Real estate developer and rumored billionaire Bill Gallaher has emerged as something of a villain in Sonoma County, California. Now, an explosive drama is playing out in his own family.
Last week, prosecutors charged Gallaher’s son Marco and his son’s girlfriend Rachele Eschenburg with grand theft following allegations that the pair stole more than $100,000 from the bank family owned.
The legal troubles began in May, when an official at Poppy Bank reported that Marco Gallaher had “fraudulently accessed” an account reserved for the bank’s shareholders “to pay card bills.” credit and purchase on [A]mazon,” according to a search warrant issued over the summer.
The bank suspects that young Gallaher accessed the account, called “Big Poppy Holdings Inc,” using information printed on dividend checks he received. Initially, the company reported that $75,000 was lost, although it was able to recover more than $50,000.
Investigators counted more than two dozen “unauthorized transactions,” the subpoena said, including several transfers to accounts held by Marco Gallaher or Eschenburg – who were arrested but not charged. in summer. (It’s unclear if the pair are still together.)
Based on Democratic Party Press, which first reported on the charges, the Santa Rosa police chief notified the City Council of Marco Gallaher’s arrest because of the “media attention” it would likely generate.
The reason for his concern: Bill Gallaher’s vast wealth and extensive portfolio have caused controversy after much controversy in the region. Most recently, he spent more than $1.6 million last year trying to call back local district attorney, Jill Ravitch, single-handedly shrinking her entire campaign budget. (Ravitch won the recall attempt with more than three-quarters of the vote, and she reused herself from the Marco Gallaher investigation, a spokesperson said.)
A year ago, Ravitch’s office secured a settlement against Gallaher’s companies over allegations that employees at its luxury homes abandoned elderly people during big forest fire in 2017.
Asked for comment in October about his legal issues, Marco Gallaher simply texted, “Damn.” He’s a bit more verbose with Democratic Party Press, argued that the entire situation at Poppy Bank was a “misunderstanding”.
“I’ve been trying to keep my distance from my family for a while,” he added.
In an interview at the same time, Eschenburg told The Daily Beast that the bank’s statements were completely “fake” and that the police raid on her and Gallaher’s home “was completely illegal. .”
Neither Gallaher nor Eschenburg responded to requests for comment after the allegations were made this month.
However, their attorney Erick Guzman has hinted to The Daily Beast that Ravitch’s office is prosecuting Gallaher as an act of political retaliation. “The evidence I was provided with was not close to evidence that a crime had occurred,” he said. “It would strain credibility to conclude that it is coincidental that Marco is charged in this case and that his father has taken public and official positions in which he is involved in the DA”
Guzman said the couple will not plead guilty.
Representatives for Bill Gallaher did not respond to a request for comment.
Marco Gallaher and Eschenburg will be lined up on January 25th, which is sure to put Bill Gallaher in the headlines once again.
“Recently, many people are upset, or become more upset because an individual with too much money is using it for public good.”
– Debora Fudge of Windsor Town Council
In recent years, elder Gallaher has come under scrutiny for a long list of issues. His companies settled a whistleblower lawsuit over claims he was giving affordable housing to his friends; he and his family poured huge sums of money into other political races in the region; and he sued the towns of Windsor and Santa Rosa, asking them to reverse mandates to make newly built homes more environmentally friendly, a measure he opposes.
Debora Fudge, a member of Windsor town council, said: “Many people have recently become annoyed, or become more upset, when an individual with so much money is using it for the public good. Although he has “done a lot of good” for the area, she admits – such as donating to the local Boys & Girls Club – “his reputation has dropped significantly in Sonoma County.”
As a young man in California, Bill Gallaher didn’t seem destined to become rich. At the age of 19, he hitchhiked alone to Washington State and through three-quarters of Canada.
Then he got a job in line at a Safeway supermarket, where he worked for four years. “I realized that’s exactly what I didn’t want to do,” he told an interviewer in 2007.
Gallaher had been working out at home while in high school and college, and by the age of 25, he was trying to make it his career. He fiercely competed for land and sold his first project, then rapidly increased his production.
Over the coming decades, Gallaher built more than 500 homes and his empire expanded into shopping malls, dozens of upscale living communities, and Poppy Bank, which now holds more than $4 billion in assets. produce.
“Life is so much better with money,” Gallaher said in a 2007 interview. “You have so much more to do… You don’t have to wait in line.”
It was around that time that locals started whispering about Gallaher’s political donations and whether he was trying to buy influence, according to a person familiar with Sonoma County politics.
The allegations eventually became clearer. In a 2016 paper, sources cited by Democratic Party Press questioned the $195,000 donation Gallaher’s son-in-law, Scott Flater, made as “independent expenditures” to support city council candidates. Flater’s stated occupation is “housewife”. The obvious question: Where does that money come from?
David McCuan, a political science professor at nearby Sonoma State University, told the paper the businessman appeared to be “splattering money everywhere”.
“Bill Gallaher uses his family like a shell game, and has for a long time, to support the candidates he loves,” he said later. “To me, what they did was go against the letter and the intent of the law.”
Gallaher and Flater sued for defamation, naming McCuan, the journalist, and the newspaper’s owner as defendants.
In May 2017, Flater filed a sworn statement in which he stated: “No one, not even Mr Gallaher, has ever provided me with any money to donate to any candidate. any political or independent spending campaign in the 2016 Santa Rosa City Council election.”
But a week later, he filed an amended statement, this time without mentioning the independent expenditures.
The court, in dismissing the complaint, found that the wording was likely intentional, and a “concession” that Gallaher and Slater could not prove defamatory.
And that’s not the only explosive claim to have emerged in the case. During litigation, Gallaher’s former general counsel, Jeffrey Breithaupt, who worked for him until 2015, testified that Gallaher had regularly approached employees and offered to “repay them for their contributions.” contributions they will make in his direction to certain political candidates.”
“Gallaher has asked me to contribute several times to political candidates and I have done so,” Breithaupt wrote in his sworn statement. “Every time he did, he would refund me with a check from his personal checking account.”
Democratic Party Press, has covered Gallaher closely, previously reported on the statement.
A spokesman for the state’s political spending watchdog, the Fair Political Practices Commission, told the paper that the allegations made by Breithaupt appear illegal but fall outside the statute of limitations. The FPPC previously investigated Gallaher for alleged campaign money laundering but never charged him with misconduct.
Then came the fire.
The fire engulfed part of Graciela Walker’s retirement community – a property run by one of Gallaher’s companies – when she stepped out of bed at 4 a.m. in October 2017. Neighbors had started. evacuated hours earlier, but no one informed her or her family. .
Weak and unsteady, the 95-year-old man staggered for an exit. She reached a set of outdoor stairs, where she dropped her walking aid and dragged herself up. When the fire broke out, Walker sat down and prepared to die.
“She thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to take a deep breath so I’m suffocating,'” her daughter Brenda told The Daily Beast in an interview. That seemed like a better way to go than burning alive.
Walker is not dead. A passing police officer saw her flashlight and directed her to the main building, where she was evacuated by bus to a local auditorium. There, Brenda’s husband, Rick, found her alone, “huddled up… in pajamas and robes.”
“I would officially say she was dumped,” Brenda said. Her mother passed away in 2020, Brenda and Rick believe that trauma caused her to decline.
After the fire, which consumed more than 5,600 structures across the region, other residents at Gallaher’s retirement communities also began pointing fingers. Some of them allege that his company severely understaffed the assets to drive up costs and failed to adequately prepare its employees for a disaster. Former residents and employees have claimed that there is not even a generator on site.
Ravitch also blames Gallaher’s company. The business eventually paid $500,000 and agreed to independent supervision for 5 years. A company spokesman said at the time that it had settled because it was “financially prudent”.
Meanwhile, legal outbreaks continued. In 2019, a whistleblower for one of Gallaher’s developments, Mariah Clark, filed a lawsuit alleging her contract was terminated on suspicion of whether the business engaged in affordable housing fraud. .
The development, Vineyard Creek, received $35 million in tax-free bonds on the condition that Gallaher will build dozens of affordable apartments.
According to Clark, some of those entities inappropriately approached Gallaher’s personal relationships, even when they didn’t meet the income requirements. At the same time, Clark alleges that the property charged insurance companies and low-income renters.
The complaint was corroborated in another local report, in which two former employees of the business said they were “guided to engage in fraud”. The employees added that managers did little to investigate the misconduct or review the allegations.
Clark is said to have settled the wrongful termination claim last year for $500,000. The fraud allegations were dismissed as part of the settlement.
There have been other controversies: also last year, Bill Gallaher, his family and affiliates of his companies contributed more than $250,000 to support Ted Gaines, a largely unpopular directorial candidate. known, who ended up with just 0.7 percent of the vote — raising an eyebrow about why they donated that cash. (Gallaher’s wife, Cindy, has defended such donations.)
There is also the issue of whether Gallaher and his wife will return a $16 million pledge to the local Boys & Girls Club, and an ongoing dispute over the purchase. his daughter’s $950,000 horse.
For now, however, Gallaher’s estranged son Marco is attracting attention – and as usual for the family, it’s attention they may want to avoid.
https://www.thedailybeast.com/vexed-tycoon-bill-gallahers-son-is-charged-with-pilfering-the-family-bank?source=articles&via=rss Bill Gallaher’s son charged with assaulting family bank