Michael Davenport, a Santa Barbara resident and former bassist for the punk rock band The Ataris, was indicted last month on federal conspiracy and fraud charges for allegedly operating a nationwide telemarketing real estate scam that cheated approximately 100,000 people out of $27 million between 2009 and 2016.
Davenport, 49, and fellow Santa Barbara resident Cynthia Rawlinson, 51, were both charged with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, five counts of wire fraud, and one count of mail fraud. They each face more than 30 years in prison.
Federal officials said the case is part of an ongoing investigation headed by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service. At least 104 victims live in southern Illinois, near where The Ataris formed. Santa Barbara District Attorney Joyce Dudley and the Santa Maria Office of the FBI provided additional evidence in the case, authorities said.
According to the indictment, Davenport and Rawlinson operated a Santa Barbara-based telemarketing business that went by various names, most commonly American Standard. The company placed ads on Craigslist that purported to show “pre-foreclosure” houses for sale at below-market prices. When individuals responding to the ads called American Standard, salespersons told they them they needed to pay a $199 fee to access the complete property information. “The salespersons also said … that the customers could purchase the houses by simply taking over the homeowners’ mortgage payments, and the deeds to these homes would then be transferred into the customers’ names,” the indictment reads.
Prosecutors allege that after victims paid the $199 fee, they would learn the houses on American Standard’s list were either not for sale, or no homes existed at the addresses provided. When they asked for their money back, the victims were told by American Standard they would need to wait 90 days and then mail a refund request along with five copies of letters from property owners proving the homes were in fact not correctly listed. Even then, refunds were not provided.
The indictment states Davenport was the owner of American Standard and oversaw operations. Rawlinson reportedly started at the company as a salesperson, but was eventually promoted to sales manager for its Santa Barbara office at 401 North Milpas Street. American Standard also ran a call center in Lompoc. Both locations were raided by FBI agents in October 2016.
More than $104,000 in cash was seized from Davenport when he was arrested last month at the Bill and Hillary Clinton Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas. Another $850,000 in his personal bank accounts is in the process of being seized. Both Davenport and Rawlinson are scheduled to be arraigned on January 17 at the federal courthouse in St. Louis.
Davenport left The Ataris in 2005 and rejoined the band for a reunion tour in 2013 and 2014. Their fourth studio album, So Long, Astoria, released in March 2003, peaked at No. 24 on the Billboard 200 chart. Davenport now plays in the band Versus the World.