7 Takeaways From Our Investigative Podcast 'California City'
I'm a reporter for KPCC and LAist, and I spent years investigating a decades-long, deceptive real estate sales pitch in the small Mojave Desert town of California City.
Now that my 8-episode podcast is finally out, I wanted to break down what I learned.
Here are my main takeaways:
- California City was founded by Nat Mendelsohn, a Czechoslovakian immigrant with a vision to build a city from scratch in the desert.
- Mendelsohn's sales tactics drew the attention of Ralph Nader and got the company in serious trouble with the Federal Trade Commission.
- After Mendelsohn's company went bankrupt, a former employee quietly continued selling vacant land in California City.
- In 2011, that company, Silver Saddle Ranch & Club, transitioned from selling vacant desert lots to selling shares of a confusing real estate investment called "landbanking."
- Silver Saddle targeted a very specific type of customer: Latino, Filipino and Chinese people, most of whom lived in California and often spoke English as a second language.
- The California Department of Business Oversight charged Silver Saddle with fraud and shut the company down in 2019.
- It's unlikely the people who invested with Silver Saddle will get their money back.
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