDA.

He provided his victims with fraudulent and forged real estate documents from the Orange County Clerk-Recorder Department showing that they were lien holders on property deeds, the OCDA alleges. Tarbutton is then accused of providing the investors false mortgage payments that were actually small portions of their original investments, and when the real estate market collapsed these payments stopped, according to prosecutors.

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Four victims went to the FBI in October 2010, and after a joint investigation with the OCDA, charges were filed a year later against Tarbutton, who was the subject of a $2 million arrest warrant. That's when he fled the country, alleges the OCDA, which claims he settled in Brazil before flying to Panama earlier this month.

He was trying to cross the border from Panama to Costa Rica on Saturday when he was detained by Panamanian authorities on the Orange County warrant. He arrived at Los Angeles International Airport--and into the custody of the FBI and OCDA--on Tuesday. He's to be arraigned today in Santa Ana.

Tarbutton is charged with 29 felony counts, including grand theft and forgery, and sentencing enhancements and allegations for loss over $100,000, property loss over $3.2 million, and aggravated white collar crime.

Currently being held on $2 million bail and an understanding that money used to post bond must come from legal sources, Tarbutton faces 30 years and eight months in state prison--or longer if more charges are produced by an ongoing investigation. Anyone who has information or believes they were a victim of Tarbutton is asked to contact Supervising District Attorney Investigator Eric Akerlind at 714.347.8691.

Email: mcoker@ocweekly.com. Twitter: @MatthewTCoker. Follow OC Weekly on Twitter @ocweekly or on Facebook!


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