The trial date for Gold Country Lenders Chief Executive Officer Phil Lester and Chief Financial Officer Susan Laferte has been pushed back once again, to May 2014.
And a judge’s decision to lower their bail, but not release them on their own recognizance, could land the duo back in custody — and postpone the trial even longer.
The complex fraud case has been marked by a number of delays since Lester and Laferte were arrested in September 2012, then 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 each face 61 counts — one count of using a scheme to defraud, 50 counts of offering securities for sale by means of an untrue statement or omission of a material fact and 10 counts of fraud from an elder adult.
Lester’s first court-appointed counsel, Ken Tribby, resigned in July. Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger subsequently appointed El Dorado Hills attorney Mary Beth Acton to replace Tribby; Laferte continues to be represented by Greg Klein.
The trial has been postponed multiple times, most recently to Feb. 25, 2014.
During a hearing to confirm that date in Nevada County Superior Court, Acton and Klein told Heidelberger they were still getting up to speed on some of the documents.
A scheduled date of Jan. 31 for motions to be filed also was “somewhat unrealistic,” Acton said, adding, “I think it’s really pushing the mark.”
California Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell said she didn’t want to “jam” the defense, but noted the alleged victims wanted the trial to begin last year.
“We need to come up with a schedule to move this case along, while making sure the work that needs to be done, can be done,” Heidelberger said. “January 31 would be a good day to check in.”
Heidelberger told Klein and Acton she wanted to have an idea by that date of what motions they plan to file, as well as any lingering discovery issues,
Motions were set to be heard through March, with a trial readiness conference scheduled for April 1.
Heidelberger set May 6 for jury selection to begin, with the trial to start May 13.
Judge lowers bail for pair
Acton and Klein filed a motion for their clients to be released on their own recognizance because their original bail bond — $150,000 they each posted after their arrest in 2012 — expired after one year.
The defense attorneys pointed out that their clients had no criminal history and had not committed a violent crime. But Krell argued for bail to remain as set, noting the seriousness of the allegations.
Klein told Heidelberger that to set any bail at all for Laferte would “effectively put her in custody.” But Heidelberger, citing the severity of the potential sentence, ruled against the own recognizance request, but chose to reduce bail to a “more normal” $75,000.
“My client is not a flight risk,” Klein said, continuing to argue against bail and telling Heidelberger that if Laferte is jailed, that will probably delay the trial even further.
Heidelberger stood firm, telling Acton and Klein their clients need to post new bail bonds or surrender by Nov. 22.
Klein indicated he plans to file a writ arguing that Heidelberger acted improperly in denying the request for release on their own recognizance.
In September, Nevada County CEO Rick Haffey stated the defense of Lester and Laferte had cost the county more than $100,000 at that point.
To contact City Editor Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4229.