Credit: Courtesy

Craig A. Case, Santa Barbara’s most recognizable private investigator and the host of a local food and wine program, sits behind bars after he was arrested Wednesday on charges of grand theft and fraud.

Prosecutors allege Case stole nearly $700,000 from 94-year-old Constance McCormick Fearing, a member of the storied McCormick family who lived on an 11-acre Romero Canyon estate until her death last year. The criminal accusations mirror those laid out in a civil lawsuit previously filed by Fearing’s trust.

Santa Barbara authorities say Case gained indirect access to the heiress’s fortune through Nancy Coglizer, who possessed power of attorney over her affairs and secretly signed over dozens of checks to Case between 2018 and 2021 that Coglizer believed were short-term loans. Case, however, never paid the money back, and Coglizer faces her own charges of embezzlement and breach of fiduciary duty.

Sources with knowledge of their affair say Case seduced and manipulated Coglizer, who had recently lost a family member and was struggling with severe alcoholism, into siphoning him the funds in $5,000 and $10,000 increments, even on occasion visiting her at a Malibu rehabilitation center to solicit more money. Coglizer has since cooperated with investigators and filed her own lawsuit against Case. Her attorneys emphasize she never received any of the stolen funds herself.

Neither Case nor his private security company, Case Detective Agency, which he has operated since 1979, responded to requests for comment. Among the charges against Case is financial elder abuse, a crime his company says it specializes in investigating. Case’s attorney, Josh Lynn, also declined to comment.

The arrest last week took place outside the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, where Case was answering to other felony charges in an unrelated matter. Case is accused of falsifying the concealed carry permit he held for a loaded handgun that was found in his car during a recent traffic stop. Prosecutors claim he had forged the signature of Sheriff Bill Brown on the expired permit, and a judge agreed Wednesday with a request from the state Attorney General’s Office to freeze Case’s private investigator license until the issue is resolved. Authorities said Case was strategically taken into custody at the Courthouse, where visitors are required to pass through a metal detector, to be sure he was not armed.

Craig Case, far right, on the set of The Inn Crowd | Credit: Courtesy

For decades, Case was an active and visible member of local civic life, serving on a number of boards and commissions, including at Santa Barbara City College, the United Boys & Girls Club, and the city’s Parks and Recreation Department. Most notably, he sat on the Santa Barbara Police Foundation’s board of directors and would regularly appear before the City Council to announce new donations of equipment to the force. He also self-produced and hosted a food and wine show on KEYT called The Inn Crowd.

But the Fearing matter has exhumed a long history of legal troubles for Case, dating all the way back to 1990 when he was at the center of an investment controversy that led to the demise of Santa Barbara’s semi-professional basketball team, the Islanders. 

In more recent years, Case, whose father worked in law enforcement, has been sued by multiple clients who contracted him for private investigations that were never performed. In 2016, he was forced by a class-action lawsuit to pay $80,000 to two dozen former employees. He’d violated state and federal labor laws by denying them breaks, not paying overtime, and not reimbursing them for business expenses, court documents show.

Legal records also reveal Case borrowed $50,000 from well-known winemaker Roger Bower in 2019 and again found himself on the court docket when the loan was not repaid. Separately, a source with knowledge of the incident said the late wine aficionado Archie McLaren lent Case $40,000 that was never paid back. The issue was still unresolved when McLaren died in 2018, the source said.

Case’s bail in the Fearing matter is set at $250,000. Should he try to post bail, a judge will be required to verify the source of the money.


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