Alleged scammer tried to join contractors association

Penn Estes applied to Santa Barbara Contractors Association, was denied

Victoria Sanchez, KEYT - KCOY - KKFX Anchor/Reporter, victoriasanchez@keyt.com
POSTED: 06:18 PM PDT Jun 10, 2013    UPDATED: 06:25 PM PDT Jun 10, 2013 
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SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

Penn Estes was in court on Monday facing a host of charges on suspicion of preying on seven victims of two devastating fires.

NewsChannel 3 learned Estes had run-ins with people other than her alleged victims.

Estes seemed legitimate. She was, after all, the CEO of Green Building America. But her company raised red flags for the executive director of the Santa Barbara Contractors Association.

"She did not have a contractor's license. We could not find her name on any kind of corporation that was attached to a contractor's license. She never produced a number and her company name, Green Building America, was never on the contractor's state license board either," said Karin Perissinotto, the association executive director.

Perissinotto said Estes kept coming back to her office. She even turned in an application -- without the $50 fee -- to become an association member.

"Before we even process the application, we go online and make sure that their license is current and active," said Perissinotto.

When Estes was denied membership, she went straight to the source of the money -- people who lost their homes in the fires.

"And she would come in and really just sweet talk the homeowners. She was obviously very charismatic, and able to convince people to give their insurance money to her, which is not an industry standard at all," said Perissinotto.

Estes is charged with scamming victims into handing over all their insurance money and claiming she would rebuild their homes.

That never happened. Now she's facing multiple felonies.

"Diversion of construction funds, grand theft, theft by false pretenses and some special allegations which include defrauding victims of a natural disaster," explained Deputy District Attorney Gary Gemberling.

Those charges could keep her behind bars up to 21 years.

Even after allegedly taking all that money, Estes may get a public defender. For now, she remains at the Santa Barbara County Jail on $2.5 million bond.