By Eric Heinz
Four developers involved with the proposed miniature golf and wave pool at Vista Hermosa Sports Park a few years ago were arrested on Thursday and Friday, April 14 and 15, on charges of defrauding local investors out of more than $1 million.
Jourdan Tyson Groves, Michael Scott Melcher, Michael Ruffner and Christopher Schlegel, who were all once part of the company Surf N’ Turf Paradiso, LLC, have all been arrested and charged with felonies relating to fraud, one such count was for $1.118 million between Feb. 6, 2012 and June 26, 2014, according to the Orange County District Attorney warrant issued on April 8.
All four men pleaded not guilty to the charges during an arraignment on May 6 at the Orange County Superior Court in Santa Ana. A pre-trial hearing is scheduled for June 22.
Original plans were for Surf N’ Turf to install a wave pool, mini-golf course and restaurant or snack bar. The company, under leaseholder Melcher, planned to lease the land for $2,500 a month plus 6 percent of gross revenue of the project, until $400,000 in revenue had been generated when the city would receive 8 percent. The city of San Clemente awarded the lease of the land for the miniature golf course on Aug. 22, 2013 to Surf N’Turf, but the project fell through in October 2014 when the developers did not meet the city’s deadline to complete it.
At a City Council meeting in May 2015, City Manager James Makshanoff told the council the city would be moving on from the project.
Michelle Lipton, Orange County deputy district attorney who is prosecuting the case, said because returns on promissory notes had not been fulfilled in addition to the failure of proper and thorough disclosure of the use for the funds to investors, the charges of fraud applied.
Groves, Ruffner and Melcher were all held on $1 million bail and Schlegel was held on $530,000. All of them must prove the money was not gained by illegal means. According to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department inmate list, all four were still in custody as of Tuesday.
There is an ongoing civil lawsuit between investors of Surf N’ Turf and the four defendants in the criminal case.
Paul Meyer, attorney for Groves, said on Tuesday he did not want to make a statement at this time. Legal representatives for the three other defendants have not yet been reached for comment.
All four arraignments have been continued to May 6 at Central Superior Court.
Editor’s Note: This is a developing story. More details will be provided when they become available. The lease agreement has been updated to reflect the correct contract agreement.