SHAPE-SHIFTERS ANONYMOUS: David Lack just gave the acting performance of a lifetime. But instead of winning an Oscar, which he richly deserves, he’ll probably get a prison term, which he might also deserve, once the jury returns from the deliberations they started this week. Tall and thin with wispy blond hair, David Lack has been a fixture in local Republican Party circles since the early 1990s, when he emerged as right-hand man to Michael Huffington, the pathologically secretive carpetbagging Texas billionaire who moved to Montecito so he could run for the U.S. Senate against Dianne Feinstein back in 1994. There is little question that Huffington would have beaten Feinstein had his shape-shifting succubus of a wife — the luminescently self-obsessed Arianna Huffington — not gotten herself busted for hiring an illegal nanny just moments after Michael — in a calculated, craven act of gratuitous opportunism — endorsed an egregiously anti-immigrant statewide ballot measure. Since then, Arianna has famously — and lucratively — reinvented herself as a respectably liberal one-woman media mogul, Michael as the reclusive gay guy he always should have been, and David as a area building contractor and political jet-setter seemingly successful enough to donate $42,000 to various Republican candidates in 2008.
The David Lack I knew was engaging, affable, and seriously plugged in. His offices were famously wallpapered with grip-n-grin photos of him and every Republican to run for president since Abraham Lincoln. But the David Lack I saw take the witness stand in his own defense against embezzlement and fraud charges bore no resemblance to the guy I’d casually known the past 20 years. The guy on the stand — mouth agog and agape — resembled the proverbial turkey in a rainstorm at risk of drowning. He would have lost an argument to the raisins in his morning bowl of oatmeal. It was sad. It was also morbidly fascinating. Lack and his defense attorney, Robert Sanger, sought to convince those poor souls trapped in the jury box that David was simply too simple to con anybody out of anything. It was the Forrest Gump defense minus the Southern accent and box of chocolates. Running Lack to ground was prosecuting attorney Brian Cota, who looks like he stepped out of an ad for expensive designer eyewear. Looks can be deceiving. Cota has always punched beyond his weight and has emerged as the reincarnation of Dick Tracy, waging a one-man jihad against Santa Barbara’s white-collar crooks.
Lack’s troubles started when he persuaded Montecito resident Mary Belle Snow to invest $300,000 in a new bank he was trying to start. Snow was then a feisty conservative blogger-activist quick to write five-digit checks to Republican Party candidates. She and Lack became fast friends, crisscrossing the country in private jets to attend high-octane GOP functions in places like Boca Raton and Las Vegas. Things happened, and Lack wound up spending most of Snow’s money. Somehow, he never got around to telling her. When Snow found out, she was exceedingly not happy. Having high-ranking friends in the police department, she knew how to make her pain felt. When Cota started rooting around in 2010, he would discover that back in 2007, Lack told a couple of major league whoppers when applying for — and getting — lines of credit worth $1.2 million from two area banks. In listing his personal assets, Lack told the banks he owned two pieces of real estate — one in Montecito and one in Texas — worth $1.5 million. With that kind of collateral, the banks were only too happy to green-light Lack’s request. When the recession struck a year later, Lack defaulted. That’s when the banks discovered he didn’t really own any real estate. In fact, he never had. In the legal world, that’s called fraud.
In this case, I didn’t know who to root more against. To the extent Republicans claim to embrace personal responsibility as civic virtue, Lack wasn’t having any of it. Instead, he sought refuge in victimhood, the moral weakness favored by bleeding-heart liberals. If Lack signed false documents, that was because his financial advisers kept foisting papers at him to sign. Lack was such a bad reader, he testified, he’d never read a book. How was he supposed to understand what he was signing? Better yet, Lack blamed Bank of Santa Barbara founder Gregg Bigger for instructing him to lie about owning real estate that he really didn’t. Bigger, for the record, denied this. Admittedly, the accusation seems far-fetched. But then, I myself was coached by loan officers on how to lie and exaggerate when making a loan application many moons ago.
The more I heard from Bigger on the witness stand, the more astonished I was by the scope and breadth of his amnesia about pretty much anything, even whether he was a Republican or not. It turned out Bigger had lobbied Lack back then to become a titled officer in the area party machine. To the extent Lack screwed Bigger and his bank, it seemed like consensual sex. Lack was at the top of his game; Bigger wanted Lack’s business. They were both using each other. That’s just good business, I suppose. But what kind of business is it that Bigger’s bank — and Rabobank, as well — never bothered to verify Lack’s financial statement? And weren’t they the least bit suspicious that Lack would claim to have absolutely no debts, liabilities, or outstanding loans? At the very least, such a profile is highly unusual. If Lack’s alleged real estate holdings really sealed the deal — as Cota has alleged — then it’s equally true that the banks were not just asleep at the switch but had taken an overdose of Ambien. One phone call to the county assessor would have exposed Lack’s fraud in 15 seconds. End of story. With banking practices like this, little wonder the whole world economy imploded and exploded simultaneously seven years ago. I, for one, will sleep much better knowing that David Lack’s going to the slammer for his sins. But I’ll keep the Ambien on hand just to make sure.