Michael S. Davenport, 50, Santa Barbara, California, the former bass guitar player for the rock band, The Ataris, was sentenced on Wednesday for defrauding thousands of would-be renters and home-buyers throughout the United States from 2009 to 2016.
Davenport’s Santa Barbara-based business changed names several times but was known variously as MDSQ Productions LLC, Housing Standard LLC, Anchor House Financial, American Standard, American Standard Online, and Your American Standard. Court documents simply refer to the business as “American Standard.”
As part of his guilty plea, Davenport admitted that American Standard posted ads on Craigslist listing certain houses for sale or rent at very favorable prices, when, in fact, the houses described in the ads didn’t exist. Consumers who responded to the ads were told they would have to purchase American Standard’s list of houses before they could see any additional information. Consumers were also told that the houses on American Standard’s list were in “pre-foreclosure,” that they could purchase the properties by simply taking over the homeowners’ mortgage payments, and that the deeds to the homes would then be transferred into the customers’ names. The $199 fee that American Standard charged to access the list was purportedly to cover the cost of title searches and deed transfers. No matter what area of the country the consumer lived in, American Standard salespersons told them that the list contained numerous pre-foreclosure properties available in their area.
After consumers paid the $199 fee, they learned that the houses on American Standard’s list were not actually available for purchase. A substantial number of the addresses contained on the list were fictional, or there were simply no houses at those locations. In numerous other instances, the houses were not in pre-foreclosure or any financial distress and were not available to be purchased at below-market prices. If an American Standard customer asked for more information about a specific house advertised on Craigslist, the company’s customer service department always told them that the house was no longer available.
Davenport’s conspiracy and scheme to defraud operated from approximately January 2009 through at least October 5, 2016, over which time American Standard defrauded more than 130,000 people to the tune of more than $25 million. The victims were located in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Over 100 victims of the scam were located within the Southern District of Illinois, spread across 22 counties, with multiple victims in both St. Clair and Madison counties. American Standard’s list included 534 houses located in Southern Illinois.
Four of Davenport’s former employees have also been charged with participating in the American Standard fraud conspiracy. On Wednesday afternoon, just hours after Davenport’s sentencing, Cynthia L. Rawlinson, 52, Santa Barbara, California was sentenced by Judge Yandle to five years of supervised release. Rawlinson was a salesperson who also served as a manager for American Standard for a brief period of time. Earlier this year, two other American Standard sales representatives from Santa Barbara, California, Mark A. Phillips, 50, Semjase E. Santana, 37 were also sentenced to serve five years of supervised release. And last June, Carlynne L. Davis, 34, Lompoc, California, pled guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud in connection with her participation in American Standard. Davis’s sentencing hearing is scheduled for April 5, 2019.
In handing down the seven-year sentence at the federal district courthouse in Benton, Illinois, United States District Judge Staci M. Yandle chastised Davenport for what she characterized as a crime of simple greed. “You were intoxicated with making all this money,” she told the ex-rocker. “You did horrible things.”
As part of his sentence, Davenport was ordered to forfeit $853,210.11 in fraud proceeds that were recovered from his credit card processing accounts, as well as $79,000 in cash that was seized from him at the Bill and Hillary Clinton Airport in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Davenport pled guilty last September to a one-count federal indictment charging him with conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.
This case is part of an ongoing investigation by the St. Louis Field Office of the Chicago Division of the United States Postal Inspection Service. The Office of the Honorable Joyce E. Dudley, District Attorney for Santa Barbara County, and the Santa Maria Office of the FBI have provided substantial assistance in the investigation. The case is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Scott A. Verseman.