Seductress of the Saints

Inside the mind--and suitcase--of Sandra Bridewell, religious charlatan

Bridewell's agenda from this period never mentions her encounters with police. She signs up for a mailbox, buys her favorite purple and gold ink pens and begins looking for properties in foreclosure.

On February 10, 2004, she writes: "I purpose to acquire 9 units or more per month this year of 2004 & to attain cash flow of $10K or greater & own 100 units or more by year's end. So be it!!!"

Her ally: the man who picked her up from the Retters, a businessman who owns and manages apartment complexes and homes for the disabled. He gave Bridewell use of an SUV, a Blackberry cell phone with Internet access and a gas card. In return, she promised to find investment property they could purchase together.

A snapshot of Sandra Camille Bridewell on the California coast, taken from a roll of film labeled "Point Reyes, CA." At bottom, a sample of her notes.
A snapshot of Sandra Camille Bridewell on the California coast, taken from a roll of film labeled "Point Reyes, CA." At bottom, a sample of her notes.
A glimpse of Bridewell's "Promised Land Farms," a $3.2 
million property in Marin County where she wanted to 
establish her "ministry." Bottom: a letter she forged in an 
attempt to close on the purchase.
A glimpse of Bridewell's "Promised Land Farms," a $3.2 million property in Marin County where she wanted to establish her "ministry." Bottom: a letter she forged in an attempt to close on the purchase.

Her agenda shows appointments for manicures, massages and facials. Money was again flowing.

Bridewell was working with at least three real estate agents. "Hallelujah!" Bridewell wrote on March 25, 2004, when her contract for $3.195 million for the Wetmore Lane property was accepted despite a laughable escrow check of $3,000. Signing the papers "Camille Powers Trustee," Bridewell told the agents that her financial advisers in San Francisco had not yet funded the trust. But she pushed to occupy the property by her birthday on April 5, when she would turn 60.

"She was presenting that she could pay cash for the property," Jones says. "My job was to get her to show proof that she could pay cash within five days of entering into escrow."

Bridewell promised that her financial advisers in San Francisco would provide confirmation of her finances. As the days dragged on, Jones felt anxious but not suspicious. Nobody wanted to believe the deal wouldn't go through, so they kept giving Bridewell more time. "It's the compulsive gambling part of real estate--we can't believe it won't happen," says Jones, who told Edwards her office was going to have to issue a 24-hour notice: perform or the contract was void.

On a Friday in late April, Edwards received a fax from Bridewell of a letter to her from Santa Rosa financial adviser Robert Trent on Morgan Stanley letterhead "confirming your acquisition of property located at 200 Wetmore Lane, Petaluma, Marin County, for the all cash consideration of $3,195,000 with Close of Escrow to be on or before September 7, 2004. Certified funds will be made timely available to you as you so instruct..." Trent's signature was at the bottom.

Edwards read the letter to Jones. "It was too open-ended," Jones said. "It just said Camille Powers can perform whenever she wants to. It didn't say she had sufficient funds."

The next Monday, Jones received a panicked call from Edwards. "This person is a fraud," he told Jones. "She forged that letter."

Edwards had called Trent, who said he'd mailed a packet of information to Bridewell at her request, along with a polite signed note. Trent confirms that he didn't write the letter, nor had he ever met Bridewell.

Confronted, Bridewell cried and admitted the letter was forged, produced under pressure because her trust funds hadn't come through. Bridewell still insisted she could buy the property. They gave her a few more weeks then called the Sonoma County district attorney and FBI to report the fraud. (No charges were filed, says a spokeswoman for the district attorney; the FBI didn't return calls.)

"In hindsight, I think her goal was to occupy the property without buying it," Jones says. "The eviction process here is not only lengthy but somewhat costly. She could have lived there at least three months free on the property. Then who could she have looped into her fabulous plan while she was there?"


·· ·ITEM: Catalog of Jessica McClintock wedding dresses.

·· ·ITEM: Sample of Progesterone Menopause Herbal Body Cream.

Bridewell, now going by Camille Powers, met her next Boaz in March through Max Arnold, a well-known Sonoma County attorney whose wife befriended Bridewell at a Santa Rosa church. Driving an expensive SUV, Bridewell seemed successful, well-groomed and delightful.

The Arnolds invited Bridewell to a party at their home, also attended by Gary, a divorced entrepreneur with custody of his two children. "We were very keen for our friend to meet someone," Arnold says. "She was sitting on his knee by the end of the night."

Bridewell and Gary saw each other often in the weeks that followed. "She indicated she was involved in procuring a very expensive piece of property in Petaluma," Arnold says. "She said she was expecting the financing to come through sources that she didn't want to name." Bridewell took Gary to the Wetmore Lane compound. All she needed to close: $112,000.

Pushing Gary to marry her, Bridewell filled a page of her agenda with notes on their upcoming nuptials. She envisioned herself wearing a "princess" Jessica McClintock wedding dress ($355) and Gary wearing a prayer shawl. The ceremony would take place under a canopy surrounded by a profusion of Casablanca lilies and would include foot washing and an exchange of rings from James Avery.

The wedding might have given her a way to close on her Promised Land. Never mind how she'd come up with $3 million. But Bridewell pushed too hard, and Gary backed away. Then Bridewell's past caught up with her, courtesy of the Internet--and the Dallas Observerarchive.

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