Sargent Ranch owners file for bankruptcy

Marci and Wayne Pierce on their wedding day in Hawaii.

The 6,500-acre Sargent Ranch just south of Gilroy, owned
principally by Wayne and Marci Pierce under the Sargent Ranch LLC,
is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.
The 6,500-acre Sargent Ranch just south of Gilroy, owned principally by Wayne and Marci Pierce under the Sargent Ranch LLC, is under Chapter 11 bankruptcy proceedings.

Reorganization papers were filed in San Diego bankruptcy court Monday, according to court records.

Wayne Pierce tried to develop the pristine land first through Santa Clara County then, when that failed, through a partnership with local members of the Amah Mutsun Native American tribe which potentially could have bypassed county planning regulations.

The Pierces, who live in La Jolla, own 85 percent of the ranch.

The couple used about $35 million from dozens of investors to develop a plan for Sargent Ranch, according to Dispatch archives. Wayne Pierce then tried to team up with the Amah Mutsun Indians and Congressman Mike Honda (D-San Jose) to help them gain federal tribal recognition and reclaim Sargent Ranch, where their ancestors fished, hunted, and raised families.

However, forgery of tribal papers and federal scrutiny of Wayne Pierce’s past dealings killed the project.

Pierce was one of many developers linked to one of the most abusive land scams in recent California history, according to state and local authorities.

The FBI, the Internal Revenue Service, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, and a host of state authorities have targeted David Fitzgerald – the man Pierce recruited to orchestrate a Contra Costa land development deal known as Roddy Ranch – for securities fraud. Authorities estimate that Fitzgerald’s schemes throughout the state have cost investors more than $250 million.

Then, in 2007, federal officials confirmed that a Bay Area Indian tribe leader, Irenne Zwierlein – who inked the deal with Wayne Pierce to bring development to Sargent Ranch – forged and mailed documents to the government in what her rival called an attempt to cling to power. At the time, Congressman Honda had sponsored legislation that would have fast-tracked federal recognition of the Amah Mutsun tribe.

Plans to develop the Sargent Ranch have long been unsuccessful. County zoning regulations, environmentalists and local politicians have thwarted plans for hotels, golf courses and housing developments for two decades.

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