Fireworks at hard-money loan fraud court hearing
In a dramatic display meant to convey the impossibility of wading through more than 400,000 pages of potential evidence, the court-appointed attorney for one of the defendants in a high-profile fraud case threw a copy of “War and Peace” across the room Tuesday morning.
The discovery provided by the prosecution amounts to more than 100 copies of the Russian tome, proclaimed Greg Klein, who is defending Susan Laferte on 66 felony counts of elder abuse, securities fraud and conspiracy.
Klein’s dramatic gesture drew a sharp reprimand from Nevada County Superior Court Judge Candace Heidelberger, who told him, “You’re a professional, and I expect you to act like one.”
Laferte was in court along with her co-defendants — Philip Lester, CEO of Gold Country Lenders, Lester’s wife, Ellen, and Jonathan Blinder, who served as manager for many Gold Country projects.
The charges filed by the California Attorney General’s office allege that Gold Country Lenders engaged in a pattern of theft and fraud-related crimes for over eight years, bilking investors of more than $2.3 million.
Philip Lester also has been charged with 66 felony counts of elder abuse, securities fraud and conspiracy. His bail has been set at $600,000, as has Laferte’s.
Ellen Lester has been charged with two felony counts of conspiracy and securities fraud and has been released on her own recognizance.
Blinder, 58, has been charged with four felony counts of securities fraud and has posted $150,000 bail.
Blinder was in court with his attorney, Malcolm Segal, who requested a postponement of his arraignment until Oct. 30. Segal indicated he was planning to file a demurrer and might move to sever his client’s case from the other defendants.
Klein and Philip Lester’s court-appointed attorney, Ken Tribby, argued for bail reduction, but Heidelberger said she would not consider it until there was a change in circumstance — which might take place after an injunction hearing scheduled for Thursday.
“I spent three and a half hours with (my client) in a 4-by-4 room,” Tribby said, telling the judge it was impossible to mount a defense under those circumstances.
State Deputy Attorney General Maggy Krell explained that she had more than 60 boxes of evidence, some of which was not relevant. She told Heidelberger she chose to provide everything to the defense, rather than “pick and choose” what they should receive. Krell added that while the information was not indexed, it was searchable on the CDs she provided.
“There was nothing underhanded,” Krell said, explaining that she did not want to make any of the attorneys trek down to Sacramento to examine the evidence. “In fact, it’s the opposite.”
Krell told Heidelberger she was happy to assist the defense, as she wants the case to move forward.
She added, however, that Klein’s expectations were “outrageous.”
Heidelberger directed Krell to provide a direction as to what documents she would be relying on by Thursday and told defense counsel that the county is willing to work to minimize the costs associated with preparing for the upcoming hearings.
All four defendants are set to return to court Thursday; a preliminary hearing has been set for Nov. 6.
To contact Staff Writer Liz Kellar, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4229.
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