Take the Money and Run

Rebecca and Terry Solomon face charges of fleecing almost $20 million from investors, but not even the feds know where the couple is hiding.

From summer 2005 through early last year, the couple hosted small groups at South Bay restaurants and their home in Tiburon to talk about New Century International Leasing. A legitimate firm in China, NCIL owns leasing rights to that country's rapidly growing — and enormously lucrative — cellular-phone network.

The dinners drew upper-crust crowds, with most of those in attendance tipped off to the meetings by friends whose previous investments with the Solomons paid off. Typically dressed in a black Vera Wang gown, bedecked in diamond jewelry worth more than $1 million, Rebecca wowed investors by promising 20 percent profits inside of 60 days. The words resonated no matter her accented English and sometimes garbled syntax.

She bolstered her credibility with a PowerPoint presentation heavy on references to NCIL executives and venerated global financial institutions, among them Credit Suisse and Leed Securities of Amsterdam. Solomon mentioned the endorsement of Irene Ng, an occasional actress best known for starring in The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo on Nickelodeon, who at the time worked for Merrill Lynch as a banker. For good measure, on the screen flashed a photo of the Solomons with Willie Gault, the former Raiders and Chicago Bears wideout, posing at a black-tie event. (A spokesman for Gault said the ex-NFLer has no memory of meeting the Solomons.)

The Solomons wallowed in gilded excess, renting a Tiburon mansion for $20,000 a month.
The Solomons wallowed in gilded excess, renting a Tiburon mansion for $20,000 a month.
Some saw Terry as his wife's "lapdog."
Some saw Terry as his wife's "lapdog."

Audiences bit hard. Over eight months, investors wired some $15 million to the Solomons. Then the wait began.

As the 60-day deadline passed, anxiety climbed. During the next few months, the Solomons and a cluster of go-betweens representing them sought to appease investors with soothing e-mails, assuring them that the couple simply needed to solve a few payment snafus. But by the time the Solomons left the country in April last year, nothing could tart up the ugly numbers. In all, court documents suggest, investors received about $650,000.

"In retrospect, we look pretty stupid," says an investor who lost more than $100,000. One of at least two dozen investors who has sued the Solomons for fraud, he concedes the couple's showy affluence hypnotized them. "I'm a victim of being duped, but I'm also a victim of being stupid. We let our guard down."

South Bay investors tipped off authorities to the Solomons' suspect business dealings in fall 2005. The investigation crescendoed with an FBI raid on the couple's house last April, adding to the colorful history of the $8 million mansion.

Two decades ago, after a prolonged legal fight that reached the U.S. Supreme Court, the original property owner won the right to develop the land. In the mid-1990s, Ukrainian entrepreneur Peter Kiritchenko bought the lot and built the chateau he reportedly christened Shangri-la; federal agents arrested him there on fraud charges in 1999. He later testified for the prosecution in the high-profile corruption trial of his one-time business partner, Pavel Lazarenko, Ukraine's disgraced former prime minister.

Unlike Kiritchenko, however, the Solomons were away when the feds came knocking. The couple had heard of the ongoing probe, court records indicate, but authorities stop short of accusing them of fleeing the country. "We think it was a matter of coincidence that they were traveling abroad when the search warrant was served," an FBI spokesman says. U.S. officials have notified Interpol about the couple's fugitive status.

As for where the Solomons may be hiding, Japan and China rank as the top possibilities, based on their business ties to each nation. If true, forcing their return could prove impossible, given the dim view both countries take of U.S. extradition efforts.

Sausalito attorney Charles Barron, who has represented the Solomons in past civil matters, declined to comment beyond declaring that "they are innocent and ultimately the evidence will prove that fact."

Yet if the Solomons have seen their last California sunset, the circumstances of their departure seem somehow fitting. Bob Lorsch, a marketing guru who lives in L.A., met Rebecca a few years ago through her interest in Wildlife Way Station, a nonprofit animal sanctuary in Southern California that he helps run. She invited him to her house in Tiburon on occasion, and he introduced her to potential business investors.

Solomon pledged $500,000 to the Way Station in 2004, vaulting her to guest-of-honor status with actress Sharon Stone and conservationist Richard Leakey at the group's annual fundraising dinner that year. "She conducted a lifestyle that would lead anyone to believe she was a substantial, credible investor," Lorsch says. "She projected an image of great success and wealth, and she wanted to be seen as a philanthropist."

She never made good on the pledge.

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