Poor Little Rich Boy
By Jamie Reno
A decade ago, Paul Walton, a former sales executive with U.S. Sprint Communications, was awarded $1.7 million in an out-of-court settlement over additional commissions he claimed the long-distance phone company owed him. As soon as the check cleared, Walton, aching for his freedom, swore off the workaday world, invested most of the money in real estate and set off on a celebrity- and woman-chasing lifestyle that would have exhausted a young Hugh Hefner.
“I never have to work again,” he claimed in 1988. “Nor do I want to.”
Through much of the 1990s, Walton played hard. He drove fast, expensive cars. He dated scores of attractive women. He attended major entertainment and political events (the Academy Awards, the Cannes Film Festival, the fall of the Berlin Wall). And he had his picture taken with hundreds of A-list celebrities (Bill Clinton, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Mikhail Gorbachev, Clint Eastwood) and appeared on Oprah and other national talk shows as the rich playboy looking for true love.
He even threw his own Paul Walton Parties, to which dozens of avaricious single women were drawn just to meet the gregarious single millionaire. But his improvidence—and several woefully bad investments—eventually caught up with the globetrotting ladies’ man. Today, Walton, who has lost his fortune, is virtually house-bound in a failed North County resort he “inherited.”
“I really miss my life,” he says softly. “I’m just not used to working. This isn’t my bag.”
Walton’s jet-set lifestyle came crashing to earth last June when his sole remaining investment—the Castle Creek Inn Resort & Spa, between Escondido and Temecula—went belly up. The property—now his only source of income—is a charmingly rustic but perpetually uninhabited 30-room European-style retreat, once owned by none other than J. David Dominelli, the notorious swindler who spent more than 10 years in prison for bilking high-profile investors out of $80 million in a Ponzi scheme.
Although Castle Creek had been in and out of bankruptcy court since Dominelli’s company collapsed in 1984, Walton thought it was a winner when he sank $350,000 into it in 1986. By 1990, his investment had increased to $1 million.
“I invested in it long after he [Dominelli] was out of the picture, but it seems like everything he ever touched went bad,” Walton says. “But I’m not a superstitious person. I hear all these wild stories that there’s a tunnel underneath the office here where Dominelli hid all his loot. I don’t believe any of that.”
Walton, 42, is a San Diego native who grew up in Clairemont and taught high school–level government before hooking up with Sprint in the early 1980s—just as the company was breaking out nationally. After he collected the settlement from Sprint, he says he was living well off his investment in Castle Creek—earning about $100,000 a year. But that all ended a few days after he returned from a sojourn to Cannes, France, when he was told the hotel was insolvent.
“I knew it wasn’t doing that well, but I had no idea it was going under,” he says. “It was a total shock.”
When no one bid on the property at public auction, Castle Creek—on which Walton held the second mortgage—became his by default. Now he can’t get anyone to buy it because he can’t get anyone to stay there.
It’s not that the place isn’t beautiful. Nestled on a hillside about 40 miles north of downtown San Diego and just east of Interstate 15, the resort remains in good condition. There are tennis courts, a swimming pool, a gourmet restaurant, swimsuit-optional soaking pools, a fitness studio and a skeleton staff, eager to please. Castle Creek Country Club, a popular golf course that is separately owned, is right next door.
As the property’s resident owner/manager, Walton—who sleeps in whichever room is unoccupied—wears about 13 hats a day. “If I could just concentrate on the marketing and sales, I could turn this around more quickly, but I have to do so many other things,” he says. “I’m everything from the personnel director to the purchasing agent to the secretary. I don’t know any one person who can do that many things effectively.”
Desperate to keep the place afloat, he winces each time he pays his employees: He keeps expecting his checks to bounce. He’s turned to family and friends for financial assistance. “This is all I’ve got left. It’s sink or swim for me now. If this sinks, I’ll be working at McDonald’s.”
It’s been a radical change of lifestyle. But Walton, who still possesses the charm, friendly demeanor and boyish good looks that made him such an effective salesman, hasn’t lost his optimistic spirit.
“Even though everything in my life changed overnight,” he says, “I’m still making a go of it. You know the saying about when the going gets tough.”
His only regret might have been obvious to some a lot earlier: He should have paid better attention to his investments while he was out living the high life. “I was just having a good time. I was the total existentialist, living in the present,” he admits. “I could have minded the store a little better.”
Walton, who now looks at the pictures taken of him with the rich and famous as if he’s viewing snapshots from someone else’s life, has been able to cull some meaning from his rags-to-riches-to-rags ride. “This has been very humbling and a real awakening for me. It’s been a reminder of what it’s like to work every day for ‘tay,’ which is an ancient term for survival. I’m just surviving now. I was never born with a silver spoon in my mouth; I know what it’s like to work. I thought I’d worked hard enough that I never had to do this again. Freedom is the most important thing in life, and I’m working now to get that freedom back.”