In a shocking turn of events, the idyllic coastal town of Santa Cruz has been rocked by a real estate scam that has left more than 130 people reeling. Dolores “Dede” Harrington, a former property and vacation rental manager, has been sentenced for her involvement in a complex web of embezzlement charges that spanned over two years.
Harrington, who co-owned the renowned Beach House Rentals LLC since 2004, was once a trusted figure in the community. Specializing in high-end vacation rentals, she brokered deals for luxurious homes, condos, cottages, and townhomes. However, her reputation took a nosedive when it was discovered that she had been engaging in fraudulent activities.
From early 2020 to August 2022, Harrington began withholding rental income from property owners, pocketing rental deposits, and abruptly canceling vacation rental contracts without notice. The victims, who had placed their trust in her, were left devastated and financially crippled. Civil breach-of-contract actions started piling up against Harrington even before her eventual arrest in October 2022.
The Santa Cruz County District Attorney’s Office filed 16 felony charges against Harrington, but as part of a plea deal, 12 of them were dismissed. On Thursday, Santa Cruz County Superior Court Judge Stephen Siegel sentenced Harrington to two years of probation and a hefty $400,000 restitution fine. To ensure accountability, Harrington will spend one year incarcerated or, if possible, serve her time in an alternative housing custody.
The restitution fine will be divided among the identified victims, although they are likely to receive only 40% of their losses. Leanne Lopes, a Capitola property owner who attended the hearing, expressed her satisfaction with the outcome. She had previously entrusted her rental properties to Beach House Rentals, only to be left in the lurch when Harrington’s deceit came to light.
Assistant District Attorney Ed Browne confirmed that the deal also addressed the lost transient occupancy taxes owed to the city of Capitola. This means that affected property owners will not be directly charged for the outstanding taxes. Browne acknowledged that while the victims may not recover the full amounts they paid, they would at least receive some compensation.
Outside the courtroom, Lopes conversed with Julie and Sebastian Rangel, a couple who had traveled a considerable distance to attend the hearing. They had been loyal customers of Beach House Rentals, making annual trips to Capitola with their extended family. However, Harrington had callously informed them that their reserved units were no longer available, leaving them disappointed and out of pocket.
Julie Rangel expressed her relief at receiving some restitution for their losses, acknowledging that others in different cases had not been as fortunate. The emotional toll of the scam was evident, but the prospect of receiving some financial recompense provided a glimmer of hope.
As the dust settles on this real estate scandal, the community of Santa Cruz is left to grapple with the aftermath. The once-trusted vacation rental manager has tarnished the reputation of an entire industry, leaving property owners and vacationers alike questioning whom they can trust. The scars of this deceit will take time to heal, but the hope for justice and restitution remains strong.