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Wednesday, January 16 , 2019, 3:21 am | Overcast 54º


Bill Macfadyen: Montecito Kidnapping Claim Turns Out to be a Transatlantic Hostage Faking

NoozWeek’s Top 5 pulls out the old Highway 101 multivehicle wreck, engineers a search on a call center, blocks Channel Drive, and flexes Gold’s Gym muscle

Not your typical dispatch call. Click to view larger
Not your typical dispatch call. (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

It’s not the craziest thing in the world, but Noozhawk had 98,621 readers this past week, according to our Google Analytics.

I’ve been busting it to put together my take on your top five stories:

1. Deputies Converge on Montecito Residence for Kidnapping Scam​

An apparent kidnapping scam had a Montecito husband and his wife — as well as authorities on two continents — scrambling to try to figure out what was going on.

What it was was bizarre.

According to the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Department, a woman visiting family in France received a call purporting to be from her husband’s cell phone back in California. The caller claimed her husband and two children had been kidnapped and were being held ransom.

The wife contacted the U.S. Embassy in Paris, and a diplomat contacted SBSD.

On the afternoon of Oct. 1, deputies and the SWAT unit were dispatched to the family’s home in the 1900 block of Tollis Avenue, north of East Valley Road between Buena Vista and Lilac drives.

The squad failed to find any trace of the husband, but that’s because he had received a similar call — about his wife — and had rushed off to an ATM to try to get cash for what he thought would be an exchange.

While at the bank, he ran into a Santa Barbara police officer and shared his tale of woe. The officer immediately called the Sheriff’s Department.

“It was soon determined that all the family members were accounted for, and that the call was an attempt to extort money from the family,” sheriff’s spokeswoman Kelly Hoover said.

The couple’s identities were not disclosed, and the case is under investigation by the sheriff’s Criminal Investigations Division.

Monday, Monday. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)
Monday, Monday. (Zack Warburg / Noozhawk photo)

2. 5 Injured in Highway 101 Collision in Santa Barbara

A three-car collision on southbound Highway 101 in Santa Barbara had traffic backed up for several miles Oct. 3.

Five people were injured in the wreck, but none seriously.

According to the California Highway Patrol, the collision occurred about 8:20 a.m. near the La Cumbre Road entrance ramp. The resulting chaos clogged the freeway back to Patterson Avenue, 4½ miles to the west.

The cause of the crash is under investigation.

Search and replace in Lompoc. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)
Search and replace in Lompoc. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

3. FBI Agents Serve Search Warrants at Montecito Real Estate Company’s Lompoc Call Center

A Lompoc call center and three Santa Barbara locations were served with search warrants Oct. 5 as authorities appeared to be investigating a controversial online real estate website.

Agents from the FBI, the lead agency in the investigation, were joined by U.S. Postal Inspection Service officials, Lompoc and Santa Barbara police, and District Attorney’s Office Chief Investigator Dave Saunders.

The Lompoc call center — in a strip mall unit at 115 N. V St. — reportedly is linked to a business most recently known as America Standard Online. For $199, the Montecito-based website allegedly offered consumers a list of pre-foreclosed properties as a simple way for renters to buy a house.

According to a litany of online complaints, however, customers claim the listed houses were not for sale or didn’t exist, or whose owners were not interested in selling and were not at risk of losing their homes.

Authorities were tight-lipped about what they found in the searches, and why they were there. Representatives of Susan Quinn and Michael Davenport, who reportedly own the suspect business, could not be reached for comment.

Who goes there? (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)
Who goes there? (Urban Hikers / Noozhawk photo)

4. Channel Drive Closed for Corporate Event at Biltmore in Montecito

Thanks to a tip from Peter Hartmann of our Urban Hikers team, we learned about a week ahead of time that some kind of celebrity or company or organization would pretty much be taking over Montecito’s Four Seasons Resort The Biltmore on Sept. 29.

What we couldn’t figure out was who. Until our managing editor, Giana Magnoli, tried tracing airplane tail numbers at the Santa Barbara Airport, where a large contingent of parked private jets had abruptly appeared on the tarmac.

There were reports that the intrigue was the work of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos, who owns a home in Montecito. That could not be confirmed. Officially.

According to the county Public Works Department, the Biltmore applied for, and received, a special-event permit that allowed it to shut down Channel Drive from 5 to 9 p.m. that day. Access to Butterfly Beach and the Coral Casino Beach & Cabana Club were open but the street was a no-go.

A representative of AlliedPRA, which was listed on the permit as the event coordinator, would only say that the private event was for a corporate client that wanted exclusivity.

You won’t be spotting this anymore. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)
You won’t be spotting this anymore. (Sam Goldman / Noozhawk photo)

5. Gold’s Gym Takes Over 3 Santa Barbara-Area Bay Club Locations

After an absence of more than a decade, the Gold’s Gym brand has returned to the South Coast with the purchase of three fitness centers formerly operated — briefly — by the Bay Club.

The San Francisco-based Bay Club chain had acquired the locations — 6144 Calle Real in Goleta and 21 W. Carrillo St. and 3908 State St. in Santa Barbara — when it bought Spectrum Athletic Clubs last year.

Earlier this month, however, brothers Angel and Willy Banos purchased the sites and are in the process of rebranding them. With more than a dozen gyms, the Banos brothers own the largest Gold’s franchise group in California.

Bay Club officials declined to comment, but Willy Banos said he and his brother are “working hard to bring results-oriented health clubs back to the community.”

The three fitness facilities were founded as Gold’s Gyms back in the early 1990s.

                                                                 •        •        •

Last Year on Noozhawk

What was our most-read story this time last year? CHP Identifies Santa Barbara Woman Killed in Foothill Road Crash.

                                                                 •        •        •

Bill Macfadyen’s Story of the Week

The answer to a question no one was asking — until the earthquake warning was issued this past week: How Continents Would Look If You Could See Gravity.

                                                                 •        •        •

Watch It

A week-old skit is a lifetime ago in politics, but this is still worth tweeting. Buh-lieve me.

(Saturday Night Live video)

                                                                  •        •        •

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— Bill Macfadyen is Noozhawk’s founder and publisher. Contact him at [email protected], follow him on Twitter: @noozhawk, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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