Crime Library: Criminal Minds and Methods

Kaushal Niroula and The Gay Grifters

A Missing Man In Palm Springs

Clifford Lambert
Clifford Lambert
In late 2008, Clifford Lambert, a 74-year-old Palm Springs socialite and former Los Angeles art dealer, was at a low point. His partner of ten years, Travis Lambert—né Hobbs, had moved out in April 2006 after the drawn-out and dramatic dissolution of their relationship. Neighbors had called the police on the feuding couple at 317 Camino Norte on numerous occasions, and the younger Lambert had sought a restraining order against his former partner.

And then Travis Lambert drowned in 2007 at the age of 35.

Clifford Lambert was lonely. Danny Garcia started seeing him.

On December 7, 2008, a friend reported Clifford Lambert missing. They hadn't seen each other since November 30. Lambert had left the man a message on December 4 asking him to return his call. The friend tried multiple times to reach Lambert, but he never answered.

Lambert's attorney, worried about the old man's unexplained absence, asked neighbors to keep an eye on things. On January 7, one of them, Cliff Lemmerick, called the police to report a robbery. He reported that 5 or 6 "Mexican" men with a U-Haul rental truck were in front of Lambert's house and that one of them was trying to break open a gate.

At the gate, police found Miguel Adolfo DeLeon Bustamante, 26, a bartender at the Castro District's Jet Bar. He subsequently told investigators that Kaushal Niroula, David Replogle, Russell Manning and Daniel Garcia had hired him to clear out the house for $30,000. Lemmerick later told reporters that police found Lambert's ID, credit cards and keys with Niroula and Garcia.

Bustamante used to hang out with Niroula at the house that real estate agent Mark Evans shared with his wife. Niroula had told Evans that Bustamante was part of a Colombian drug cartel that wanted to buy land in the U.S. Evans also says Garcia had once tried to warn him about Niroula, calling him a ripoff artist. When Niroula tried to get Evans to help sell Lambert's house, Evans grew suspicious and contacted the police himself.

Replogle had allegedly made fraudulent arrangements granting Niroula power of attorney over Lambert's estate. But the gang made a mistake: They realized that Replogle's thumbprint, which a notary public had taken to confirm the documents, would give them away. So the gang decided to get the documents back from the mobile notary company they'd used. The company received a call from the San Francisco address where they'd originally notarized the papers, but no one kept the appointment there—and someone tried to knock the notary public down and steal the documents from his backpack as he returned to his car.

Evans looked up an old deed, and found that the signature didn't match that on the power of attorney. He googled Lambert and discovered that he'd been reported missing. Evans called the police, and this led Palm Springs Police detective Frank Browning to the truth.

In January 2009, the grifters tried to sell the home, valued at $1.3 million, for a mere $298,000 to Jay C. Shah. The house had already been looted of many of its valuables, included some notable artwork, but a court was able to halt the sale of the home and its remaining contents. Browning and his team closed in. Police got arrest warrants for all of them.

The case hasn't come to trial yet, but early hearings have revealed a succession of alleged plots.

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