Santa Barbara authorities allege Kent Epperson helped his girlfriend, Kim Vandyk, dodge DA investigators for more than a year. Vandyk was wanted for falsifying documents, among other crimes, in order to delay foreclosure on her home, a process she chronicled in her journal. | Credit: SBSO/District Attorney's Office

It was a few days before Summer Solstice 2022, and Kim Vandyk was a fugitive from the law. She’d skipped her arraignment on felony charges of fraud and conspiracy in an alleged free housing scheme and was instead pedaling down State Street in a pair of fairy wings to a Solstice Parade workshop. 

Riding with Vandyk on their tandem bicycle was her boyfriend, Kent Epperson, a longtime cycling advocate and Director of Traffic Solutions for the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments, or SBCAG.

Before the couple could reach their destination and begin work on their Pink Party float, District Attorney investigators pulled them over and put Vandyk in handcuffs. Epperson filmed the encounter and told the investigators they had no authority over them and that they were “kidnapping” his partner. He demanded to see an arrest warrant with an ink signature from a judge. 

“All of this while both Vandyk and Epperson were dressed in pink costumes,” the investigators wrote in their narrative. “The event was memorable, to say the least.”

Vandyk would spend the next four days in jail, where Epperson coached her over the phone on how to address the judge during an upcoming hearing. He told her to say she was a “living, breathing woman,” “a child of God,” and “an ambassador of the kingdom of heaven.” He instructed her not to sign any documents. 

“Epperson and Vandyk both believe in a ‘sovereign citizen’ ideology,” the DA investigators said, “and do not believe that the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office or Santa Barbara Superior Court have any legal power over them.” Vandyk was temporarily released from jail and ordered to appear back in court, but she was again a no-show and another warrant was issued for her arrest. 

Thus began a yearlong game of cat-and-mouse between authorities and the couple that ended this August with Vandyk back behind bars and Epperson doing six weeks of his own jail time. He faces five felony counts of “accessory after the fact” for “harboring and aiding a fugitive” and a longer sentence if he is convicted.

Among the specific allegations against him, prosecutors say Epperson repeatedly lied to and misled investigators when questioned about Vandyk’s whereabouts; modified a crawlspace in his house to create a “hideout room” for her when the police came knocking; and bought her a camper van “to use and reside in to avoid apprehension.”

Both Vandyk and Epperson have pleaded not guilty to their respective charges. Through their attorneys, they both declined to comment.

‘Free House’

Vandyk’s original fraud case dates back to 2011, when authorities say she stopped paying the mortgage on her Foothill Road home but remained living in it for years by “creating fraudulent schemes and conspiring with others to hinder, delay, and prevent the lawful foreclosure on the property.”

Prosecutors outlined three specific ways in which Vandyk carried out her alleged crimes. Their evidence came primarily from hundreds of phone conversations she recorded with her co-conspirators as well as unwitting bank and government employees. 

“Ironically and unfortunately for Vandyk,” said prosecutor Brian Cota in one of his briefs, “those recordings chronicle in stark detail the illegal schemes that she was engaged in and provide the best evidence against her in this case.”

Vandyk’s first method of stalling a foreclosure involved filing “perjured, false, and fraudulent” documents with the County Clerk Recorder’s Office in order to cloud the property’s title and hinder the proceedings, Cota said.

In the second ― described by Vandyk and one of her co-conspirators as a “shadow bankruptcy” ― Vandyk allegedly used personal information stolen from individuals who were filing for bankruptcy to obtain a number of “automatic stays” on her pending foreclosure.

And in the third, Vandyk planned to deed her property to a fictitious trust before using forged documents to declare bankruptcy on behalf of the trust, which would again stall proceedings, said Cota. The identities of her reported accomplices, some of whom live out of state, have been forwarded to the FBI for further investigation.

“In total,” Cota said, “Vandyk succeeded in living mortgage- and rent-free in a Santa Barbara house worth between $800,000 and $1,000,000 for six years and four months.” She was finally evicted from the property in 2017 and soon after moved in with Epperson at his West Camino Cielo home.

Vandyk also chronicled her alleged delay tactics in a journal. On one of its pages was “a very telling drawing,” Cota said ― a rough sketch of a building with the words “FREE HOUSE” written above the doorway. “Free house, indeed, Ms. Vandyk,” Cota said. “Free house, indeed.”

End of the Road

Vandyk, a ukulele teacher with no prior criminal record, remains in custody on $700,000 bail. Two separate psychological assessments determined her fit to stand trial. Her next court date is November 20.

Epperson, meanwhile, is out on $200,000 bail and remains an active employee of SBCAG, where he’s worked the past 19 years as an energetic and effective proponent of alternative transportation. He was recently on-hand at a Goleta City Council meeting to accept a proclamation for a new e-bike safety campaign.

SBCAG Executive Director Marjie Kirn said her agency is bound by California Labor Code, “which prohibits employers from utilizing any record of arrest or detention that did not result in a conviction to determine a condition of employment.”

“We remain committed to providing a safe and productive work environment for all of our employees and the public while upholding the ethical and legal standards that our agency is bound to,” Kirn said.

Making matters even more complicated, Epperson is also currently suing SBCAG ― which pays him an annual salary of approximately $120,000 ― for religious discrimination. Epperson claims that after he declined to receive the COVID-19 vaccine on religious grounds, he was forced to work from home and then temporarily demoted. He’s seeking around $100,000 in lost wages. Kirn said she was unable to comment on pending litigation.

Those with knowledge of his criminal case have expressed concern that Epperson, who works for a Santa Barbara County government agency, is accused of intentionally deceiving another Santa Barbara County government agency. The District Attorney’s Office, they note, spent a year’s worth of investigative resources to catch Vandyk ― staking out Epperson’s house, logging overtime, installing and monitoring a tracking device on his Prius, and so on ― which could have been avoided if Epperson had been cooperative.

When DA investigators warned Epperson about the penalties for hiding a wanted person, he responded that he did not understand them. One of the investigators wrote in his report, “I know from my previous training and experience in dealing with sovereign citizens that when you ask them if they ‘understand,’ they will always answer ‘no,’ because they believe the phrase ‘understand’ means they ‘stand under’ you and your authority.”

Officials finally honed in on Vandyk and her camper van on August 18 when they followed Epperson to Tucker’s Grove. She had parked there after returning from a road trip through California and Nevada. Epperson fled in his Prius when he saw police approaching but was arrested the following day in Los Olivos on his way north. His next court date is also November 20.

In his claim against SBCAG, Epperson has petitioned a judge for an extension to file overdue paperwork, citing his recent incarceration.

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