Former Bassist for the Ataris Pleads Guilty to Defrauding Thousands in Nationwide Telemarketing Real Estate Scam
The former bass player for the rock band, The Ataris –best known for their 2003 hit cover of Don Henley’s "The Boys of Summer" – pleaded guilty earlier today to a charge of conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud. Michael S. Davenport, 50, of Santa Barbara, California, appeared at the federal district courthouse in East St. Louis, Illinois, and admitted to owning and operating a telemarketing business that defrauded 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 acknowledged in court that his conspiracy and scheme to defraud operated from approximately January 2009 through at least October 5, 2016, over which time American Standard defrauded more than 100,000 people. 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. All told, the scheme took in more than $25 million.
Earlier this year, three of Davenport’s former employees also pleaded guilty in the Southern District of Illinois to participating in the American Standard fraud conspiracy. Mark A. Phillips (50) and Semjase E. Santana (37) were salespersons at American Standard’s headquarters in Santa Barbara, California. Carlynne L. Davis (33) was a salesperson in the company’s Lompoc, California branch office. All three are currently awaiting sentencing.
Criminal charges are also still pending against Cynthia L. Rawlinson, 51, of Santa Barbara, who is named as a co-defendant in Davenport’s indictment. Rawlinson allegedly started out as a salesperson but was later promoted to the sales manager position for American Standard’s Santa Barbara office. Rawlinson’s trial is set to begin on November 5, 2018, at the federal courthouse in East St. Louis, Illinois.
An indictment is a formal charge against a defendant. Under the law, that charge is merely an accusation and the defendant is presumed innocent unless and until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.
Davenport’s sentencing is set for December 28, 2018, at 10:00 a.m., in East St. Louis. Under the federal SCAMS Act, because the crimes involved telemarketing and victimized ten or more people over the age of 55, Davenport could receive as much as 30 years imprisonment and a fine of up to $250,000. He may also be ordered to pay restitution to his victims. Davenport’s plea agreement requires him to forfeit $853,210.11 taken from his merchant processing accounts, as well as $79,000 in cash that was seized from him last July as he was boarding a plane in Little Rock, Arkansas.
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.