Gold Country Lender CEO resentenced in Nevada County Superior Court after conviction partially reversed
More than five years after their convictions on multiple charges of defrauding investors, Gold Country Lenders CEO Phil Lester and CFO Susan Laferte were back in Nevada County Superior Court Tuesday — this time, for resentencing after an appeals court threw out the majority of the counts against them.
Lester and Laferte were arrested in September 2012 on charges of defrauding investors over a period of eight years. They each faced 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 financial elder abuse. After a 2015 trial, a jury found Lester guilty on 57 counts and Laferte guilty on 35 counts. The jury also found true special allegations that both defendants defrauded investors of more than $1.3 million, and of aggravated white-collar crime.
In October 2016, Laferte received a nine-year sentence. Lester was sentenced to 15 years.
In the intervening years, an appeal has been wending its way through the court system — and the Third District Court of Appeal subsequently issued a ruling that reversed 33 counts for Lester and 19 for Laferte. Laferte has served her sentence, but Lester was set for resentencing and a possible reduction of his prison term.
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On Tuesday, Judge Candace Heidelberger resentenced Lester to 13 years. The judge said the probation department would need to calculate whether Lester had served his time and if he was entitled to any credit to apply to his three years’ of post-release community supervision.
In Lester’s original sentence, credit for time served and work credits brought his sentence down to four actual years to serve. He was released to alternative custody — examples of which include home detention or treatment — about five months ago and his possible release date was calculated as this fall.
Laferte was given approximately four years of credit, and then served the rest of her sentence in an Alternative Custody Program.
California Deputy Attorney General Randy Mailman told Heidelberger at the resentencing hearing that Lester remained convicted of 24 felonies, adding, “This is still a massive securities fraud case.”
The impact of the lengthy appeal process on the victims was substantial, Mailman argued, telling Heidelberger none of the multiple victims had been able to collect restitution pending the outcome.
“Their lives remain in limbo,” she said.
Defense attorney Courtney Abril, who had been appointed to represent Lester, argued the reversal of more than 30 counts was an “enormous” difference in the case. She said Lester had been a model prisoner and asked Heidelberger to reduce his sentence to nine or 10 years.
“I did go back and review this case pretty thoroughly,” Heidelberger said, adding that she found 13 years to be the appropriate sentence. “It’s still a lot of counts of fraud, a lot of victims, a lot of money involved.”
Heidelberger also indicated she would not change the restitution orders made in 2016, but told Abril she could investigate and file a motion to modify restitution if she felt that was needed.
One of the victims, Fran Johanson, said she has only received “pennies on the dollar” so far.
“All I know is, my retirement is gone,” she said. “I’ve been living on my savings to get by.”
After the resentencing hearing, Lester said he did not intentionally do something unlawful, and added many of his clients had been willing to speak in his support.
“I think the question about why only two or three people on a loan testified to fraud and the other 50-75 didn’t should have raised concerns with the judge,” he said.
To contact reporter Liz Kellar, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4236.
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