County to pay $600k per year to defend Lester et al |

County to pay $600k per year to defend Lester et al

Anticipating to foot a more than $600,000 bill annually to defend three individuals embroiled in major real estate fraud case, Nevada County officials are seeking the aid of statewide agencies to avoid “a financial disaster,” said county Executive Officer Rick Haffey in a Friday memo.

Philip Lester, CEO of Gold Country Lenders, his wife, Ellen, along with Susan Laferte, the firm’s chief financial officer, and Jonathan Blinder face charges that allege that their organization engaged in a pattern of theft and fraud-related crimes for over eight years, bilking investors of more than $2.3 million.

While Blinder did not request or qualify for representation by the public defender’s office, the other three defendants have “ironically” declared themselves indigent and deserving of a public defender’s services in accordance with the Sixth Amendment of the United States Constitution, Haffey said.

Those costs are funded out of the county’s general fund, Haffey noted.

“The general fund is already under stress due to the steep decline in the real estate market which has severely impacted property tax revenues,” Haffey said in the memo. “This criminal litigation could last multiple years meaning potentially millions of dollars being drained from the County’s general fund.”

In addition to the State Attorney General spending hundreds of thousands of dollars — if not millions — to prosecute this case, Haffey noted that the county’s public defender’s conflict of interest, three private attorneys will have to defend the three individuals at local taxpayer’s expense.

The projected cost to the County to litigate a case such as this would be equivalent to putting six deputies on the street, hiring eight child protective social workers, or ten road maintenance workers.

The county has contacted Sen. Ted Gaines office, the California State Association of Counties and the Regional Council of Rural Counties to seek assistance and relief in this matter, Haffey said.

To contact Staff Writer Christopher Rosacker, email or call (530) 477-4236.

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