Prosecuting attorney Brian Cota didn’t merely throw the book at David Lack, a prominent Santa Barbara building contractor with five-star connections all the way to the top of the Republican food chain, he’s thrown an entire library at him. If Cota gets his way, he’ll begin court proceedings against Lack this Friday on charges that Lack lied to two banks — the Bank of Santa Barbara and Rabobank — in order to secure $1.2 million in loans beginning in 2007 and that he ripped off $241,000 from Montecitan Mary Belle Snow, a conservative blogger and high-profile activist.
Lack told the banks he owned real estate in Santa Barbara and in Texas that could be used as collateral when, in fact, he did not. The trial would have started last week, but Lack had surgery for skin cancer. When the surgeon was done, Cota had Lack arrested and jailed on a whole new set of charges — operating as a contractor even though his license had been revoked, failure to pay taxes, and failure to make workers’ compensation payments. He’s also threatening to file a third set of charges, alleging Lack “stole” $1.4 million because he did $1.4 million worth of work on a Montecito estate representing himself as a licensed contractor when in fact he was not.
As Cota explained in court Monday, every penny Lack took constituted theft because he falsely represented himself as a licensed contractor. Last Friday, Cota went even further, demanding that Judge Jean Dandona slap Lack in jail and set bail at $700,000. He argued Lack posed a threat to public safety because he’d repeatedly violated the terms of his release, established in 2010, when charges were first filed. Dandona balked, setting bail at $200,000 instead. Even so, Lack spent the weekend in jail.
The David Lack who walked into court Monday morning to argue his bail amount was a far cry from the political macher seen in the many photographs lining his office walls, posing with former Republican presidents Ronald Reagan, George Bush, and George W. Bush. Likewise, he was light years from the tall, lean, and friendly man-about-town who in 2008 squired New York mayor Rudy Giuliani — then seeking the Republican presidential nomination — around Santa Barbara. Or the even younger man — fresh from Iowa — who broke onto Santa Barbara’s political scene in 1990 as right-hand man to Michael Huffington, then a carpetbagging Texas billionaire with a million-watt wife, who “bought” Santa Barbara’s congressional seat that happened to be occupied by longtime incumbent Bob Lagomarsino.
Instead, Lack entered court Monday morning forced — like all jail inmates — to take mincing baby steps by the chains connecting his ankles. He was dressed in County Jail scrubs and wore jail-orange rubber slippers and jail-orange socks. His face was blotched red where he’d used Nair in lieu of a razor.
During his glory days, Lack had concocted credible dreams of major development where the MTD’s downtown transit depot now stands. He worked on plans to create a whole new city spanning the nether space between San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties. But in 2007, the economy tanked largely because the nation’s banks had been heedlessly selling improperly secured loans, like Lack’s. When Lack couldn’t make payments, his banks asked the questions they should have posed in the first place. When he still couldn’t pay, they sued. And the house of Lack came crashing down.
At the time, Lack insisted he was the victim of a bad economy. He had planned to start his own bank and solicited $300,000 from the Mary Belle Snow, a forceful conservative tight with David Horowitz, the reformed left-wing radical turned incendiary right-winger. When Ty Warner was still trying to rebuild the Miramar — and remodel the Coral Casino — the Beanie Baby billionaire had no more passionate champion than Snow.
Lack and Snow — married to Grammy-award-winning songwriter Tom Snow — had once been close friends. But, say associates of both, she was the wrong person to cross. According to court documents, Lack spent $241,000 for his own ends. On what exactly, Cota has yet to explain. If and when the case eventually goes to trial, presumably he will. Lack’s attorney, Robert Sanger is moving for yet another trial extension, citing Lack’s health.
How Judge Dandona rules, Lack will find out Friday. But this Monday, he won some small respite. Dandona set the bail for the two separate cases combined at $220,000, far less than what Cota wanted. A friend and employee named Fae Perry put up her own property as collateral so Lack could get out for yet another meeting with his surgeon. If convicted on all charges, Lack could face a maximum sentence of 14 years.