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Fraud, abuse suspects in court

Three of the four suspects arrested last week on charges of securities fraud, conspiracy and elder abuse appeared in Nevada County Superior Court Monday afternoon.

Philip Lester, CEO of Gold Country Lenders, and Susan Laferte, the firm’s CFO, have been charged with 66 felony counts of elder abuse, securities fraud and conspiracy; their bail has been set at $600,000 each.

Ellen Lester — Philip’s wife — was charged with two felony counts of conspiracy and securities fraud. Jonathan Blinder, 58, has been charged with four felony counts of securities fraud, was booked at the Nevada County Jail and released on $150,000 bail.



Blinder’s arraignment has been scheduled for Oct. 23.

Ellen Lester, who is being represented by a court-appointed attorney, David Alkire, pleaded not guilty to all charges Monday. Alkire asked visiting Judge Jane York to release her on her own recognizance; York agreed, after imposing a no-contact order with all victims.




York also restricted Ellen Lester from traveling outside Nevada County for periods of not more than five days and from traveling outside the state.

Philip Lester, who is being represented by Deputy Public Defender Micah Pierce, and Laferte, represented by Greg Klein, did not enter pleas. They are scheduled to enter pleas and have a bail review at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 4.

York noted that her review of the bail schedule indicated that their bail should be $745,000 but said she would leave it at $600,000.

She added that Philip Lester and Laferte are both required to prove the source of the funds should they post bail and a hearing would be required.

They also are to have no contact with the alleged victims, York said.

Gold Country Lenders, a real estate company in Grass Valley, allegedly engaged in a pattern of theft and fraud-related crimes for more than eight years, bilking investors of more than $2.3 million. Investor funds allegedly were used to make interest payments to earlier investors for projects in which the company’s owner had a financial interest.

From January 2003 to June 2011, Gold Country Lenders allegedly sold securities on specific real estate development projects, promising investors annual returns of 8 to 12 percent. These investments were supposedly secured by a first or second deed of trust on the property, but some of the promised deeds of trust allegedly were never recorded, while others allegedly were recorded but subordinate to other loans or were diluted by the repackaging and overselling of shares.

In October 2010, the Attorney General’s Office launched an investigation in response to complaints filed by numerous investors.

The arrest affidavit alleges that investors were not told that Philip Lester had a partnership interest in some of the development projects he sold or that some of the land targeted for development had significant toxic waste issues. Many of the alleged victims are elderly and had reportedly known and trusted the defendants for many years.

Investment funds allegedly were used to make interest payments to earlier investors or for purposes other than the development project in which they were invested. For example, funds of alleged victims were diverted to purchase and operate the Auburn Valley Country Club, according to the affidavit.

To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email lkellar@theunion.com or call (530) 477-4229.


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