Co-owner of Newport Beach investment firm gets probation for $14M real estate scam

Louis Zimmerle of BNZ Capital pleaded guilty to scheme promising 10% returns on bogus deals

Newport Beach Principal Gets Probation for $14M Real Estate Scam

(Photo Illustration by The Real Deal with Getty)

The co-owner of a Newport Beach-based investment firm who bilked investors out of nearly $14 million through bogus real estate deals will walk free without a day in prison.

Louis Zimmerle, 64, a co-owner of BNZ Capital, was sentenced to five years probation after pleading guilty last fall of one count of wire fraud in connection to the real estate scheme, the Orange County Register reported.

In addition to probation, Zimmerle, who is from Sacramento, was ordered to pay back $684,500 to victims of the scheme.

Federal investigators said Zimmerle’s $13.8 million scheme had promised investors returns of up to 10 percent for money they sank into what Zimmerle and co-conspirator Brett Barber, of Costa Mesa, said were real estate projects they bought and sold. 

Except the projects did not exist.

BNZ Capital “did not take any substantial steps to develop parcels, nor did BNZ flip real estate for a profit,” according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Central District of California.

“Rather, BNZ primarily used investor funds to pay Barber, Zimmerle and others associated with the scheme, including purchasing residences where Barber and Zimmerle lived,” officials said in a statement. “Some of the investors’ money was used to repay earlier investors.”

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In a criminal complaint filed last year, investigators outlined how they say Barber, 44, of Costa Mesa tricked victims into giving him money.

In October 2021, Barber told an FBI agent posing as a potential investor that one of his firms, National American Capital, had been in business for 20 years” and “that it owned parcels of land in Laguna Beach” to be developed.

Barber told the undercover FBI agent that NAC also owned property in Newport Beach that would be developed with four condominiums, officials said.

None of those claims was true.

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Barber pleaded guilty last year to two counts of wire fraud and one count of criminal contempt. He faces 20 years in prison for each count of wire fraud, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, plus life in prison for the count of criminal contempt.

Both men still face a civil lawsuit by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. 

— Dana Bartholomew