PALM SPRINGS, CA. I’ve been following the Elvis Presley Estate saga about evicted, alleged owner, Reno Fontana since the story broke in the February 21, 2013 article, Elvis Left the Building and so has Reno Fontana, by Desert Vortex News (DVN) writer Dean M. Gray.
Shortly after the story broke Fontana was interviewed by Linescrew1 to share his side of the story in a video. The only evidence Fontana presented to support the alleged, wrongful eviction were court documents dated 2009. Furthermore, he makes note about the number of illegal foreclosures which occurred during the mortgage crisis 2007-2009. It appears Fontana is alluding he is a victim of the illegal foreclosures, and investors Rade Raicevic and Financial Bonanza, LLC were taking advantage of the crisis to steal the property from him.
There is not much substance to the nine minute video. It provides a brief history of the events surrounding the eviction, a plea for a lawyer who will represent pro bono in exchange to make a name for himself, and Fontana’s confidence he will prevail in court. He asks listeners to “withhold judgment of any kind until after May 20th.” It’s after May 20th and my judgment has been made and an opinion is formed.
In the March 4th edition, DVN follows up with a report about a stolen piece of iconic artwork, designed and mounted on the outside of the estate by artist Jeffrey Howe.
Jeffery Howe says his Elvis Presley silhouette became part of the property and was never the personal property of Fontana, that his sculpture was massively bolted to the structure, not hung there like a painting but secured as an intrinsic part of the house, no different than a door or window. ~Dean M. Gray, Desert Vortex News
In addition to the missing art other items were removed including the air conditioning units and some ceramic tiles from a fountain. The items were reportedly sold with the tiles fetching $150 each. It looks like Fontana was swindler and a thief and a profiteer more interested in cashing in on the Presley name rather than honoring it.
To prove his innocence Fontana had his day in court on May 20th and it was not looking too good for him. The question argued was who owns the Presley estate. Fontana, without much evidence, states he is the rightful owner, but defendants Rade Raicevic and Financial Bonanza, LLC had a lot evidence stating their rightful ownership.
Rubin’s client and the person presenting a pile of evidence to our investigators that his name and his name alone has been on title to the property, Raicevic presented extensive evidence of purchase agreements, property, insurance and tax payments validating that his property is his…Fontana has not offered any such evidence for us to review; only his say so that he is the owner. ~ Reno Fontana Argues Palm Springs Property Tied Up in Court is His. DVN.
The weight of evidence by the defendants ruled in their favor on June 10th.
With both sides presenting their case, it appears from the flow of the courtroom proceedings that Fontana and Whittier are unlikely to prevail in returning to the Palm Springs property once owned by Elvis. If that is the case, investors who evicted the couple in January will finally be able to go forward with new plans for the property. ~ Trial Over for Elvis Presley Palm Springs Home. DVN.
The proceedings were five days of contentious, courtroom shenanigans. Fontana and his wife, Laura Whittier, represented themselves, something they probably should have reconsidered. The choice to represent themselves seemed to be motivated by affordability since the entire ordeal appears to have taken a toll on their finances and Fontana’s health.
Fontana wore the exact same clothes every day for the five day trial while Whittier just changed her jacket, blouse and accessories….Compared to previous photos of Fontana from just six months ago he has lost weight, appeared gaunt, and later in the trial claimed his inability to focus was a result of his suffering diabetes. Those weaknesses may have added to Fontana appearing unprepared, confused, unable to keep his train of thought and just plain tired. ~ Trial Over for Elvis Presley Palm Springs Home. DVN.
Regardless, the couple seemed to be defeating their own case. Whittier was caught coaching Fontana and disrupting the proceedings resulting in her removal from the courtroom for the day. At times, they implored Judge Oberholder to question the witnesses and also acted disrespectfully towards him.
Reading the article gives the impression the fight in Fontana had already left the building. His financial resources were depleted, the mountain of evidence by the defendants was overwhelming, tactics to delay court proceedings were exhausted, and it looked like he was just grasping at straws of desperation looking for a sympathetic angle to rule in his favor.
“It looks to me like you haven’t put a dime into this property, Mr. Fontana,” said the judge….The trail made it clear that is was never Fontana paying the bills as it was the investors who made the 28 mortgage payments before the property went into default.
All options exhausted, Fontana failed to win his argument with evidence or sympathy, and it looks like Elvis fans will have their shrine back.
Some of those fans were victims of Fontana’s predatory charm to bilk money from them to invest in the future Graceland West including ETA, Richard Coco.
“He said we would get paid back right away,” said Teri Ayala-Coco, “My husband [Richard Coco, a singing Elvis impersonator email@example.com] did a show there at the house and that’s how we got to know Reno. He said he needed money to keep hold of the house. We loaned him $2,500 and he said we would get paid back right away. We got nothing except an email that he wanted $6,500 more. When we said we didn’t have it that was the last we heard from him.” ~ Investors Say They Were Bilked Trying to Preserve Elvis Presley Home. DVN.
Joe Gonzalez invested $20,000 for the purchase of a limousine used by Elvis only to learn Fontana bought a “junky, old Cadillac” with no connection to Elvis. I’ve seen enough car shows to know a junky, old Cadillac couldn’t have been worth more than $2,500 – $3,500. What happened with the rest of the cash? Only Fontana knows.
DVN reported since they wrote the story a number of people have contacted them with stories of being bilked by Fontana.
Since Desert Vortex News first wrote about the troubles at the Elvis Presley Home, we have been contacted by what seems like a seemingly endless stream of people all saying they lost money through their association with Reno Fontana, all claiming they have been cheated in one way or another.
The most devious bilking was sweet Elvis fan, Theresa Carter. She lost $250 after making 15 embroidered Presley Estate aprons at the request of Whittier for an event.
I’ve had several emails from them consistently promising me the funds but to date have only received 1 money order of $25 towards the $225 bounced check & $50 in bank fees owed…I am a small time stay at home mom that sells custom embroidered items out of my home. ~ Theresa Carter, Tiny Crafts.
Reno lost. Investors lost. Elvis fans lost, but the loss looks temporary. Businesswomen, Sherry Williams of Tarzana, CA and Patsy Andersen of Memphis, TN, recently paid a visit to the estate. Williams was one of the bilked investors and an “amorous confidant of Elvis” for three years. Presently, she is the business manager for her daughter, Katie Cassidy. Andersen is the former director of Graceland for 22 years and business owner of Patty Andersen Productions. Each have many years of experience in the fields of entertainment, producing, and public relations.
The two businesswomen met with Rade Raicevic for a private conversation.
The conversation these two businesswomen had with Rade Raicevic, now living in the Elvis Home, was not shared with this reporter. Raicevic evicted Fontana in January. We suspect though a good portion of the conversation was the two women providing details to the newest occupant about its most famous one. ~ Dean M. Gray, DVN
This is a good sign for the future of the estate. Reno’s future is still unfolding.
When I first came across this story in February part of me hoped it was a just a bad business deal. I hoped it was greedy investors out to get a poor, Elvis fan, and ruin his life in order to profit from Elvis’ memory. Reno is, or was, a charming, likable person and we shared some similar life experiences. During our personal tour of the estate, Reno gave me and my wife free souvenirs with an invite for dinner which we never fulfilled. He also shared his financial woes and triumphs, and exciting future plans for Graceland West and hinted at an opportunity to invest. We declined, but kept the offer in mind, and of course, glad we didn’t follow through.
It turned out Reno was the liar, thief, and con man swindling money from Elvis fans for his own benefit to fund his greedy lifestyle. Still, I hope he turns a new leaf, finds redemption and in time becomes the charming, likable fellow I first met, only trustworthy.