Attorney David Replogle and three other San Francisco defendants face charges linked to the fraudulent sale of a Palm Springs home whose elderly owner disappeared December 4, police say. Bail is set at $5 million.
Prior to the Palm Springs charges filed earlier this month, Replogle's purported accomplices had separately been charged in a three year string of unrelated frauds and other crimes, with alleged victims often plucked from the Castro District bar scene. Suspects include notorious alleged San Francisco con man Kaushal Niroula, 27, who faced unrelated charges of purportedly stealing $650,000 from victims in San Francisco and Marin County. Also charged were San Francisco art consultant Russell Manning, who allegedly aided Niroula in a previous purported fraud, and Daniel Garcia, 26, a friend of Niroula's facing unrelated fraud and identity theft charges in Las Vegas.
Cliff Lambert, 74, was reported missing Dec. 7 after a friend failed to reach him. On Jan. 5 his Palm Springs home was fraudulently sold for less than $300,000, according to police accounts and real estate records. Lambert's house was also looted of artwork and other valuables, police said. A court has subsequently halted the home's sale, police said.
Madcap details in the case suggested that a group of long-time artless, yet lucky con men may have finally met their due in Palm Springs. After one of the suspects forged documents to facilitate the sale of Lambert's house, he realized that a thumb-print taken by a San Francisco notary public might be used by police. So he returned to the notary's office and unsuccessfully attempted to steal the notary's copy, police said.
The Lambert case bears odd similarities to a 2003 lawsuit, in which Replogle represented a group of boys accusing San Francisco financier Thomas White of sexual abuse. Like the allegations in the Palm Springs case, Replogle became associated with a group of young men who had befriended an older homosexual, and then managed to extract money from him. In the White case, however, Replogle obtained a $7 million settlement through legal means.
Another parallel: One of Replogle's plaintiffs in the sex abuse case -- White's former friend and alleged victim Daniel Garcia -- has been charged with grand theft and forgery in connection with the Palm Springs home sale. Like White, Lambert was an older gay man Garcia had befriended, two of Garcia's friends told SF Weekly.
After conducting a special investigation, a San Francisco judge last year rejected White's claim that Replogle's actions constituted fraud on the court. These included allegedly taking Garcia on a 2002 scouting trip to Mexico to recruit plaintiffs, and paying the boys as they waited to testify alongside Garcia.
Repeated calls to Replogle's law practice have gone unanswered.
The Lambert disappearance and fraud case suggests that law enforcement in San Francisco, Marin County, Las Vegas, Indiana, Hawaii, and possibly elsewhere missed repeated opportunities to apprehend members of what Palm Springs police now allege are a group of dangerous repeat criminals. Niroula first gained fame in 2007, when SF Weekly reported on allegations that he had told the president of New College of California that he was a Nepalese prince, promising a large donation in exchange for course credit he hadn't earned. Niroula and former New College president Martin Hamilton denied the allegations, which eventually led to the college losing its accreditation, and subsequently closing. Niroula was not criminally charged in connection with the New College allegations.
Niroula was subsequently charged with theft in connection with an unrelated alleged scheme, in which he, with the assistance of San Francisco art consultant Russell Manning, convinced a Silicon Valley art collector that he was able to broker the sale of a painting hanging in a Scottish art museum. The painting story was a ruse, and Niroula allegedly made off with $485,000 in payments, spending $250,000 of the money on a Las Vegas gambling spree, according to police. Niroula had been negotiating a possible plea settlement that would involve restitution payments to his alleged victim in the San Francisco art fraud case, when he was charged in Marin County with stealing $250,000 worth of jewlery, purportedly to pay his impending San Francisco court debt.
In August, the Marin County district attorney's office requested that Niroula's bail be set at $2 million, given his growing rap sheet. The judge reduced the bail to $150,000. Within a little more than three months, Niroula was allegedly involved in an elaborate Palm Springs fraud that resulted in charges that he committed forgery, burglary, and four counts of grand theft.
Next: Danny Garcia's alleged Las Vegas caper, and David Replogle's unusual San Francisco legal reputation.