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Sunday, November 18 , 2018, 3:23 am | Fog/Mist 53º


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

3 Santa Barbara locations also focus of investigation into controversial distressed-property website

Lompoc police joined the FBI and other agencies Wednesday in serving search warrants at a call center on North V Street in Lompoc. Three locations in the Santa Barbara area reportedly also were searched in the investigation. Click to view larger
Lompoc police joined the FBI and other agencies Wednesday in serving search warrants at a call center on North V Street in Lompoc. Three locations in the Santa Barbara area reportedly also were searched in the investigation. (Janene Scully / Noozhawk photo)

FBI agents and other law enforcement officers on Wednesday raided a Lompoc call center and three Santa Barbara locations allegedly affiliated with a Montecito-based online real estate site that has generated repeated consumer complaints.

The investigation apparently involved a call center that operates in a Lompoc strip mall unit at 115 N. V St., near the intersection with Ocean Avenue.

An FBI agent at the scene would only say that agents were executing a search warrant, and referred questions to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Multiple agencies, including the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, were involved in the effort, according to Chief Investigator Dave Saunders of the DA’s Office.

“No charges have been filed and no arrests have been made at this point,” Saunders told Noozhawk, adding that the investigation does not involve a violent crime.

In addition to approximately a half-dozen FBI agents, at least one Lompoc police officer and a DA’s Office investigator were at the scene, which had a marked police vehicle parked in front.

Santa Barbara police also assisted with serving search warrants in that city.

The Lompoc call center reportedly is linked to a business most recently known as American Standard Online, a real estate website that reportedly offered consumers a list of pre-foreclosed properties as a simple method for renters to buy a house.

For $199, call center employees assured the customer would receive access to the website to find houses for sale and to take over the monthly mortgage payments on foreclosed or pre-foreclosed homes.

Customers claim the homes on the list were not for sale, didn’t exist or had owners not interested in selling or not at risk of foreclosure.

Call center employees reportedly were sent home Wednesday after law-enforcement officers showed up at the site. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

By Wednesday afternoon, the American Standard Online website appeared to be offline, although it was working again Wednesday night.

The call center in Lompoc reportedly has operated for two years, according to a help wanted ad posted on Craigslist that also claims the company was launched 12 years ago.

The Internet is flooded with complaints about American Standard Online, with some saying the company never delivered promised refunds, and others saying they narrowly avoided falling for the alleged scam advertised on Craigslist.

American Standard Online has operated under two dozen related and unrelated names, according to the Better Business Bureau of Tri-Counties, which provided a lengthy list of names affiliated with the firms.

The company appears to have had addresses in Santa Barbara, Ventura, Goleta and Montecito, and began operating in early 2006, with the first complaint reported weeks later.

The Better Business Bureau gave the company an F grade, after receiving more than 200 complaints.

BBB ratings stem from a number of factors, including the number of complains, how the company responded to them, the type of business, transparent practices and more.

“According to BBB file information, the principals of this company, Michael Davenport and Susan Quinn, are also the principals of another company which operates in a very similar manner,” the BBB says. “The associated company goes by the names of Anchor House Financial.”

Anchor House Financial also has earned an F grade, with the BBB issuing an alert on the firm.

“Consumers report that when calling telephone numbers in ads from a company by the name of American Standard (and other variations of that name) this company responds to the calls,” the BBB alert says.

“According to information in bureau files, Anchor House Financial and American Standard are both operated by Mike Davenport and Susan Quinn.

“Both advertised a P.O. box rental store in Montecito, California, as their contact location, however, this company now lists another P.O. box rental store at 5662 Calle Real in Goleta as their location.”

Consumers have logged dozens of complaints about the second company with the BBB.

“Complainants have alleged that the company offers a service which helps consumers find homes ‘in distress’ that can be purchased by taking over mortgage payments, lease-to-own and so on,” the BBB says. “However, complainants often state that the information provided by the service is outdated or not as useful as they were told.

“Complainants state that when they request their money back, they are told that according to company policy, they have to wait 90 days and then mail in a refund request along with five copies of letters sent to owners of the properties.”

Within the past three years, the BBB has processed 376 complaints and provided the companies' F-rated reports to consumers "a staggering 94,668 times" mostly through the website, President/CEO Rick Copelan said. 

In the 18 months the firm has published reviews, the BBB received 40, all but four of which were negative, he added.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

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