A former real estate developer faces charges of racketeering for her alleged activities related to a small subdivision on the Helman Springs property on Otis Street in Ashland, police said.
Devian Aguirre, 56, of Ashland, was arrested in late February after a yearlong joint investigation by the Ashland Police Department and the Oregon Division of Finance and Corporate Securities, said APD Detective Sgt. Tighe O'Meara.
Between September 2005 and March 2007, Aguirre, former owner of Sage Development LLC, obtained about $1.6 million from eight investors in Jackson County and Northern California for the purpose of building a 17-home development on the former site of the Helman Baths, said Jackson County Deputy District Attorney Jeremy Markiewicz.
Aguirre initially struggled to get the project approved by the Ashland City Council. After a 17-month process, she was eventually given the go-ahead to build the homes in July 2007, but never started construction.
Without notifying the investors, Aguirre used the 4.3-acre Otis Street property as collateral for a loan from a California lender, Lighthouse Capital Funding Inc., according to police and county records. Lighthouse foreclosed on the land in November 2010 after Aguirre defaulted on the loan, records show.
After learning about the foreclosure, some of the original investors went to police, O'Meara said.
Michael Verlander, of Walnut Creek, Calif., said his family trust invested about $1 million in the Helman Springs project in 2006, and hasn't seen any return.
"She gave everybody confidence that they were going to have a reasonable return on their investments," said Verlander. "She lied to us for years about the money being there."
Verlander filed a civil lawsuit against Aguirre for the $1 million in November 2010, after Sage Development filed bankruptcy in 2009. That lawsuit is ongoing.
"It took me 30 years to make $1 million, and she blew it inside of three. Now, you tell me how that's fair," said Verlander.
Investors Bonnie and John Rinaldi of Ashland also sued Aguirre, Sage Development and Helman Springs LLC, which Aguirre created to fund the development of the Helman Springs property, records show.
The Rinaldis, who invested $350,000 in the project, won their lawsuit against Aguirre. The Jackson County Circuit Court ordered Aguirre to pay back that amount as she earns the money to do so. The Rinaldis declined to comment for this story.
Aguirre, who was contacted Monday, also declined to comment.
The Jackson County District Attorney's Office filed an indictment against Aguirre on Feb. 23, and a warrant for her arrest was issued the same day.
Aguirre was arrested Feb. 27 by police at her home on the 2300 block of Ashland Street and lodged in Jackson County Jail.
Aguirre pleaded not guilty to both counts of racketeering in Jackson County Circuit Court on Feb. 28 and bailed out of jail that day after her bail was reduced to $50,000, records show. Racketeering is a class A felony.
A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for March 12.
The Helman Springs property now belongs to Magnolia Investment LLC, owned by Gil Livni of Ashland, county property records show. It is being developed on a built-to-order arrangement.
"The project was very viable," said Verlander. "She (Aguirre) just chose to take the money and use it on other projects."
Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-499-1470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.