Uncle Sam Makes a Deal : Sale of $1-Million Home Will Settle Drug Case

Times Staff Writer

Esther Nuno DeBello is selling her million-dollar Fairbanks Ranch house to get the government off her case. Literally.

The five-bedroom, 4,250-square-foot home will be sold at auction May 24 in San Diego by the U. S. General Services Administration as a settlement in exchange for federal authorities not prosecuting the Mexican citizen on charges involving drug trafficking and immigration violations, attorneys for both sides say.

A GSA spokeswoman in San Francisco wouldn’t say what the house is worth, but Asst. U.S. Atty. John A. Houston in San Diego said the government hopes to receive $400,000 from the sale, after a mortgage of about $550,000 is first repaid.

Any profits over and above the $950,000 will go to DeBello, who has since returned to Mexico, officials say.


The government first seized the house as part of an investigation into alleged drug trafficking by DeBello, according to her attorney, Charles Goldberg. As that investigation continued, authorities added charges that DeBello had entered this country illegally by perjuring documents.

At one point, the government seized not only DeBello’s home on Camino Lago de Cristal, but also two other undeveloped lots that DeBello owns in Fairbanks Ranch, the upscale, gated community that borders Rancho Santa Fe east of Del Mar. Such seizures--homes, cars, boats and airplanes--are made by the government when it believes personal property is attained through drug money. The government then sells the property and keeps the proceeds to help finance its war on drugs.

However, the government’s case against DeBello didn’t pan out. “We were able to convince the government that their ability to prove their accusations against her were very limited,” Goldberg said. “The government said it was willing to negotiate a settlement.”

That settlement called for the government’s return to DeBello of the two lots, but for it to keep her home, which it would then sell at auction.


“The government will obtain the first $400,000 of net proceeds, which is about what we expect the profit to be,” Houston said.

The settlement also called for the government to drop the charges against DeBello.

Goldberg said his client agreed to sell her 5-year-old home “to avoid the risk of a jury finding she had some kind of involvement in illegal activity and to avoid having to defend herself. It was worth it to her to settle the case this way.”

The house, which is situated on a half-acre lot, is described by the GSA as “ultra-modern,” with a formal living room, dining room, large family room, two master-bedroom suites, a third bedroom and two more bedrooms “for domestics.”

The house also features a pool and spa, expansive hardwood floors, a central vacuum system and a full security system.

The GSA is promoting the sale through real estate ads and by sending flyers to persons who have asked to be notified of government property sales, said GSA spokeswoman Mary Filippini.

Tours of the house to interested buyers can be arranged, Filippini said.

The government won’t disclose its appraised value of the property. “If we told people the house is worth ‘X’ amount of dollars, people wouldn’t bid above it,” she noted. The GSA has established a minimum acceptable bid--but, again, it won’t disclose the amount.


The auction will be conducted at 10:30 a.m. May 24 at the Bahia Resort Hotel on Mission Bay. Bidders must first register by placing a $100,000 deposit--in cash or registered check--and be prepared to close escrow within 90 days.

No word of homeowner association fees.