Ex-Orange County Democratic Party Boss Charged in Extortion Plot

Jim Toledano, the 65-year-old former chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party and a three-time losing state assembly candidate, has been charged with two felony counts in an alleged $350,000 extortion plot, according to prosecutors.

Also charged in the case is Toledano-client Michael Earl Roberts of Corona del Mar. The 44-year-old personal trainer is accused of repeatedly threatening to publicly disclose information about a female victim who'd used his services from 1995 to 2005. The following year, Roberts began "making dozens of harassing and threatening phone calls to the victim and her friends and indicating that he planned to make her life difficult and sue her," according to a prepared statement by the Orange County District Attorney's Office (OCDA).

Prosecutors claim that in May 2008, Toledano aided Roberts in the illegal scheme when he met with the victim's attorney and said Roberts "wanted $350,000 in exchange for not releasing information he claimed would be damaging to the victim."

It's not uncommon for an attorney to demand money from others, so what has Toledano done that's wrong?

"Well, we've been investigating for longer than a year which included extended legal research as to what constitutes an illegal extortion for an attorney," said Susan Kang Schroeder, public affairs counsel for the OCDA. "In this case, two people--Mr. Toledano and Mr. Roberts--conspired together to get money from the victim by threatening to publicly smear her with lies."

Schroeder declined to identify the "lies," saying that she didn't want to be the one "spreading falsehoods that smear this victim."

David E. Swanson, Toledano's Irvine attorney, said the case is baseless.

"Mr. James Toledano is a well-respected attorney, who has been practicing law in Orange County for over 37 years," Swanson told the Weekly. "He represented Mr. Michael Roberts in a claim for damages arising out of defamation, harassment and interference with Robert's business. In the course of defending Mr. Roberts, Mr. Toledano developed information that the woman had committed perjury in the course of the litigation. When Mr. Toledano brought that to the attention of her lawyer during settlement negotiations, he was accused of using that information to extort money from the woman. When all the facts become known, it will be absolutely clear there was no extortion, and this was nothing more than a legitimate attempt to settle a case with substantial damages."

Meanwhile, Toledano and Roberts are free from custody on $100,000 bail each and are scheduled to be arraigned on June 30 at Orange County's Central Courthouse in Santa Ana.

If convicted, they face a potential maximum sentence of more than four years in state prison.

In August 1999, Toledano--who was then a married father--declared himself gay on the cover of OC Weekly. A few years earlier, the Federal Election Commission caught Toledano attempting to conceal an illegal $10,000 personal campaign contribution to a Democratic candidate trying to unseat then-incumbent Republican Congressman Robert K. Dornan of Garden Grove. He was fined $7,500 and severely reprimanded by a U.S. District Court of Appeals which reviewed his conduct. In recent times, he has been involved in charity work including efforts for AIDS funding and to overturn Prop. 8, California's 2008 anti-gay marriage initiative. In a recent wrongful termination lawsuit, he represented a gay employee of an anti-gay church in Irvine. 
--R. Scott Moxley / OC Weekly


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