Defendants in Gold Country Lenders fraud case denied parole | TheUnion.com

Defendants in Gold Country Lenders fraud case denied parole

It's been nearly two years since Gold Country Lenders CEO Phil Lester and CFO Susan Laferte were sentenced for defrauding investors of more than $1.3 million.

But while Laferte received a nine-year sentence and Lester got 15 years, credit for time served and for good behavior has slashed the amount of time they actually will serve.

Both recently were denied parole — but Laferte is not in state prison, having secured placement through an Alternative Custody Program in March.

Lester and Laferte were arrested in September 2012 on charges of defrauding investors over a period of eight years. Each had 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.

Their trial began in April 2015. After two weeks of deliberation, 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.

Sentencing then was postponed repeatedly because the court-appointed defense attorneys needed all of the trial transcripts to put together a motion to set aside the verdict. That motion was subsequently denied and sentencing took place in October 2016.

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Parole denied for both

Laferte, who is now 64, and Lester, 72, requested release on the nonviolent offender program in May, but were denied. Neither went before a hearing board, but instead their requests underwent administrative review.

In Laferte's case, Deputy Commissioner Christina Guerrero noted that she had no prior criminal history and no record of issues while incarcerated. She has been involved in community service, church and bible studies, and work details. Laferte did not participate in any rehabilitative or self-help programs that would have addressed her criminal behavior, however.

Ten responses to her potential release from victims were received and considered as well, Guerrero said.

Guerrero gave great weight to the fact that the inmate's case involved a total of 35 convictions, that the offenses were part of a large-scale criminal activity in which more than 21 victims were negatively or financially impacted, with the amount of losses at more than $1 million, in her decision to deny release.

Deputy Commissioner Edward Taylor gave similar reasons for denying Lester's release, despite his involvement in college coursework, numerous self-help programs and work as a taxi driver, calling the fraud a "large scale, highly planned, sophisticated operation."

How much time will they actually serve?

According to California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation spokesman Luis Patino, inmates typically receive time credits that shorten their actual time served.

Pre-sentence credits are given by the sentencing judge for time served while awaiting trial and sentencing, Patino explained. Post-sentence credits are calculated by the state prison system for time awaiting transport to prison.

All inmates (except condemned inmates) are eligible for some good-time credits, he added. Good-time credit eligibility is given based on the severity of the crime. Some inmates convicted of non-serious, non-violent felonies are eligible for one day credit for each day served. Inmates convicted of serious crimes are only eligible for 20 percent credit. Violent Inmates are only eligible for 15 percent credit, if any at all.

Vested credits are the corresponding days of good-time credits for the aforementioned post-sentence days in custody at the county jail.

In Lester's case, he was sentenced to a total term of 15 years, but was given almost three years credit for time served.

"That brings us to 12 years," Patino said. "He also is eligible for day for day credits, which brings his time to six years."

Lester also worked at a conservation camp and received other milestone and work credits, and currently works in the California Institute for Men in Chino as a carpenter. While Patino didn't have a detailed break-down of those credits, they bring Lester's sentence down to four actual years to serve.

His earliest possible release date is currently calculated as Oct. 30, 2020, Patino said.

Laferte was sentenced to nine years in prison, but was given almost three years of credit, mostly for time she already served in jail while awaiting sentencing. She also was eligible for one day credit for each day served in prison, so that cut the remaining time in half to three years.

Additionally, Laferte got more than a year of additional credit for serving in a conservation camp, which left her two years to serve, Patino said.

Laferte has been in an Alternative Custody Program in Sacramento County since March 6 of this year and has been taking care of her mother. This is a voluntary program developed for eligible offenders that allows them to serve up to the last 12 months of their sentence in the community in lieu of confinement in state prison.

Participants remain under the jurisdiction of the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and are supervised by parole agents. Laferte's earliest possible release date is Nov. 13.

To contact reporter Liz Kellar, email lizk@theunion.com or call 530-477-4236.