Meet Tracii Hutsona. "She can talk anybody into anything," said her sister. Over decades, authorities say, she did.
Tracii Show Hutsona and Derrell Hutsona showed off the expensive cars they drove, the jets they chartered, the celebrity perks they scored and the fancy properties in Southern California they may or may not have lived in.
The title of their YouTube channel, Homeless Millionaires, is a tongue-in-cheek reference to the fact that the couple was prepared to lend out their rented cliffside Los Angeles home and luxury vehicles — including a Mercedes G Wagon, a Mercedes Sprinter and a Lamborghini — to the clients of their VIP concierge service, Elite Lux Life, at a moment's notice.
"We're living like millionaires, we're living like our billionaire clients, but we're working," Tracii Hutsona, 52, says in one episode. "We're working, always."
Their videos were often punctuated with cameos from their somewhat famous friends, including Tracii Hutsona's niece, former Bachelor star Amanda Stanton; Hollywood jeweller Peter Marco; and Joumana Kidd, the ex-wife of former NBA star Jason Kidd.
But this life was built on millions of dollars in stolen funds, authorities say.
In February, federal prosecutors announced the arrest of Hutsona on wire fraud and identity theft charges, calling her a "serial con artist."
"I will be happy to elaborate on and provide documentation regarding the actual facts of this matter once the case is behind me," Hutsona wrote in an email. But much of her history is already well documented.
The power of the personal assistant
Kidd, an actress and TV host who has just released a prayer messaging app called Dear God, had recently moved to the Calabasas area in 2015 and was looking for a personal assistant to help her with clerical work and errands while she underwent radiation treatment for breast cancer. On the recommendation of a friend who knew of Elite Lux Life's work with athletes, Kidd reached out to Hutsona.
Hutsona said she was too busy with the concierge service to take on a full-time role but offered to work part-time for Kidd. Hutsona offered to invoice her monthly rather than do the traditional hiring paperwork, so Kidd did not perform a background check.
Initially, Kidd thought she was getting the better end of the deal. Hutsona often worked remotely, billing her services monthly through Elite Lux Life. Hutsona's role grew steadily over time, and she soon had full access to Kidd's home and personal information.
Kidd felt grateful: Hutsona was seemingly always available to pick up Kidd's children, grab her mail or watch her dog when she was out of town. Miah, Kidd's 19-year-old daughter, referred to Hutsona as "like my second mom, literally," in one video. ("We do not provide dog sitting or nanny services," Hutsona wrote in an email.)
So when Joumana Kidd's financial adviser warned her in 2018 that she had been spending too much money, it was Hutsona she turned to for help. Hutsona came through, not only by helping Kidd to prioritise and cut some of her expenses but also by hunting down better deals on vacation homes, housekeepers and repairs.
As it turned out, Kidd's purchases weren't the problem.
The real expense, federal prosecutors say, was Hutsona, who is charged with siphoning funds from Kidd's accounts, including her children's college savings accounts, and using the money "for personal expenses, such as mobile phones, restaurants and nightclubs, luxury hotels, and jewellery."
Kidd and her financial adviser discovered US$307,498.02 ($428,738.32) missing from her accounts — and newly opened credit cards in Kidd's name.
Confused, Kidd asked Hutsona if she knew anything about what was going on.
She denied knowing anything. But later, Hutsona turned up sobbing on Kidd's doorstep and confessed, saying she felt pressured to impress her husband. Then she got on her knees, begged for forgiveness and offered to turn herself in.
Kidd felt pity. There might be, she thought, a way for the two women to move forward without involving the police.
The two signed a "personal plea agreement," according to the complaint filed by prosecutors. Kidd changed all her account numbers before allowing Hutsona to continue working for her while Hutsona paid back what she had stolen.
In a Homeless Millionaire episode that aired after they signed the agreement, Hutsona visits Kidd at her home in Calabasas. "She's apparently a client, and I apparently work for her, but she's actually like the best person anyone's ever met in their life," Hutsona says.
But she continued siphoning money from Kidd's account, according to the complaint. One year after signing the informal plea agreement, in September 2019, Kidd's financial adviser discovered she was being taken advantage of again by Hutsona. By then, Kidd's credit score had dropped to the 400s.
Hutsona was arrested February 17.
Contacted by phone, Kidd declined to comment on the allegations, saying that she did not want to say anything that might jeopardise the case against Hutsona. Hutsona only said that it was "false" that she was confronted by Kidd and fired.
Since his wife's arrest, Derrell Hutsona's only public statement has been a short video of him riding a Jet Ski. (He declined to comment for this article.) He is not named in the suit against his wife, though he is a co-owner of Elite Lux Life.
Derrell Hutsona, 35, as it happens, has his own history with fraud. In 2010, he pleaded guilty to cashing at least nine cheques belonging to former NFL running back Reggie Bush, a high school teammate.
He was sentenced to 600 hours of community service, three years of formal probation and was to make US$60,049 in restitution. In 2018, court records show, Hutsona's petition to have his felony convictions reduced to a misdemeanour was rejected, "due to the petitioner not having made any restitution to the victims in this case."
'She's just a con artist'
Kidd's decision to give Tracii Hutsona a second chance made perfect sense to Hutsona's older sister, Deborah Lindstrom, a marriage and family therapist who lives in the Bay Area.
"She's just a con artist, it's really sad to say. And she's really good at it. She has been her whole life," Lindstrom said. "She can talk anybody into anything."
Lindstrom said she and her sister have been out of touch since 2008. Hutsona — who was then known by the name Tracii Lynn Show Vician — had been arrested in 2007 on charges of identity theft and wire fraud alongside her husband at the time, Paul Vician. Lindstrom spoke with authorities in that case and said Hutsona still blames her for her subsequent conviction.
But the arrest had nothing to do with Hutsona's family.
In August 2005, Hutsona was working in business development at a staffing company, pairing corporations with short-term contractors.
According to court records, Hutsona created two fictitious contractors and hired them to work for an insurance company. Their pay went to her and her husband's joint bank accounts. To conceal her involvement and make the paperwork look legitimate, Hutsona doctored a copy of her passport, Photoshopping her name and pasting a photograph of a Black woman over her own.
Before the scheme was discovered, the company had paid more than US$168,000 to Hutsona — who had by then left the job.
"We were totally shocked," said Scott Sornbutnark, a former co-worker. "I mean, she was superpersonable. Like, supercharismatic."
Sornbutnark still recalls the day police officers came to the office, showed him an array of photographs and asked him to circle anyone he recognised. Hutsona's face immediately jumped out of the lineup.
"I thought she lived in Marina del Rey, which is here in California," Sornbutnark said. "That's a pricey neighbourhood; it's a nice neighbourhood. I was like, 'Wow, why do you need this job?' I can see how she afforded it now.'"
Before getting caught, Hutsona defrauded two other staffing companies, stealing more than US$500,000 over an 18-month period using the same techniques.
Court documents from the time also noted Hutsona's previous run-ins with the law, which included buying a Jeep from a car dealership with a bad check; using stolen and forged checks to pay rent and buy a washer-dryer; opening a Robinsons-May department store credit card using a variant of someone else's name and Social Security number; trying to steal a refrigerator; fraudulently obtaining a passport after hers had been seized by the government; and failing to appear in court for sentencing.
Prosecutors even said that Hutsona had once been arrested on charges of escaping from prison, though they noted "this case was dismissed for an unknown reason."
"If that were true, would not be granted bail," Hutsona wrote in an email.
Lindstrom said her sister's ploys dated back to when they were growing up in San Jose, California. Their parents, Lindstrom said, had struggles of their own. Hutsona, the baby of the family, was largely raised by her sisters.
"You have to be a little sympathetic, because our childhood sucked," Lindstrom said. "We lived in a normal house, and it seemed normal from the outside. My mother was very charming and beautiful, and my father had the Irish gift of the gab."
For her sister, it started small, with things like stealing her driver's license, Lindstrom said. (Hutsona said this was borrowing and that calling it stealing was "distorted to portray criminal activity.") Her activities spiralled quickly into stealing from their parents and getting credit cards in their grandmother's name. (Hutsona described this as "false.")
She also recalled one particularly brazen ploy that came along later — one that Hutsona also described as "false."
"She convinced this car dealership that she was working on the movie 'Jingle All the Way,' and she needed a car for Arnold Schwarzenegger to drive," Lindstrom said. "It was some fancy car; she always liked to drive fancy cars. But that's how talented she is. Do you know how good you have to be to do that?"
The Palm Springs job
In September 2008, Jacqueline Ellman moved from Palm Springs to Los Angeles with her children after a divorce. She had a new home to furnish, and Hutsona had listed some furniture on Craigslist.
The couches were nice, and the Orange County home where Ellman picked them up was even nicer.
Ellman ended up really liking Hutsona, who volunteered to deliver the couches to her home later that evening. But Hutsona had a tale of woe: Her family's new Malibu apartment had mould! Ellman, who had planned on renting out her Palm Springs home to vacationers, took pity.
"I learned that they were having to move out of this house and that they didn't have a next step," Ellman said. "I was like, 'Wow, that's pretty devastating. Whatever, whatever.' I mean, that's where, stupid me, I offered to let her stay in my place free of charge."
But Ellman didn't know that Hutsona had recently been evicted from the fancy Coto de Cazo home for trying to pay her US$6,500 monthly rent with a bad cheque and by stopping payment on a second.
The women became close. Ellman allowed Hutsona's family to crash on her couch when she and her husband had meetings in Los Angeles. When Hutsona, Vician and their two children were invited to tape an episode of the game show "Don't Forget the Lyrics!" Ellman accompanied them as their guest and cheered them on.
Then, things — like Gucci purses — started going missing.
"She just knows how to navigate a person. She acts very reliable, and she becomes very close to you as though she's your friend," Ellman said. "She almost knows when you're in a position to help, and she works it to the end. But she makes it where you offer it up. She works the angle that she's in a bind and she doesn't know what to do."
Fortunately, Ellman had filed a change-of-address form when she moved to Los Angeles. So the bill for a new credit card in her name, while it was addressed to the Palm Springs location, came directly to her. There were charges for a storage unit, car repairs and an Audi rental from Hertz.
"I texted her, and I said, 'Did you really open a Mastercard card in my name, Tracii?' Then, she called me up right away, said, 'I have this problem, and I'm really trying to be better,' and this and that," Ellman said.
According to the arrest report, Hutsona "broke down and began crying on the phone, admitting to opening the accounts," and claimed her husband was "on drugs or something." (Ellman said there were also charges for Passages Malibu, the pricey celebrity rehab center, on the card.)
Eventually, most of the charges in Ellman's name were forgiven, but she still had to go to court as part of the prosecution. During the hearing, Hutsona asked the judge for permission to address Ellman.
"She asked the judge, while she was shackled up in court, she said, 'May I say something to her?'" Ellman said. "The judge says to me, 'Do you want?' I said, 'No.' I wouldn't even look at her."
"Living a productive and humble lifestyle"
Around the same time they moved into Ellman's Palm Springs house, records show, Vician flipped on Hutsona. He pleaded out to accessory after the fact to mail fraud for his role in cashing three of the fraudulent paychecks.
"When the United States Diplomatic Security Service began investigating Mr. Vician's wife, he immediately came to her defence," his lawyers wrote in a pre sentencing memo. "He had been married to her for close to 12 years — he believed in her innocence. He did not think his wife would be so foolish to commit a scheme to pay fictitious employees to enrich their family. However over the course of the investigation and the development of the criminal case, Mr. Vician discovered more and more about his wife's double life."
A few months later, Hutsona also agreed to a plea deal for charges around wire fraud, aggravated identity theft and tax evasion. She was sentenced to 75 months at a low-security prison for women in California. According to court records, she spent her time behind bars as a practicing Buddhist who worked for a Federal Bureau of Prisons call center, taught English classes to her fellow inmates and helped with prison programs to raise awareness for AIDS and breast cancer.
By 2010, Hutsona had participated in psychological counselling groups and addiction and behavioral programs. She told the people around her she had learned her lesson and was prepared to live an exemplary life.
"She is committed to breaking this cycle, determined to stay away from the influence which has repeatedly ensued destructive behaviours and living a productive and humble lifestyle," Hutsona wrote in 2010, in a motion to vacate her sentence on the grounds of ineffective counsel. She was denied.
"Tracii is an individual who is worthy of a second chance," wrote Andy Richards, a chaplain at the Los Angeles Metropolitan Detention Center, in a 2009 letter. "I believe she will be successful upon her release and will not come back."
A controversy over breakfast — and some answers
Ten years later, even as Kidd fired Hutsona, a hospitality group was also trying to sue the Hutsonas.
The Hutsonas had opened a breakfast-themed restaurant in San Diego and called it Breakfast Bitch. They opened a second outpost in Phoenix.
Queens Hospitality was accusing the Hutsonas of stealing the idea from a Miami Beach eatery called Bacon Bitch.
Both restaurants feature signs that read, "Bitch don't kill my vibe," greet customers with the phrase "Welcome bitch" and identify entrees as "main bitch" and side items as "side bitch."
The restaurants were so similar that the Yelp representative who added the Hutsonas' restaurant to Yelp's listings was even confused, according to court filings.
The management company also said that Tracii Hutsona visited the Miami Beach restaurant — and had emailed the company to inquire about franchising opportunities — before opening her own spot.
The case was ultimately dismissed last year, though by that point, her local counsel had already withdrawn, saying that Hutsona was "no longer able and willing to pay for the attorney's fees and costs."
But the filings may help account for some of the missing Kidd money.
In a motion to dismiss, Hutsona submitted evidence that she had spent around $50,000 on marketing and branding, plus another $16,000 for merchandise, employee uniforms and décor branded with the establishment's name.
Among the credit card receipts that Hutsona submitted in support of her claim are charges made to a Visa card that has been identified as Kidd's.
Hutsona is currently free on bail while her lawyers and prosecutors continue "discussions concerning this case and its possible disposition," according to court documents.
Her San Diego location has been closed for the pandemic, but its website claims it is reopening today; the outpost in Phoenix has remained open during the pandemic.
And while Kidd may have inadvertently funded this breakfast mess, she recently made her loyalties clear.
Last month, on vacation in Miami, she posted a photograph of herself at Bacon Bitch. The caption read, "It's the restaurant for me!"
Written by: Gabrielle Bluestone
Photographs by: Brian Stauffer
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