Craig A. Case, a Santa Barbara private investigator and television personality, is accused of defrauding an elderly Montecito resident of nearly $700,000, new court documents show. Case did not challenge or even respond to the lawsuit filed September 7 on behalf of 94-year-old Constance McCormick Fearing, a longtime friend of his and a noted patron of the arts.

The court therefore entered a default against Case on October 13, explained Jordan Hankey, the attorney for Fearing’s trust, and a judge will next decide exactly how much Case must pay. The funds he allegedly obtained from Fearing through “willful and deliberate misconduct” between October 2018 and April 2021 totaled $687,500, the civil complaint states, and her trust will also pursue punitive damages as well as attorney’s fees, Hankey said.

Early investigations have been unable to determine what Craig Case did with the $687,500 he took from an elderly friend. | Credit: Courtesy

If Case is criminally prosecuted remains to be seen. The Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office declined to comment for this story. Multiple voicemails left with Case Detective Agency, the investigations and private security company Case has operated since the 1970s, went unreturned. His attorney, Josh Lynn, also declined to comment.

The civil suit was originally filed against both Case and Nancy Coglizer, a former trustee of Fearing’s estate with power of attorney over her affairs. Coglizer has since lodged her own cross-complaint against Case, alleging he manipulated and used her to obtain dozens of “short-term loans” for himself with Fearing’s funds while Coglizer was in a compromised mental state.

According to Coglizer’s complaint, she started working for Fearing back in 1999 by performing basic bookkeeping duties. They would meet regularly in Fearing’s library, and Coglizer soon began assisting Fearing with more involved property management tasks. In 2004, Fearing suffered a serious medical issue that necessitated more direct attention to her personal and financial affairs, and Fearing’s lawyers ultimately named Coglizer as a trustee of her living trust.

The arrangement continued uneventfully until March 2018, when Coglizer’s mother, with whom she was extremely close, suddenly died. The death sent her into a tailspin of severe depression and alcoholism, and “she began withdrawing from life,” her cross-complaint states. Case, who had known Fearing for many years and had periodically provided security for her rural Romero Canyon property, learned of Coglizer’s loss and started inviting her out for drinks to “talk about how she was trying to cope with her extreme sadness,” the filing says.

Those conversations, however, would frequently end with Case asking for money, which Coglizer obliged with checks from Fearing’s accounts. “Her mind was weak, foggy, and jumbled,” the court documents claim. “She could barely function.” No clear reason is provided for why Coglizer continually acquiesced. But her complaint emphasized that she “did not benefit in any way, whatsoever, from the loans.” She never received any of the money herself, it states, and always assumed Case would pay her back based on his lengthy friendship with Fearing.

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Coglizer eventually entered an addiction treatment facility. When she exited, she started pressing Case to make good on the loans. He’d promise “soon” and tout supposed investments in his self-produced television shows, including The Inn Crowd, a food- and wine-focused series. But Case’s callbacks began dwindling. Then they ceased altogether. Panicked and contrite, Coglizer notified Fearing’s attorneys of the missing money. She was asked to resign from the trust but continues to cooperate in its complaint against Case.

Meanwhile, Case remains an active member of the Santa Barbara community with a current position on the Santa Barbara Police Foundation’s board of directors, according to the organization’s website. [Update, 12/23: Case stepped down from the board in late September, said executive director Greg Hons, and has now been removed from the website.] Case previously served on Santa Barbara City College’s board of directors, as president of the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County, and as chairman of the City of Santa Barbara Parks and Recreation Commission. His private investigator’s license is up to date, and he was spotted doing business at a State Street bank earlier this month.

Case, it turns out, has a long history of alleged financial chicanery, going as far back as 1990 when he was at the center of an investment controversy that sank Santa Barbara’s former semi-professional basketball team, the Islanders. More recently, he has been sued by no fewer than six clients who paid him upward of $5,000 each to perform private investigations that were never conducted. Multiple liens remain stacked against his name.

In 2016, Case was forced by a class-action lawsuit to pay $80,000 to two dozen of his former security company employees. He’d violated labor laws by denying them breaks, not recognizing overtime, and not reimbursing them for business expenses, the settlement agreement shows. In 2017, a judge ordered Case to cut Everest National Insurance Company a $42,000 check after he failed to pay the premiums on a worker’s comp policy. Then in 2018, the California Labor Commissioner’s Office demanded he fork over another $25,000 to a separate former employee. Case had reportedly deducted state, federal, and social security taxes from the employee’s paychecks, but rather than pay the necessary government agencies, he would simply pocket the money himself, court documents show.

Legal records also reveal a pattern of Case borrowing money that he didn’t return. Prolific Santa Barbara landlord Dario Pini loaned Case $10,000 in 2016, then took him to court when Case only paid him back half. In 2019, Case borrowed $50,000 from winemaker Roger Bower and again found himself on the court docket when the loan was not repaid. A source with knowledge of the incident also claimed longtime Central Coast wine aficionado Archie McLaren lent Case $40,000 that he never saw again. McLaren had given up trying to collect by the time he died in 2018, the source said.

A hearing on the Fearing matter is scheduled for January 11, 2022, in Judge Thomas Anderle’s courtroom.

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