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At 7 a.m. on Sept. 24, 2006, a man drove a brand new $150,000 Gulfstream motor home over the curb in front of the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department, walked into the lobby, and told deputies the Mexican Mafia was trying to kill him.

He also told them he had taken apart the air conditioner in the rear of the RV because he "believed he could hear sounds coming from it," according to a report of the incident.

His racing pulse, nonsensical rambling and "paranoid and bizarre behavior" caused deputies to suspect they were dealing with someone in a "methamphetamine psychosis," according to the report.

Sure enough, inside the RV, deputies found 7 grams of the drug on a tray with a straw made from a pen, and another 2 grams in a plastic baggie nearby. The driver admitted snorting the drug the prior evening, and told deputies he'd been using for about 18 months.

That man was Jay Soderling, the convicted 1980s savings and loan swindler turned renegade Lake County real estate developer.

He was arrested and later charged with drug possession and use, and ultimately completed a drug diversion program that resulted in the charges being dismissed earlier this year.

The arrest is just one of several strange chapters in Soderling's post-prison real estate career fueled by Sonoma County investors.

Using loans from hard-money lenders such as Clem Carinalli, Soderling and his brother Leif, owner of now-defunct Konocti Homes, left a trail of unpaid debts and ill will in Lake County following the collapse of the housing market.

Plenty of developers got burned when the housing bubble burst, but the Soderlings were a breed apart.

"There's the honest guys who just mess up and there's the crooks like the Soderlings that intentionally try to hide and misrepresent and redirect and basically obscure things so nobody can figure out what's going on," said Mark Borghesani, general manager of Kelseyville Lumber.

Jay and Leif Soderling could not be located for comment. They did not return multiple messages left over the past three weeks.

Borghesani estimates the two brothers left him with $360,000 in unpaid bills for construction materials. Leif Soderling's son, Jonathan, stuck him with another $40,000, he said.

When the company went to place mechanic's liens on the homes the Soderlings built, however, it made a surprising find. Most of the houses were not completed, even though land records suggest that the Soderlings had borrowed enough money to complete construction, Borghesani said.

"Why would a lender show that he's disbursed 100percent of a $160,000 loan on a home that's only half finished?" Borghesani said.

Borghesani suspects the Soderlings were skimming the money off the projects, leaving the lender holding the bag when they foreclosed, and leaving his mechanic's lien worthless.

Unlike other contractors, the Soderlings have never tried to resolve the debts, but rather have done all they can to avoid responsibility, Borghesani said.

Eventually, the Contractors State Licensing Board got wind of the problems and investigated. They found both brothers were building homes without licenses, citing them numerous times in 2007 and 2008.

Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins said he's been been investigating the Soderling brothers in connection with their development activities, but no charges have been filed.

Jay Soderling had another bizarre run-in with the law for a different type of violation regarding Borax Lake in 2008.

On May 19, 2008, the state Department of Fish and Game received a report about some pumping activity going on at Borax Lake.

Warden Loren Freeman responded and found Soderling doing something he'd never come across in his career.

"He was pumping the lake," Freeman said.

Specifically, Soderling had placed a large hose in the lake, run it about 600 feet up a hill, and was using a large diesel engine to pump water out of the lake and up the hill.

There he attached it to an industrial-sized sprinkler and was spraying the water across the hillside in an apparent attempt to lower the level of the lake, Freeman said.

It's not only illegal, it's not very smart, Freeman said.

Soderling apparently believed the water on the hill would evaporate, but it simply ran down the hill back into the lake. The lake is also fed from underground springs or aquifers, he said.

"It's pretty hard to empty a lake that keeps filling up," Freeman said.

Clearlake city administrator Dale Neiman said he believes Soldering was somehow trying to increase the acreage of the property.

"I think he was trying to lower the level of the lake to create more developable land," Neiman said. "There's no way that would have been permitted."

He was charged with one count of altering a waterway without a permit, a misdemeanor. Records show he pleaded no contest in May 2009, received one year's probation and was ordered to pay fines and restitution of about $7,000.

Probation officials declined to say if he was making payments on the debt.

You can reach Staff Writer Kevin McCallum at 521-5207 or kevin.mccallum@pressdemocrat.com.

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