The tone was contentious at a felony conference for Gold Country Lenders CEO Philip Lester and CFO Susan Laferte Thursday afternoon, although neither defendant was present in Nevada County Superior Court.
Approximately 20 of the duo’s alleged victims were present, however.
Laferte and Lester were indicted in mid-January by a criminal grand jury for allegedly defrauding investors of millions of dollars over a period of eight years. They already had been facing more than 60 felony counts of elder abuse, securities fraud and conspiracy, but the grand jury indictment superseded the original complaint.
The charges allege that Lester issued fractional deeds of trust secured by property that he either owned outright or in partnership with other developers, and Laferte solicited money for projects that was used to pay investors on other projects in a risky shell game.
On many of the projects, investors allegedly were not informed that Lester was the property owner, partner, developer, appraiser and/or borrower, as well as the loan broker. Lester allegedly had no money of his own to fund the projects or pay the investors.
Their trial already had been postponed from April to June 4, and it seems likely the defense counsel — Ken Tribby and Greg Klein — will file a motion for an extension.
California Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell indicated she would be ready to go to trial in June and asked Judge Candace Heidelberger to set a date by which defense counsel needed to file any motions for extension or for a change of venue.
Tribby said it was “entirely possible” a motion for change of venue would be filed, saying there were issues that needed to be resolved before he and Klein made such a decision.
Klein also indicated he might be filing a motion to dismiss by the end of April.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of wrangling, but I have an obligation to move this along,” Heidelberger said, setting a date of April 25 by which any “appropriate” motions would need to be filed.
“This case is outside the general wheelhouse … there will be a lot of coming up to speed,” Klein said. “We need to protect the constitutional rights of the defendants, not to do this in a hurry … Everybody knows June is not a realistic (trial) date.”
Heidelberger said she would not be willing to vacate the trial date at this time, noting, “I don’t have any motions in front of me today.”
The defense counsel has estimated the trial could last at least six weeks with more than 50 witnesses expected to testify.
Tribby indicated he had not yet received the documents associated with the transcript of the grand jury proceedings, a statement disputed by Krell.
Heidelberger directed the three attorneys to meet and clear up the issue, saying, “This is not the type of thing I should be involved in.”
The criminal complaint filed by Krell originally also named Lester’s wife, Ellen, and Jonathan Blinder as co-defendants; Krell dismissed two felony counts of conspiracy and securities fraud against Ellen Lester in November and dismissed four felony counts of securities fraud against Blinder earlier this week.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.
“Obviously, there’s going to be a lot of wrangling, but I have an obligation to move this along.”
— Judge Candace Heidelberger