Six years ago, developer Paul Lambert put together the biggest, gaudiest monstrosity in the 2002 Parade of Homes. With its three kitchens, eleven bathrooms, Roman spa and casino, swimming pool and waterfall, the $4.1-million Villa Bellagio was the buzz of Douglas County. But its over-the-top luxury also drew fire from Lambert's subcontractors over unpaid bills, and from homebuyers unhappy with Lambert's company, Dorian Homes, as we reported here.
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Lambert airily dismissed the mounting lawsuits as much ado about nothing, even moving into the Villa Bellagio at one point while his lawyers argued that he was broke. (According to court records, he borrowed extensively from his company, as much as $30,000 in a single month, and company funds were used to subsidize personal vacations.) But his operation has hit one bump after another in recent years, including tax liens and a $280,000 judgment against him from one buyer. In 2006 he was charged with felony theft , given a four-year deferred sentence and ordered to pay $234,000 in restitution to one couple who'd hired him to build their dream home.
Lambert's old habits die hard, though. On May 1, he was back in Douglas County for resentencing, after complaints from his probation officer about violations of the terms of his original deal. According to the probation revocation documents, Lambert continued to shift earnest money deposits from buyers to other business and personal accounts, stiffed his subs and creditors and presented bogus invoices from vendors to his bank to obtain additional payments. He also purchased property and a 2007 Toyota Highlander without the probation department's approval.
So Lambert has moved from the Villa Bellagio to the Douglas County jail while awaiting placement in community corrections, where his work and finances will be strictly monitored. Under the terms reached yesterday, he pleaded guilty to a new count of theft, received a suspended prison sentence, and will spend the next twelve years in community corrections — less if he manages to pay off the restitution earlier than scheduled.
The luxury housing market may be in a slump right now, but future entrepreneurs can take inspiration from Lambert's story. It's a quick study in how to go from a big house to the Big House, no money down. –Alan Prendergast