From the Dept. of Oh How the Mighty Have Fallen: An arrest warrant has been issued for the son of Orange County billionaire Donald Bren—four months after Steven Michael Bren received jail time for stalking and repeatedly harassing his ex-wife.
The warrant stems from the younger Bren being a no-show at Orange County Superior Court civil proceedings stemming from millions of dollars the 56-year-old owes creditors.
According to court documents filed on Bren’s behalf, he has been unable to come to court because he is being treated for substance abuse issues at the same deluxe Pasadena rehab that he tried to convince a judge in Idaho to send him to instead of jail.
An Orange County judge had previously found the son of OC’s richest man in contempt of court and ordered him taken into custody until he can pay those he owes $2 million or come up with a repayment plan or convince the judge he can’t scrape the money together. Judge Robert Moss declared him a fugitive from justice for failing to show up at a hearing where he was supposed to be remanded into custody. Bail was set at $100,000 Thursday.
Donald Bren, the chairman of The Irvine Co., left his first wife and Steven’s mother, Diane, shortly after the boy was born in July 1960. The elder Bren pleaded poverty during his divorce proceedings, and Steven Bren once told an interviewer he, his brother and their mother lived without much of anything in Newport Beach, home of the private island where his father has lived a lavish lifestyle with his two subsequent wives and assorted children.
But Steve Bren still managed to become a professional motocross rider and race-car driver. He later joined his father’s property development company and served as vice president before leaving to buy a luxury auto dealership in Newport Beach. Model Thais Baker, a childhood friend who had told her mother as a little girl she was going to marry the older Steve Bren some day, had her dream come true when the two were hitched at an opulent 1988 ceremony.
The downward spiral seemed to begin when Steven’s Newport Auto Center ran into legal troubles, getting tagged for environmental violations, swept up in a shady deal involving Lamborghinis and former Chrysler Corp. chairman Lee Iacocca, and caught with eight street-illegal Porches on the back lot. Thais Bren eventually left Steven and married pro golfer Freddie Couples in 1998.
In July 2010, Steve Bren married another model, Erica Spangler of Honolulu. Their daughter Bella Rose Bren was born in Ketchum, Idaho, not far from where daddy Don Bren has a ranch.
Steve Bren left the car business to become a property developer like his father. Well, not exactly like his father: The son routinely shows up on the California Franchise Tax Board list of tax deadbeats, rising to No. 1 in 2015 when he owed $4.5 million. To reduce state liens, he has been ordered to sell a $4.4 million Emerald Bay home and $2.4 million office building in Irvine.
He’s also had a civil judgment against him for owing Union Bank $68 million on a $94 million loan, and another Orange County judge once ordered him to be taken into custody unless he agreed to turn over $2 million worth of property, including artwork, vehicles and homes in Malibu, Idaho and Laguna Beach.
A court issued a $5 million civil judgment against him after the Bank of America brought a breach-of-contract lawsuit against him regarding Bren’s Sky Blue Aviation defaulting on a $19.4 million line of credit to buy a private jet. Finance Holding Co., which bought the judgment from BofA, is owed the outstanding amount that’s now at the center of the current Orange County case.
Bren’s lawyer had claimed his client was a victim of the 2008 recession, which caused him and his second marriage to hit rock bottom. Bren blames his drinking on the stress of the relationship and claims he cannot repay creditors because he had to turn his assets over to Spangler in their divorce settlement.
On June 20, 2015, the estranged couple reached a deal to avoid contact with one another. However, Bren violated that a month later by sending Spangler abusive text messages, according to responding Sun Valley Police Officer Nick Neuhart, who captured screenshots of the missives. Bren was convicted of a misdemeanor violation of a protection order. That December, Bren assaulted Spangler in front of Bella Rose, according to Blaine County, Idaho, Deputy Prosecutor Matt Fredback. Bren was charged with misdemeanor domestic battery. On Jan. 5, 2016, he was spanked with a misdemeanor violation of a non-contact order. A month later it was misdemeanor violation of a protection order. Bren was charged with first-degree felony stalking on March 13 and July 5 of 2016.
In crafting a stalking case against Bren, Fredback cited the defendant violating the protective order several times, allegedly getting drunk and sending Spangler obscene and threatening texts, and one time even scratching the paint on her car. But the defendant failed to show up to court for most hearings on the charges that followed, including the felonies. Prosecutor Rick Allington said Bren had been allowed to return to Southern California to settle his tax and financial affairs. Bren’s attorney Michael Kraynick said his client did not return to Idaho because he checked himself into an in-patient substance-abuse treatment facility. A judge ruled he should have notified prosecutors about his rehab plans ahead of time.
Bren was charged with two felony counts of stalking, two misdemeanor charges of violating a no-contact order and another misdemeanor count of domestic battery. A conviction could have sent him to prison for 10 years. He was also ordered once again not to contact Spangler.
The case was still pending on Dec. 4, when around 8 p.m. Bren was arrested after showing up at a neighbor’s home in Ketchum soaking wet and claiming he had just waded through the nearby Big Wood River with police on his tail. The Blaine County Sheriff’s office says Bren was not being pursued that night but he was nonetheless arrested because it turned out he had $1.1 million worth of warrants for his arrest out from—you guessed it—Orange County.
Bren cut a deal that had him pleading guilty Jan. 18 to a single felony count of stalking. The defense attorney pleaded for his client to do his time in the Pasadena rehab. Fredback, who agreed Bren needs substance abuse help, opposed the defendant getting no time at all behind bars, pointing to a past that included domestic battery, intimidating a witness and substance possession.
Judge Robert Elgee sentenced Bren to 120 day in jail, but gave him credit for serving 60 days, and ordered him to successfully complete three and half years of probation and drug and alcohol rehabilitation before immediately returning to Idaho to complete his jail stretch. Bren was also ordered to have no contact with Spangler through March 13, 2009, except by phone to arrange visitation with Bella Rose. Elgee’s ruling allows the conviction to be stricken from Bren’s record if he successfully completes probation.
Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the paper’s first calendar editor. He went on to be managing editor, executive editor and is now senior staff writer.