'West Coast Donald Trump' pleads guilty

January 25, 2012 6:21:44 PM PST
An East Bay man has pleaded guilty to charges involving a multi-million dollar real estate scheme.

Authorities have made a federal case out of it. It is a story the ABC7 news I-Team first broke two and a half years ago. This is a step for investors, but they are still feeling the impact with their savings gone and their credit ruined.

Jim McConville used to call himself "The West Coast Donald Trump" but on Wednesday, he pleaded guilty in Oakland federal court to "conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud" and "money laundering" in a massive real estate scheme involving investors across the state.

"What he admits to doing is at the height of this market, getting involved in some large condominium projects. He, unfortunately, surrounded himself with the wrong people, involved himself with the wrong people, and made some poor choices, and that's what he admitted to and acted responsibility for today," his lawyer Sara Rief says.

As part of the plea deal, McConville faces 6.5 to 9 years in prison.

"He deserves every right to be behind bars for the rest of his life," says investor Charlene Lujan. "They were talking about numbers and I sure hope he doesn't see the light of day."

McConville set up "straw sales." He paid investors $10,000 to use their names and good credit to take out loans to buy undervalued condos. He used other investors' money to buy properties, promising to split the profits. But court documents show he took large amounts of cash out of the deals and defaulted on the loans, leaving the investors' credit in ruins.

"My credit, unfortunately, I will be paying that for years and be in a payment program, as well as everybody else," Luhan says.

This especially stings because of the extravagant lifestyle McConville led with investors' money. He built an 80-acre estate in the Castro Valley hills where, according to court documents, he kept $6 million worth of antiques, art and jewelry, and a classic car collection valued at $1.5 million. He even bankrolled a horror movie. He appeared in a trailer for the film with his son and daughter.

As part of the plea deal, they will not face criminal charges, nor will McConville's wife. He has also agreed to pay restitution to the investors, but there is little chance they will see much money from him.

"He has nothing at this point," Rief says. "He lost everything along with everyone else. So, it's going to be taking blood out of a turnip, or whatever that line is. He will do whatever is obviously obligated, but I'm sure it's going to be small monthly payments for the rest of his life."

Attorneys for investors will now go after Citibank and Stewart Title, which had employees convicted in this same case for helping McConville.


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