Stop running, Of all the deceptions cited by the FTC, Ken was most impressed by Nat’s student program. They could pay for the land in installments, $200 down and $30 bucks a month. She whispered to me, it happens a lot out there in the desert. That's right. I mean, you know, it's like a vacant lot. Absolutely fraudulent. Hah! He’s not shy. For some reason, Steve became obsessed with finding these ruts. Zone it, design it to be less congested, more available, and more welcoming to the population as a whole. KEN DONNEY: But that's, those were his words. Thousands of people bought this dream. The golden handcuffs, an oil worker once told me. EMILY GUERIN: So are you saying that you're not responsible for their, sort of, their behavior or the way they interact with their customers, their clients? They’re engaged in a grand illusion of creating wealth. PAT GORDEN: I love the desert. As we got closer, we saw the road snaking up Galileo Hill. Literally. And I knew Tom now lived in Lancaster, California, in a 5-bedroom house with only four fireplaces, stone floors and a view of the desert. I love the beautiful skies and the open spot and I always wanted to have a house in the middle of a section of land, you know, by myself. They had not ceased or desisted. Cuz she wasn't even talking to me. And with that, he was in. Steve is a meaty guy with small eyes, big ears and divots on the sides of his head from years of wearing his sunglasses too tight. So I asked Tom about that. I want you guys to become rich. He wants to invest in his future. EMILY GUERIN: I’m just telling you the truth. All he needed to do was bring in new customers. EMILY GUERIN: It was pouring, and the windchimes outside his door were banging around in the gusts of wet air. He has a retired cop buzz cut and a gray moustache that you can almost hear as he talks. KEN DONNEY: It's in their DNA. I suppose you could give it away, but you can’t sell it. And then, after a few years, they’d realize it was just a bad investment. The home health nurse who had to choose between paying Silver Saddle and buying chicken, eggs and milk. tragedy that occurred.” He said he wasn’t the kind of person who showed emotion, especially in public. I mean, most people, when they talk about history, they want to share what they know. KATHRYN EFFORD: And I had a friend who was an investor stock guy, type person, okay. And maybe that would be true, if Ken didn’t also imply, with his words, that Nina was partially to blame. Mendelsohn isn’t trying to sell land, and the public isn’t really buying the land. He started drinking more, drinking enough to scare Alex. And I feel like you're, you're a bad person. I got there early, and I sat in the front row of the courtroom as people filed in. EMILY GUERIN: When Ben talked about that text from Marian, it was the closest I got to seeing Angry Internet Ben. EMILY GUERIN: The more Ken learned, the more he respected how. Now I'm locked in. California City sponsors include: There was, as he put it, starting to be a drum beat. His big issue was the gas tax: he didn’t want to pay more to drive his truck. I mean, I just... ALEX MENDELSON: No...but I guess for this. They complained to lawyers. It was, it was a file about, oh, two feet high. If all you see is vacant land with a few roads... you don't get it. James Kim is a podcast producer based in Los Angeles. I mean it is a stunning thing to experience. It was supposed to be a simple story about the California drought. Her Zillow page says, “I believe in honesty and fair dealing, not only with my clients, but with everyone connected in a real estate transaction. And then there were the people who see a future for Silver Saddle and for California City. Did he believe what his salespeople were saying? Ever…. LA is the heart and soul of the new America. EMILY GUERIN: So what should we know about Silver Saddle? JOHN DAVIDSON: It’s just a small town, people know everybody. EMILY GUERIN: Wait, wait, sorry, just to clarify, so would he like…. And the reason that she has no knowledge of that is — I don’t, do you think I'm going to tell somebody I'm getting on an airplane, I'm nine months pregnant? EMILY GUERIN: Like, I don’t know, I guess it just seems interesting that like, the people who would notice the trend, like your office, can't, can't necessarily, like, do something about it. EMILY GUERIN: After hearing all these different versions of Nat, it seemed like he would be whatever you needed him to be — as long as it served him. Cus this is is such a small knit community. How salesmen have sold the fantasy of California City for so long. EMILY GUERIN: He said he was glad I was looking into Silver Saddle. Steve began collecting old ads, articles and documents about Nat Mendelsohn and the town’s early pioneers. And it was just all glorious. EMILY GUERIN: Will you tell us your name first? ANTONIO GARCIA: It's a good location for many of the high, high tech industries. KEN DONNEY: Well, I pled guilty, I accept responsibility. Because, when Kathryn was growing up, after World War Two, cities were done. EMILY GUERIN: How was Ben acting before the tour? EMILY GUERIN: A salesperson told Kathryn Jandeska she’d be able to sell her $4,300 lot and make a profit. Anybody who says the only reason he developed the cities was strictly to make money, didn't know the man. No red, orange, blue or green, to avoid being confused for an inmate or guard. He calls his assistant babe, and he calls himself a dirt peddler, no shame. KATHRYN EFFORD: No. There were just six employees there, mostly the people who took care of the animals: 12 goats, 12 sheep, 5 chickens, 4 horses, 2 ponies, 2 burros, 2 alpacas, 2 peacocks, one llama and 4 cats, including the cat I met, Midnight. EMILY GUERIN: I feel like maybe they’re not as bad as I thought they were. So the DBO investigated, and came to the conclusion that Silver Saddle was selling unlicensed securities. I took it outside and I ate it on the curb as the sun set over the empty parking lot. Dallon was out in the parking lot on his sixth smoke break. Ok, Ok. She had a PhD. It read, in green spray paint, “No Trespassing. First the company, and then the place. I sang “Goodbye Earl” — which is my go-to Dixie Chicks song — at karaoke at the American Legion. Por Favor. EMILY GUERIN: I first talked to him in June 2018. EMILY GUERIN: In June 2018, I went out to California City to meet her with producers James Kim and David Rodriguez. Kings, queens and wars are fought over her. But at the same time, since they're Filipino, I am Filipino, we were speaking Tagalog, And once you're speaking Tagalog, it's like you really trust that person. find bodies out in the desert occasionally, along with trash and stolen cars and other things people want to disappear. stale. You know, he was maybe a little bit like a grand, a playful grandfather. I'm Emily. It was actually a little baffling how welcoming they were, given what we were there to do and what we were about to ask them. So I went to meet one of the people that Ben had brought out to Silver Saddle. Her husband could play golf on the 18-hole golf course, or take a class at the University of California campus Nat claimed was coming. Alright? Like, that there was no cancellation period. Nobody has ever asked me, Emily, what did you do between the time you were 15 and 20. It is incredibly disorienting when you think you know something, but then someone insists that you’re wrong. That you would get your money back? The podcast series "California City," an investigative look at the desert city, debuts Monday through LAist Studios, a Southern California Public Radio podcast … Nobody has ever asked me, Emily, what did you do between the time you were 15 and 20. They’re all leading to nothing. EMILY GUERIN: Alex slowly absorbed bits and pieces of Nat’s life story. KATHRYN EFFORD: I wore a size 12. And, reading through court documents, I could see why. Years had passed without any basic accounting at all. Never cheated anybody out of a dollar that I am aware of, and I gotta tell you, I saw a lot of money come through here. Nat was a pioneer to the people who craved the excitement of the frontier. I mean, they were so young. So Tom Maney’s lawyer had an idea. And they said they’d received 17 complaints since 1984. EMILY GUERIN: Like, like you’re this way for the rest of your life? To a shyster, to a fraudster, to a grifter. So I asked the California Department of Real Estate. Nat had an army of sales people. A way for you to imagine what this place could look like in the future. All that was left was the ranch itself, and all the things that had been left behind, including: two American flags. And, reading through court documents, I could see why. When Ben got home, he was finally able to Google Silver Saddle. Landbanking is where a bunch of people jointly own a huge chunk of land. The people who’d invited them out to California City were their friends. But some of the other props did, and they were beloved. They will someday be six and eight lane freeways. That, and the way Antonio was talking to Tom’s lawyer. Or maybe it’s not a phone call. We’re going to do a raffle. . And when they questioned Nat about it, he publicly called them “cynics and doubting Thomases,” with “scornful” and “negative” attitudes. A minority-majority city driven by power of diversity, inclusion, hard work, impossible dreams and an obsession with the future. Of their 37 file cabinets, their 16 bank accounts. Of all the deceptions cited by the FTC, Ken was most impressed by Nat’s student program. It had high ceilings, french doors, and a massive window in the living room. And then there’s all of these rich dudes from the Philippines, under these big silver letters that say “LAND BARONS.” There’s a huge gong hanging from the ceiling, and whenever anyone closed their deal, their sales agent would get up, walk over, and strike it with a mallet. KEN DONNEY: You hear me Tom? Which is...a fraction of what Silver Saddle claimed it was worth. DALLON COX: I think Nat Mendelsohn was a con artist in a way. People called them the Nader’s Raiders, and Ralph was their fearless leader. EMILY GUERIN: Is this your little timeline of who owned what and when? Like, are we... EMILY GUERIN: Rheana Robles went on the tour with her parents in 2016. Remove everything so all that’s left is roads and street signs. The only thing there isn’t an only of, is churches. You get free shipping and a 60-day risk free trial. Or maybe, Alex was starting to see Nat the way he’d been the whole time. They have this romantic notion that it's going to be something. KATHRYN EFFORD: Oh yeah. No. null . And there's nothing really to do there. JOHN DAVIDSON: — Green Tea garden. When I think about Kathryn and Nat, standing there on the side of that empty road in the Mojave Desert more than a century later, I see Nat make a similar proclamation. Intention, this professional poker player once told me, is really the only difference between a dreamer and a con artist. EMILY GUERIN: Like, they’re very like civilized suburban names and then there’s nothing there. Her previous work includes The Big One, Tell Them, I Am, The Sub Pop Podcast and How's Your Day? I don’t know where to go. For decades, Californians have been obsessed with trying to profit off desert land. Mendelsohn. EMILY GUERIN: Kathryn said this without a hint of irony in her voice, as if the city we have today is some gleaming metropolist. Because once I pulled out my mic, and we started asking her about Silver Saddle, she started backing away from the table and waving her hands in front of her. Nat Mendelsohn, developer of controversial California City, died Sunday. It happened at a diner at the California City airport called Foxy’s Landing. I was a sponge, and he was a strong pair of hands, wringing every last drop out of me. Because I was nervous that Tom would get angry, or yell, or kick us out. It's only like three shots, that's it. And I see it again and again — Ken referring to the murder as “the tragedy that occurred,” or “what happened,” or “a failure.”. So the three of us went out back and we stood in the wet alley beneath the streetlight. EMILY GUERIN: When the Nader’s Raiders went to California City, it was barely a city at all. “By any measure, such pricing was astronomical and not supported by any market metric,” reads the receiver’s report. For years, Ken said he didn’t remember the details. There’s nothing to lose. At 1:30 PM, Judge Joel Woelfeil walked in in his long black robe and we all stood. He said I need to do a real PR shoot at the airport. Silver Saddle’s finances were a mess. It wouldn’t be a place where you can spend a cool spring morning on top of a man made waterfall, hearing thrushes sing. She made us feel at home, and she made sure that we were taken care of. EMILY GUERIN: Well, so I sat down with Tom Maney, and, uh... KEN DONNEY: laughs. She sat so straight it made me conscious of my slouch. Sun Basket is offering $35 off your order when you go right now to SUNBASKET.com/calcity and enter promo code calcity at checkout. They were children, really. So you, in a sense, you could just say well, ok, they were overly optimistic. I’d had more than a dozen calls with him. EMILY GUERIN: Her office was covered with books and there were children’s games everywhere. Stopped contacting Silver Saddle. “This is California City!”. A way for you to imagine what this place could look like in the future. ANTONIO GARCIA: They were not told that they were going to make money overnight, they were told that they will make money as soon as it is developed. : So when you see this over and over... does it like raise any red flags for you? They're mad at him because of what? James bought cigarettes, and I hit up the only coffee shop in California City: the McDonalds. EMILY GUERIN: Does it make you think differently about America? Pretty early on. And one hot dog roaster. It’s the only newspaper based in California City. Ken’s behavior in prison, his anger management and victim’s awareness classes, the psychologist’s assessment that Ken is at low risk of reoffending if he gets out. EMILY GUERIN: Ripoff Report is this website people go to to write scathing complaints when they feel like they got ripped off. She told him they would work together and she’d help him make money. EMILY GUERIN: At 10 am, on Wednesday September 25, 2019, eleven people gathered in the parking lot of an industrial office park next to the airport runway in Burbank, California. It’s one thing to disappoint a salesman. EMILY GUERIN: But is it something that happened to you? There were two men actually. There was another lawyer on the phone. And this is part two: the neighborhood. Of their 37 file cabinets, their 16 bank accounts, or their dozen sheep. Just cotton and alfalfa farms. Period. But much of the land they bought is nearly worthless. You know, I mean, I, that's, that's the way I live my life. EMILY GUERIN: When Ben says low-class person, I don’t think he just means poor. Then, they start re-hashing Ken’s marriage, and the events leaving up to the murder. The development company employed 35 or 40% of the people in town. And so the dream became a scam. REANA ROBLES: Yeah, yeah. That’s next time on the final episode of California City. Real estate is the basis of all wealth. Should I find a lawyer? It's made very, very, very clear that you are coming for a sales presentation. TOM MANEY: I, I don't know if that's true or not. BEN PEREZ: I feel like you know, a sense of relief that it’s finally over. Oh, gee, I would love to get him on the witness stand in federal court. EMILY GUERIN: So he walked back in. A fancy resort like the ones in Palm Springs. What did Ken look like? EMILY GUERIN: What Silver Saddle called land-banking, Don called a dirt deal. We drank what passed for craft beer. A man who got you excited to come be a pioneer, and help him build a city from scratch. California City is unlike anywhere else I have ever been. One jackalope. She was suggesting that the client elect Antonio as the official representative of the people who had bought into Silver Saddle. EMILY GUERIN: I found Don Kuyrkendall because on his company’s website, he listed that he’d been a land salesman for Nat ’s company almost 50 years ago. KATHRYN EFFORD: laughs. The whole scene reminded me of oil paintings of 18th century French queens and their papillons. “This is the right place,” he proclaimed from the back of his wagon. Hah! And I think that’s part of the reason they’ve managed to stay in business for so long. He said he stopped contacting Marian. I told Ken Donney about this, and it really pissed him off. She was like our mother. Yeah. Good job. laughs. Inside, the visitor’s waiting room was filled with women, small children, and hard plastic chairs. Although, he could’ve been deflecting. EMILY GUERIN: I talked to Ken two days after his parole hearing. So why do people like Antonio still believe? LIANHUI ZHOU: My English — not good. TOM MANEY: That's a requirement of you coming to the ranch. It had been on a computer in the Burbank office. And he told me that maybe the fact that I had been digging around had put Silver Saddle on the DBO’s radar. That was up to someone else. They scanned any document that seemed interesting, and labeled what office it had come from. And Ben was no different: he says he didn’t remember initialing all kinds of things in his contract. It was dusk, and we kept creeping ourselves out. He had been working for the assessor for as long as I’ve been alive. The promise to make money is later on in the future. DEBBIE NICASTRO: Buyer's remorse comes in many, you know, whether it be financial, you know, it's, it's an emotional sale. Deep in the Mojave Desert, there is a little town with a big name and a bizarre history: California City. She wondered if it was some sort of prop. We’d obsessed about this interview for days. I mean It would just be any other sunbelt suburb. Would he be more open with me in person? California City is a limited series with 8 episodes. The reason I'm in prison. It was Silver Saddle’s chance to appeal. Many were young couples and hard-working immigrants looking to build a better future. She was taking classes at Northwestern University. But the law didn’t stop Silver Saddle from selling a confusing desert real estate investment to unsuspecting people like Ben Perez. You know, we've all gone through that. Emails. I, I focus on what my sort of constitutional duty is in the state of California, which is to, you know, get properties back in revenue producing status, however I can, whether it’s through a tax sale or just a normal collection of taxes. But I read all four of his parole hearing transcripts, plus a bunch of newspaper articles, which is how I know everything I’m about to tell you. I know that’s what he’s wanted this whole time. EMILY GUERIN: Silver Saddle was getting shut down. KATHRYN EFFORD: Delete them. But that changed around the time his infant grandson died, two days after Easter, in 2002. EMILY GUERIN: There were other things that didn’t add up. EMILY GUERIN: So when you first saw the Yelp reviews, like, how did you feel? What do I want to say, in Kern County, you know, this is, not really a secret. Urban planners were turning their backs on Los Angeles, New York and Chicago. It's been said many times by many different people. He was one of Tom’s former business partners. EMILY GUERIN: A salesperson told Gary Lindsay that California City’s population would double in two years. Like, saying like, oh, if you buy this land now it’s gonna skyrocket later. The Kern County treasurer and tax collector, Jordan Kaufmann? She went to Sacramento to complain to politicians. EMILY GUERIN: He spent the next minute trying to hear me better. EMILY GUERIN: They can eliminate as much of these problems as I’m mentioning. And when someone is dead, like Nat Mendelsohn is, it can be really hard to figure out what his intention really was. There was one last place to look. The last time we talked, it was only because he butt dialed me on Thanksgiving from Catalina Island. ALEX MENDELSOHN: My name is Alex Mendelsohn, and I am the adopted daughter of Nathan Mendelsohn. But you know, at the other side, I actually, just, didn’t want to make him feel so bad because he did invest a lot of his money and he really believed in this endeavor. A guy who spoke sales, not English. I was really curious what had changed, but DBO investigators wouldn’t talk to me. It turned out that vacant, Mojave Desert land 100 miles north of Los Angeles was nearly impossible to sell without deceiving people, He had a heart attack after a round of golf. And we, we, some of the primary documents we translated into their languages. Nat needed the things that make a t. own a town: kids running in the street, cars on the roads, a place to buy groceries. I had never met anyone like them. EMILY GUERIN: I guess I've read, I actually haven't necessarily read that people liked it or didn't like it. The bar is inside a Chinese restaurant called the Green Tea Garden. I don’t think they’d assume we’d go to the administrative office. What if. He is the host, co-reporter, and co-writer of the investigative podcast The Running Man, coming soon from ESPN; his work for ESPN.com will be featured in the book Best American Sports Writing 2020; and a 30-minute documentary he reported with ESPN is a finalist for a 2020 Sports Emmy. California City is a limited series with 8 episodes. We said goodbye to Midnight, and we tried to make sense of what had just happened. EMILY GUERIN: If you don’t count the American Legion and the VFW, California City is a one-bar town. EMILY GUERIN: Except, the Department of Business Oversight does have an indication that Antonio is working with Mr. Maney. You were very nice to me and then all of a sudden you're gonna sue me. She told me like, this is super easy, guys. EMILY GUERIN: Ok, I will. But I would learn later that they too had recorded our conversation, secretly. SOUND OF WIND BLOWING, EMILY TESTING HER MICROPHONE, FOOTSTEPS ON GRAVEL. Um, and nevertheless, and you obviously don't know any of the circumstances of the prelude and so on and so forth of what happened. Kathryn used to love driving out into the desert with a couple of ups in the back of her Cadillac. BEN PEREZ: I don’t know what to do, I been doing research since day one… and, no one, you know, no one can help me. But unlike Kathryn, I got a bad feeling from them eventually. But we say long term. I don’t know… I guess I started to feel like, you know, I guess if you think about it as like a long term investment, I mean, I wouldn’t do that, but, it doesn’t seem like, that ridiculous. EMILY GUERIN: What the hell, sounds fun. We stood with our shoulders nearly touching, in front of a large, abstract painting, and Ken told the guy, over and over, “count to three before you press the shutter,” as if he had never held a camera before. But it wasn’t like that. And given the charges against Silver Saddle, and the dozens of investors I’d talked to, I assumed most people felt this way. It was exhausting. JAMES KIM: Um, let’s meet him at the lobby. EMILY GUERIN: I mean, do you, do you really think that anybody could just snap and kill their wife? I learned that Nat built a clay airstrip, where chartered DC-3s full of potential buyers would land. EMILY GUERIN: I’m going into Erlinda’s Filipino Cuisine and Ice Cream parlor. 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