Gearhart indicted, facing 300 years in federal prison

July 5, 2012

Kelly Gearhart and James Hurst Miller

Update: Under the original story.

Onetime Atascadero “Person of the Year” and prominent North County land developer Kelly Gearhart has been indicted by a federal grand jury and faces 16 charges of mail fraud, wire fraud, and money laundering. Investigators are calling it a “multi-million-dollar case.”

Assistant United States Attorney Stephen I. Goorvitch of the Major Frauds Section said in a statement that the charges revolve around accusations of Gearhart’s “bilking of investors who put money into Central Coast real estate projects – money that was siphoned off for other purposes, including maintaining a lavish lifestyle.” If convicted, Gearhart could face as much as 300 years in federal prison.

Gearhart’s questionable financial dealings were brought to light in a lengthy, ongoing series of articles by CalCoastNews starting in 2008. The developer threatened to sue the news website following the publishing of articles outlining his questionable investment activities in one particular project, the Vista del Hombre golf and business park located on the outskirts of Paso Robles. That lawsuit never materialized, although the website received letters from Gearhart’s attorneys, as well as Gearhart’s personal denial and threats voiced on Dave Congalton’s Home Town radio show on KVEC920.

Gearhart, 50, currently resides in Wadsworth, Ohio. He has not been arrested, federal agents said.

Investments in specific real estate development projects were fraudulently solicited by Gearhart, promising development but never delivering. He failed to disclose “a number of things,” said Goorvitch, “specifically that he was using victims’ funds to pay for his and his wife’s lavish living expenses, that he was using their money to develop different real estate projects than those intended by the victims, and that he was using victims’ money to make interest payments to other investors.”

He also sold various properties to numerous victims, the indictment alleges, without owning clear title to the properties.

Gearhart’s primary hard money lender, James Hurst Miller, already is under indictment on related charges.

UPDATE: Gearhart is slated to be arraigned in federal court in Los Angeles on August 13.

The government is alleging that Gearhart used victims’ funds intended for specific real estate projects to develop different projects. He also allegedly used those same funds to make interest to other investors in the real estate projects.

As part of his scheme to defraud, Gearhart also “concealed his material misrepresentations and omissions from victims, and lulled… victims into maintaining their loans” with Gearhart, according to the indictment.

Mail fraud allegations stem from a variety of checks mailed during 2007-08 from Hurst Financial Corp. (HFC), Miller’s company, to a group of individuals identified in the indictment only by their initials.

He also wired money with intent to defraud, federal authorities allege. On Oct. 5, 2007, he electronically wired $1.5 million from one local bank account to another in three separate communications. He followed that with a transfer of $1 million on Aug. 21, 2007. all of those funds went into City National Bank in San Luis Obispo.

One of the two money laundering charges derives from a payment of $25,600 to Pe-Ji-Ho-La, LLC.

Marion Warner, Gearhart’s common-law stepmother of 35 years, told CalCoastNews that Gearhart had boasted of his master plan for financial freedom. He planned to build his empire on borrowed money stashing funds, properties and jewels until the perfect time to file bankruptcy.

A group called PMA, now Pe-Ji-Ho-Ta, entered into an agreement with the the Salinan Indian Nation. Gearhart and his partners projected the agreement would result in earnings of approximately $600 million in profits over the next 50 years, according to Pe-Ji-Ho-Ta records.

Amidst assurances that then President George W. Bush was poised to sign off on the first step towards the development of an Indian owned casino in Paso Robles, the Salinan Indian Tribal Council entered into an agreement with PMA.

Gearhart was one of the members of PMA, along with attorney Grigger Jones, Chris Molina and Dan Phillips, to signed a contract with the tribe located in San Luis Obispo and Monterey counties in order to speed the tribe’s application for federal recognition – all with the goal of eventually building a large Indian gambling casino on the northeast side of Paso Robles.

Molina, one of four men who told the tribe they could secure federal recognition, boasted his group had a politician poised to fast-track their plans. Without a member of Congress or a U.S. president pushing for approval, the procedures required to procure federal recognition for an Indian tribe usually takes about 20 years, according to tribal council meeting minutes.

Although no federal official was publicly linked to the project, Molina, who is also a tribal member, used former President Bush’s name in promoting the project before Bush left office.

In March 2003, Molina introduced attorneys Tom Tellefsen and Jerry Levine to the tribal council as two men who could shorten the timeline for federal recognition from 20 or more years to a few months because of their ties to the Bush administration.

Tellefsen and Meg Whitman were former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney’s national finance co-chairs during his 2008 presidential run. Levine is a business and litigation attorney with the Los Angeles based Holland & Knight law firm.

“Mr. Tom Tellefsen is exactly who he says he is, and is in the position to compress the timeline for completion of the task,” tribal confidential documents say. “The law firm that has been chosen for us is not only one of the largest in the world, but it is politically aligned with the current administration. Phil Hogan was Jerry Levine’s partner until the appointment to the National Indian Gaming Commission by President Bush; Tom Tellefson is a close friend of George W. Bush.”

Molina assured the tribal council that Levine was there to represent the tribe and not PMA, even though PMA would cover all attorney fees, according to the minutes of a March, 2003 tribal council meeting. It was an assurance the tribal leaders said he failed to follow through on.

In October 2003, PMA changed its name to Pe-Ji-Ho-Ta Consultants LLC and had Joe Diehl of the San Luis Obispo law firm of Diehl and Rodewald file a lawsuit against the Salinan Tribe, claiming fraud, breach of contract, and intentional misrepresentation for canceling their agreement to give Gearhart, Molina, Jones and Phillips a cut of future casino revenue in exchange for helping the tribe receiving federally recognized. The suit asked the tribe to return $20,000 in expenses as well as $2.5 million for lost revenue to Pe-Ji-Ho-Ta.

The tribe later agreed to reenter into an agreement with Pe-Ji-Ho-Ta Consultants LLC.

Pe-Ji-Ho-Ta and the Salinan Tribe’s plans call for building a 250,000-square-foot gaming casino, homes for about 400 people, a school, a hospital and a “green” energy plant on 2,500 areas they plan to purchase in either North San Luis Obispo County or South Monterey Counts, according to their business plan.

Because of Gearhart’s bankruptcy and other problems with authorities, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court now owns Gearhart’s 25-percent share in Pe-Ji-Ho-Ta’s portion of future casino profits.

This article will be updated as more information becomes available.


156 Comments

  1. Jorge Estrada says:

    Remember that every man is innocent until proven guilty. As for the swift justice, is it being managed by his buddies? I suspect that when the courthouse gets tented, it wont be for termites. Thnx CCN

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

    • Nancimeek says:

      Attorney Robert Grigger Jones, Kelly Gearhart’s attorney and by his own admission, partner with Gearhart on several real estate transactions as well as the Pe Ji Ho Ta Indian Casino was also voted “Man of the Year” the following year. Also I was told Jay Miller placed 10 properties into Robert Jones’ name in one day when he perhaps realized the Hurst Financial ship was sinking. Any comments?

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 13 Thumb down 1

    • Nancimeek says:

      The spotlight is not only on Gearhart Miller and other’s involved, it is also on the SLO DA’s office who were slow to act regarding the police complaint and investigation into Grigger Jone’s blatant and admitted fraud and forgery. Those involved in the investigation at all levels are under the microscope now.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  2. Wooly Bugger says:

    Dave C. was going to tell his side of the story yesterday at 5:05. I forgot to tune in. Did anyone hear what he had to say?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    • JackR says:

      I was wondering the same thing.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

      • Cindy says:

        I listened to the entire show. The issue was never raised and when a caller addressed the item that Dave posted here at CCN (in reference to Dan Blackburns informative post), Dave Congalton said that they weren’t going there and asked the caller if he had anything else to discuss.

        Every single caller praised Karen and CCN while often knocking the Tribune and the NT so it was probably wise that Dave avoided any discussion about how he gave the Tribune credit that he knew belonged to CCN.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  3. Crusader says:

    Are you really going to spend air time trying to sell yet another version of the swap gas stratagem? Really?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 3

  4. Nancimeek says:

    The lawsuit filed by Chris Molina with assist by Attorney Joe Diehl in October of 2003 can only be construed as a threatening maneuver to place pressure on the Salinan Indians to not back out. Curiously this is the same time my father was dying and Attorney Jones we allege took steps to take over his estate, going so far as to create a Trust Certification based on the 1992 trust (which was cancelled out by our father’s 1996 trust) short story long he used that Trust Certification to cash out our father’s stocks for $646,000 the exact amount each of the four partners needed to buy in to the casino. http://imokproductions.com/home Go to this site and read the letter scheduled to be read on the Senate floor which mentions all the players with the Pe Ji Ho Ta Casino once the Indian casino bill is out of committee. I have heard from several people who have been threatened with lawsuits along the way if they made waves with respect to Gearhart and others.

    Threatening with a lawsuit? C’mon Atascadero? You are better than that. Don’t let these thugs intimidate you.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 21 Thumb down 3

  5. Crusader says:

    This Gearhart soap opera is providing a great example of how people and institutions struggle with change and a shift in power, influence and advertising dollars.

    Like it or not, CCN is building an impressive resume of stories which they doggedly worked to bring to fruition. That’s not sitting well with the established local media as they watch their power, influence and advertising dollars continue to atrophy.

    The established local media has long been limited to reporting on what their advertisers (and wine-tasting groups) will allow. They don’t how to deal with leaner, faster, sharper and simply more honest upstarts like CCN and it shows.

    We are treated to fables of swamp gas, ludicrous charges of misogyny and personal attacks on CCN staff. Even Congalton is now resorting to the swap gas stratagem (SGS.) A word to the established media: Start living up to your societal responsibilities as journalists or the market will eliminate you, no matter how well-honed your SGS attempts become.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 44 Thumb down 1

    • zaphod says:

      When you are throwing dirt you are losing ground

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 1

    • blondehare says:

      Crusader you are so right. I agree totally in what you just wrote. I will talk to a neighbors on a topic reported by CCN.. and they will try to blast me saying check out who owns CCN etc etc.. This is what news is suppose to be.. Keller and Williams supports the Tribune and there will be news on them soon enough.. I support Karen and CCN and hope they keep up the great work. They keep them honest. We need to let businesses and corrupt people know they will be exposed ,if they keep doing the same old crap.. hurting people. I have a few stories I know in this area.. They need to be exposed. Or history repeacts itself.. The Sandusky’s of the world will keep getting away..Good post.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 12 Thumb down 0

      • cheseburger says:

        “I have a few stories I know in this area.. They need to be exposed.”

        Blondehare, don’t wait spill the beans NOW!

        People knew Gearhart was dirty and didn’t give anyone a clue, months before he took away all, from those who had little or nothing.

        Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Jorge Estrada says:

    Very interesting media wash but Calcoast News did what The Tribune would not do and that was to tell the truth, exposing the questionable corruption within our community.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 59 Thumb down 2

    • Mr. Holly says:

      I think it’s more like the Tribune can’t do. The Tribune obviously does not have any reporters who could come close to the investigative qualities of CalCoast News. Then, even if they did, they would never go to the extent of CalCoast News to report the truth of what is happening in our county.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 1

    • cheseburger says:

      59 green and on the current article you are making a fool of yourself with nothing but red, could you be a mole? Working in fact for Gearhartless???????????????????????????????????????

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  7. SanSimeonSam says:

    OK who and how the story is conveyed to the public is of some interest. Calcoast deserves the credit for the investigative reporting. That being said, the thing that really concerns me is the line ” Gearhart has not yet been arrested. Hello Flight risk. If i were him, i would already be in Argentina with my millions.

    Well-loved. Like or Dislike: Thumb up 50 Thumb down 1

    • Al says:

      I agree about the flight risk! Argentina has a extradition treaty with the USA however and already shipped back some ponzi type crooks.

      Like or Dislike: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

Comments are closed.