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Atop one of the tallest points in Tiburon stands a house that could be dubbed Hearst Castle North. Slender stone columns guard the front door of the 14,000-square-foot mansion, its tawny exterior accented by white-frame windows that look upon the Golden Gate Bridge to the west and San Pablo Bay to the east. A swimming pool, tennis court, and two-story guest house fill out the two-acre grounds, garnished with hanging flower gardens and topiary pine trees, their branches swirled like soft-serve ice cream.
The street address identifies the property as 185 Gilmartin Dr. But in what it represents, the estate lies at the intersection of affluence and decadence, the nexus where Rebecca and Terry Solomon feted the swells of the North Bay.
In June 2004, the couple threw the kind of lavish gala common to Jay Gatsby, complete with valet parking, catering tents, and five-piece orchestra. Guests wandered the marble floors of the Mediterranean-style chateau, sipping wine culled from the collection of 3,000 bottles in the cellar. Some enjoyed the indoor spa, relaxing in the Jacuzzi and sauna, while others lounged on the back terrace, soaking up shimmering ocean views.
The Solomons likely spent $25,000 or more to flaunt their wealth that summer afternoon. Yet as ulterior motives drove Gatsby to play the gracious host, their generosity served another purpose beyond plying the neighbors with lamb cutlets. The couple wanted to cast an image of stable prosperity, to reaffirm their standing among Tiburon's elite. For within days, the Solomons would seek to capitalize on the post-party bonhomie, inviting a succession of guests back to the house to discuss a business proposal.
One of those who returned was William Osenton. A semi-retired mortgage broker, he had chatted with the couple at social gatherings since first meeting them a year earlier. As Osenton later related to the FBI, Rebecca Solomon began her pitch by explaining that she and Terry ran an international jewelry brokerage out of their home. Her current venture, she went on, involved the sale of a 138-carat diamond for $68 million. Moving the gem from the seller to a buyer in Japan would require $5 million to cover security and delivery costs.
Solomon asked Osenton to loan her $2 million, vowing to reimburse him in 30 days with 10 percent interest. She offered as collateral two diamond rings that a jeweler had appraised for her at $3 million. Osenton pledged to invest $1.5 million and mentioned that his friend Katherine Vogelheim, a Tiburon marketing consultant, might chip in the difference.
Before parting with his money, court records show, Osenton learned from a second jeweler that Solomon's rings were worth only $328,000. Likewise, a reappraisal of two pieces of jewelry provided to Vogelheim as collateral placed their value at $103,000, or $1.4 million short of what Solomon claimed. But perhaps believing that any couple able to afford $20,000 in monthly house rent must operate a legitimate company, Osenton and Vogelheim were undeterred. They wired a combined $2 million to the Solomons.
A week later, crowing that she had closed the diamond sale, Rebecca told the pair they would receive an extra $500,000 apiece as a gesture of her gratitude. By the next month, however, Solomon's promissory notes had matured without her refunding the loans, and over the next year, federal authorities allege, she floated endless excuses for failing to pay back the money.
In the meantime, she and Terry wallowed in gilded excess, as revealed by court records and sources familiar with the Solomons. They lodged in opulence at the Four Seasons during frequent trips to Tokyo and bought a Mercedes Maybach, an "ultra-luxury" sedan that costs $300,000. Another $300,000 went to the Los Angeles event planner who arranged a wedding party for one of Rebecca's three adult daughters. The couple also paid rent for her daughters, who lived together in a suite at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel, piling up monthly tabs as high as $150,000.
The Solomons subsidized their lifestyle with more than the $2 million they received from Osenton and Vogelheim, according to a federal indictment filed in December charging them with fraud and money laundering. Authorities accuse them of fleecing almost $20 million from a clutch of Bay Area investors through bogus diamond deals and a scheme that promised 20 percent returns on investments in a Chinese telecom firm. During a two-year span, from the North Bay to Silicon Valley, the couple exploited tech executives, physicians, lawyers, and other monied types whom, it appears, the Solomons marked as something else: suckers.
In wooing and schmoozing investors, Terry, 58, acted the sidekick to his 49-year-old wife, who supplied the couple's brains and financial brawn. Short and raven-haired, by turns charming and cunning, Rebecca beguiled them with a personal narrative as grandiose as her home. Boasting that she owned a large stake in a $1.2 billion family trust in her native Philippines, she described her late father as a general who served under former President Ferdinand Marcos. Her ex-husband belonged to Japanese royalty, she claimed, and still paid her a bimonthly "allowance" of almost $500,000. She dropped the names of minor celebrities, including former Raiders receiver Willie Gault and actress Irene Ng, intimating that she mingled with the glitterati.
For authorities, the veracity of her stories remains murky, much like the couple's whereabouts. Days before federal agents raided their home last spring, the Solomons left the country, and U.S. officials consider them fugitives. Angry investors brand them something else: grifters.