Using a phone book — that archaic yellow-toned tome now mostly found in hotels and Airbnb rentals trying to be hotels — should be fairly harmless. But, for R. Landis, that seemingly innocuous act all but bankrupted her.
Eric Wood, Landis' son and a former La Cañada Flintridge resident, said it was around 2011 when his mother, now 72, was looking for help in getting a divorce. According to Wood, his mother was living in Sacramento at the time and didn't have the funds to hire a lawyer.
"She looked in the phone book and found a legal aid group [in Pasadena] and this gentleman … answered the phone," Wood said. "She said he could help her through all the process of getting a divorce."
The man told Landis her husband had some kind of investment that would result in her receiving a settlement in the neighborhood of $200,000, according to Wood.
Wood said the man later introduced Landis to a lawyer during the divorce proceedings who claimed to be representing only the husband, not her.
"Throughout the process, a lot of money disappeared and no one had paid my mother anything," Wood said. "She lost most of her retirement … the settlement."
By the fall of 2015, Landis was left penniless and moved to Oregon, where Wood now lives.
Wood placed the blame for his mother's destitution on the two men, the man at the legal aid group and the lawyer, for swindling her. But they denied any impropriety.
He attempted to go to the Pasadena Police Department and the state's Department of Aging for help, but the issue was outside their jurisdictions.
Several years had gone by when Wood received a phone call late last month from the Santa Barbara County district attorney's office advising him the two men Wood accused of stealing from his mother had recently been arrested on suspicion of running an embezzlement scheme.
The Santa Barbara County district attorney's office declined to comment, saying the case remains a pending criminal matter.
Authorities with the California Department of Insurance claim Brett Lovett and Robert Burlison defrauded at least nine people, including Landis, out of a combined $1.2 million between 2011 and 2016. The arrests came after a 15-month investigation.
Investigators discovered several of Lovett's victims were seniors he supposedly befriended at a place of worship in Carpenteria, according to a statement from the Department of Insurance. The rest were found through the Legal Aid Information business he ran.
Despite running a legal business, Lovett does not have a license to practice law with the State Bar of California.
The Department of Insurance stated the victims would give their money to the 46-year-old Camarillo resident based on fraudulent investments he told them about or for financial management services.
"Lovett then misappropriated the money for his own personal use and to repay some of his victims — sometimes using his Power of Attorney and Promissory Notes to embezzle funds from victims," according to the statement.
This isn't first time Lovett has been named in connection to an embezzlement case. The U.S. Commodity Futures Trading Commission filed a permanent injunction against him in 2007 after he was found to have fraudulently solicited hundreds of thousands of dollars from people he went to church with, using false pretenses.
The trading commission said Lovett took the money for his own personal use and was ordered to pay over $675,900 in sanctions. However, he never paid the amount.
In the more recent incident, authorities said Lovett received help in at least one case from Burlison, a resident of La Cañada.
However, Burlison denies any wrongdoing and said he has "no connection at all" to Lovett — that he is also a victim of his fraud.
"Somehow, the Department of Insurance thinks he's a bad guy, and that I conspired with him, and that's the furthest from the truth," Burlison said in an interview Tuesday. "That is not me, it did not occur."
Attempts to contact Lovett were unsuccessful.
According to a copy of the felony complaint released by the district attorney's office, a victim identified as G. Ryan was sent two letters from Lovett — one used a combined letterhead that featured Lovett's business and Burlison's Pasadena law firm while the second just featured the name of the law firm and carried Burlison's signature.
The first letter to Ryan, dated July 13, 2011, said Burlison's law firm was being retained by a Ruby Revell. Ryan was connected to the sale of a home that involved Revell.
In the second letter, dated Dec. 29, 2011, Ryan was told to deposit over $110,000 from the sale into an account held by Lovett. The money belongs to Revell, according to the complaint.
Ryan deposited the money on Dec. 31 of that year and, on Feb. 2, 2012, Burlison became the "escrow holder" of the account.
The complaint then states Lovett transferred over $75,000 to Burlison's law firm on Feb. 27, but it's unclear if any of that is from the money deposited by Ryan.
On the following day, according to the complaint, Burlison distributed $60,455 from his firm's account to Lovett and took a $1,146 fee for himself. At no point were any funds distributed to Revell.
A LinkedIn profile reportedly belonging to Lovett shows him as the founder and head of faculty of the Resolve Mediation Institute, a Pasadena-based mediation company. When reached by phone, a representative for the company said Lovett no longer worked out of the office.
The company's website shows no mention of Lovett, but it does list Burlison as the managing partner.
Both the mediation company and Burlison's law firm share the same 1250 E. Walnut St. address in Pasadena.
Burlison said these were all lies perpetuated by Lovett.
Although he did work for Resolve, Burlison said Lovett only played a small role, and that he was never the founder. He said Lovett edited the website so that it appeared he was something he was not.
Burlison said when this was discovered, all mentions of Lovett were removed from the Resolve website. A Google cache for the company's website, dated Oct. 9, 2017, does show Lovett as the principal partner.
It also lists him as a former senior paralegal for Burlison's law firm from 2007 to 2009. Burlison said he has no recollection of Lovett's supposed time as a paralegal.
As for the letters, he said they were fabrications made by Lovett as well and that his signature was forged. He also said he has never met Revell — nor any other victim, for that matter, including Landis.
Burlison did say funds were put into his firm's account but they have remained there, untouched.
"I am not the person being portrayed here [in the complaint], that's not me," he said. "This is a demoralizing, emotionally depressing thing that has been foisted upon me, absolutely out of the blue."
The Santa Barbara district attorney has filed 28 criminal counts against Lovett, including theft from an elder or dependent adult, embezzlement, forgery and residential burglary. He has since pleaded not guilty to the charges.
For his alleged part, Burlison was charged with conspiracy to commit a crime and being an accessory to a crime. He said he plans to fight the charges and called them a "prosecutorial overreach" by the district attorney's office.
Wood said he's relieved to see that his mom may finally get justice after several years. In addition to contacting authorities, he said he's spent several years trying to build a case — collecting documents and other evidence.
"I can't tell you how happy I was to see that they weren't getting away with it," he said. "It was just overwhelmingly emotional to find out there is going to be accountability for these two."
He also said he has filed a complaint with the State Bar of California over Burlison and has received a letter from them saying they have begun an investigation into the La Cañada man.
The state bar declined to comment on whether or not Burlison is being investigated, and the organization's website shows that his license to practice law is still active.
Since their arrest, Lovett has been out on $200,000 bail while Burlison was released on $250,000 bail.
Lovett is scheduled to appear in Santa Barbara Superior Court Tuesday for a preliminary hearing setting while Burlison appeared in court Wednesday, but his arraignment was continued to Nov. 21.
Authorities encourage anyone who may have additional information on Lovett or Burlison to contact the Santa Barbara district attorney's office at (805) 568-2312 or the Department of Insurance at (661) 253-7500.