Lender pleads guilty to theft, faces at least 10 years in prison

Mike L. Wilson, a lender facing 147 felony counts, pleaded guilty in Santa Barbara County Superior Court in Santa Maria on Thursday to embezzling tens of millions of dollars from 59 investors named in the fraud case.

He faces a sentence of at least 10 years in prison.

Wilson operated Pacific Coast Mortgage, which collected funds from private investors, including many in San Luis Obispo County, to finance construction loans at a high rate of interest.

Wilson was arrested July 10 on suspicion of grand theft, forgery of real estate deeds, misrepresentations in the sale of securities and elder abuse by embezzlement.

“He was a real con man,” said Gordon Henderson, an 89-year-old Arroyo Grande investor, who went to the court in Santa Maria to witness the hearing.

Another investor, Paul Highfill of Santa Maria, said, “I trusted him, he was my friend, and now he’s ruined my whole family.” At age 87, he says he does not have the resources to earn back the hundreds of thousands of dollars he entrusted to Wilson.

“He was very slick with excuses, which kept growing and growing and was good in developing trust,” Highfill said.

Among the victims were Wilson’s parents and close friends.

Wilson has waived his right to appeal and will be sentenced to a minimum of 10 years and four months in state prison. However, he must first attempt to pay back the millions of dollars he stole from his victims, according to Jerry Lulejian, the senior deputy district attorney on the case.

Wilson must sell all his assets. That may be just his home, and no estimate of its worth was presented in court Thursday.

He also must find or restore as many real estate deeds as possible, which he had promised would secure his clients’ investments but were either forged, lost or sold several times over.

If Wilson cannot repay investors at least $1 million to $2 million, he will have to serve 20 years and four months, according to Judge Edward Bullard’s order.

Lulejian told investors after the hearing that Wilson had been operating a real estate investment scam and Ponzi scheme, taking in tens of millions of dollars, since 1999. However, Lulejian warned investors he did not believe Wilson has the resources to make his investors whole.

“Your money was stolen the moment you gave it to him,” Lulejian said. “It’s very possible what was promised to you was given to someone else. Sometimes he assigned 170 percent of the deeds to people … Unfortunately, we don’t know of any assets (to be recovered). Whatever was out there is gone.”