The jury trial for Gold Country Lenders CEO Philip Lester and CFO Susan Laferte has been postponed yet again, this time to mid-September.
The complex fraud case, which is expected to last at least six weeks and involve more than 50 witnesses, originally was set for April, then moved to June 4.
Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger granted a motion to continue the trial in court Thursday but warned the attorneys that she “would not look kindly” on any further requests for postponement.
Laferte and Lester were indicted by a criminal grand jury for allegedly defrauding investors of millions of dollars over a period of eight years.
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.
The criminal complaint filed by California Deputy Attorney General Maggy 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 in March.
Ken Tribby and Greg Klein — the court-appointed public defenders for Philip Lester and Laferte, respectively — indicated in court Thursday they plan to file a motion to dismiss the information and possibly a motion to set aside the grand jury holding order.
But Klein told Heidelberger he was “weeks away” from that filing, even though they have brought Jenny Darlington-Person in to help write the motion.
“The more we work on it, the more it becomes a sinkhole,” he said.
Tribby agreed, noting the transcript from the grand jury indictment was 831 pages.
Krell expressed some frustration with the slow pace being set by the defense, noting that the victims are eager to see justice served.
“It’s not the fastest process in the world,” Klein said, adding, “This is not my only case. I’m not shirking.”
Heidelberger agreed the victims have the right to have their case heard as expeditiously as possible and noted while the case is complex, it is “not the most complex case in the world.”
But, she said, the last thing she wants to do is have a trial in which the case gets overturned because the defense was denied enough time to prepare. She also noted it has been less than a year since the criminal complaint was filed.
“I’m compelled … to grant the motion to continue,” Heidelberger said. “I do expect counsel to be ready.”
Heidelberger then issued some “hard and fast timelines” for the trial, which she set to begin Sept. 17. A trial readiness conference was scheduled for Aug. 30.
Klein and Tribby must file their motions by May 24 with a response from Krell due by May 31; a hearing on the motions, as well as a discussion of any other motions, was set for June 4. That date also was reserved for discussing jury instructions.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530-477-4229.