Bail has been reduced from $600,000 to $150,000 for each of two defendants in a high-profile fraud case who are still in custody.
But Philip Lester, CEO of Gold Country Lenders, and Susan Laferte, the firm’s chief financial officer, would still have to prove the source of the funds should either be able to post bail.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger refused to release the two on their own recognizance, but did reduce their bail in a court hearing Thursday morning.
Laferte, Philip Lester, his wife, Ellen, and Jonathan Blinder all are facing charges that allege that Gold Country Lenders engaged in a pattern of theft and fraud-related crimes for over eight years, bilking investors of more than $2.3 million.
Philip Lester and Laferte have been charged with 66 felony counts of elder abuse, securities fraud and conspiracy. Ellen Lester has been charged with two felony counts of conspiracy and securities fraud and has been released on her own recognizance. Blinder has been charged with four felony counts of securities fraud and has posted $150,000 bail; his arraignment has been scheduled for Oct. 30.
Earlier in the hearing, Heidelberger granted injunctions that were being sought by State Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell regarding a property on Auburn Valley Road owned by Phil Lester, and several investment and bank accounts owned by Laferte.
Laferte’s attorney, Greg Klein, and Philip Lester’s attorney, Ken Tribby, both argued that incarceration was creating a due process issue because of the approximately 470,000 pages of discovery. Klein told Heidelberger that his client was not a flight risk and that she had been cooperative with the state investigators.
Krell disputed both statements, saying that a lot of money remains unaccounted for in the case.
She added that when the search warrant was served
on Laferte, a number of empty file boxes were found, as well as a receipt from a shredding company.
“Fifty boxes were destroyed before we were able to serve the warrant,” she said.
“These charges are very serious,” Krell said. “This has been completely devastating to the victims in this case. Their lives have been seriously impacted.”
Heidelberger noted that she had set the original bail at $600,000, but that was before the defendants had been taken into custody.
“It was appropriate at that time, but we’re now in a different place,” she said before reducing the bail amounts.
Heidelberger ruled, however, that the defendants must surrender their passports and cannot leave the county without permission from the court. She also said she would require all four defendants to appear at every scheduled hearing, and ordered them to keep in weekly contact with their respective counsels.
A preliminary hearing into the evidence has been set for Nov. 6.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call (530) 477-4229.