Hat tip to Susie for sending this along, from the latimes.com:

Scattered across 540 acres of San Diego County hills and ravines, the 235 opulent homes of the Bridges at Rancho Santa Fe flank a private golf course and country club with tile-roofed towers inspired by Tuscan villages.

The placid panorama belies decades of bruising battles among the project’s developers. The cast includes home-building titan Lennar Corp., a bankrupt La Jolla deal maker and, in an improbable late entry, con man-turned-preacher Barry Minkow.

The dispute ultimately led to a federal criminal conviction against Minkow and a continuing investigation by the Justice Department. But it all began here, at a classic Southern California home development that promised riches for its partners but ended up exacting a high price on the key players.

The court filings offer a rare glimpse into the inner workings of a high-end real estate deal gone bad.

Lennar, the venture’s main financier and manager, says it lost $50 million on the Bridges in spite of the custom-built mansions and expensive tract homes gracing its hillsides. Sales soared during the housing boom, but by 2009 the company was moving only one home every two months, San Diego real estate consultant Russell Valone said.

“Lennar did not go into this project thinking they were going to sell half a unit a month,” said Valone, the president of MarketPointe Realty Advisors. “There’s no way they planned on being there that long — they’re a public company and they want to get that money back and put it to work.”

At the center of the wrangling is Lennar’s partner at the Bridges: Nicolas Marsch III, 64, of La Jolla. A native of Chicago, where his family was in the construction business, Marsch took the helm of the enterprise in the 1970s and set out to make his fortune as a developer in California and Colorado.

Marsch ultimately set his sights on Rancho Santa Fe, 25 miles north of downtown San Diego. Described by CBS sportscaster and former resident Dick Enberg as “Beverly Hills in the country,” the very private suburb caught the world’s attention in 1997 when 39 cultists at a rented mansion poisoned themselves in expectation of ascending to a spaceship.

Marsch had purchased much of the Rancho Santa Fe land by the early 1980s. He launched the project he then called Horizon Country Club in 1985, in a partnership with a wealthy Northern California developer, Ronald Williams.

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