Valley Center Woman Ordered to Repay $1.8M in Witch Creek Fire Fraud Case

A Valley Center woman was ordered Friday to spend a year behind bars and pay $1.8 million in restitution after defrauding lenders following the 2007 Witch Creek Fire.

Deborah Tumlinson, 55, pleaded guilty to a wire fraud scheme that ran from May 2010 to April 2013, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office.

When her Ramona home was damaged in the 2007 Witch Creek Fire, Tumlinson used non-existent settlement money to get various loans.

“She exploited her own tragedy and the compassion of others, and in the process made sure it became someone else’s tragedy," said Acting U.S. Attorney Alana W. Robinson in a written release. "The people she fleeced paid a high price, and for that, she will pay a high price.”

Tumlinson joined a class-action lawsuit against San Diego Gas & Electric to recoup their losses.

A 2008 California Public Utilities Commission report found SDG&E and Cox Communications were responsible for starting the three destructive wildfires, including the Witch Creek Fire, that burned in October 2007.

Working with an attorney who has since been disbarred, Tumlinson told a prospective lender that she had received $2.4 million from the lawsuit. In fact, no settlement had been made.

She put up the alleged settlement as collateral for a loan through U.S. Claims to purchase a new Valley Center house. In addition, she received a $250,000 home equity loan on that house by making “material misrepresentations” on a loan application to mortgage broker Seaside Funding, Inc. in Carlsbad, according to the indictment.

On Friday, U.S. District Judge Janis L. Sammartino ordered Tumlinson to spend one year and one day in custody. She was also ordered to pay restitution in the amount of $1,838.742.24.

The Witch Creek Fire, the largest of the 2007 wildfires and second largest in California history, destroyed and damaged thousands of homes and killed two people.

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