Atascadero’s C.R. Lara loses $750,000 judgment
March 30, 2009
By DANIEL BLACKBURN
A trusted financial advisor alleged to have systematically looted a client’s account over a four-year period has been ordered to pay more than $750,000 to Liz Berman, owner of an Atascadero mobile home park. The February order against Cuauhtemoc Roa (C.R.) Lara includes $100,000 in punitive damages.
Lara, an erstwhile San Luis Obispo County stockbroker, controlled investments for the Liz Berman Family Trust for more than two decades. Lara also managed one of that trust’s major assets, the Mustang Village Mobile Home Park in Atascadero, purchased in 2004 at his behest.
In court papers seeking damages, Berman listed allegations against Lara including breach of fiduciary duty; concealment; breach of contract; fraud and deceit; and conversion.
Berman sued Lara in July 2008 after learning that Lara invested $405,435 in high-risk securities with Ameritrade and lost $223,506 in less than a year, according to sworn court affidavits. Lara also diverted $387,780 in rents from the mobile home park, Berman testified, and “repaid” $30,000 in personal loans from the Berman trust with the trust’s own money.
Lara, 61, was not in court for the judgment and could not be reached for comment for this article.
“I won all claims. That’s because Lara’s a criminal,” said Berman following the judgment. “We trusted him, and he was lying, lying all the time. This man destroyed us.”
In her successful claim, Berman called Lara’s actions “willful, wanton, malicious, and oppressive, undertaken with the intent to defraud.”
Lara failed to inform Berman, she said, that when he left Dean Witter Reynolds Inc. of San Luis Obispo to form his own company, he no longer was licensed to sell stocks or securities.
In 2004, Berman said Lara convinced her to purchase the Mustang Village property on Rocky Canyon Road, which included a permanent residence and, eventually, five mobile homes for rent.
Lara, as manager, handled the mobile park finances, but failed to pay taxes and other fees related to its operation. He persuaded Berman to stay away from Mustang Village, she said, “because it would be unsafe for me to ever be at the park.”
“He told me that the people who rented there would find out where I lived and make life miserable for me,” she told CalCoastNews this week. “I later found out that Lara told all of the tenants that he was the Village owner.” Lara required several tenants to pay in cash, and others paid by checks made out to Lara, said Berman.
“He just took everything he could take,” Berman added. “And he always seemed to have a ready explanation for [questionable] transactions.”
Berman learned in February last year that Lara had been allowing a female acquaintance to live rent-free in the mobile home park’s permanent residence for several years – after telling Berman that a family of four was renting it for $1,600 a month. He also was running several private business operations from the Mustang Village office without permission, according to court papers.
Berman said she is “disappointed and surprised that the district attorney hasn’t shown the slightest interest in this case. They told us it was just a civil case.”
Attorney Michael Pick of San Luis Obispo, who represented Berman in the latter part of her civil action, said efforts are under way to recover the judgment from Lara. Lara claimed under deposition that he was “poor and unemployed.” The judgment was won by attorney Dennis Balsamo of San Luis Obispo.