This weekender you are updatered on the fight over Christopher Dorner reward money being far from over, the convictions of a CEO whose Ponzi scheme stung investors for $169 million and a distracted driver who backed away from a plea deal that would have had her doing a year in jail and is now looking at six years in prison instead, and a large chunk of Irvine's Great Park no longer being a Superfund site.
Update: A California 2nd District Court of Appeal panel ruled this week that camp ranger Richard Heltebrake can pursue his claim to the $1 million-plus reward for alerting authorities to the whereabouts of Christopher Dorner. The city of Irvine had been the lone municipality that Heltebrake could sue after Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Allen White dismissed all claims against the city of Los Angeles and Riverside County, which like Irvine helped fund the reward. But appellate Justice Richard Mosk, writing for the three-member panel, stated White erred in ruling municipal entities can opt out of a contract by claiming that their actions are protected by free speech. The ruling sends the case back to the trial court in LA. Heltebrake was not in the money when a panel of retired judges decided 80 percent of the reward would go to a Big Bear couple who were bound and gagged by La Palma resident and rogue ex-LAPD cop Dorner, 15 percent would go to a ski resort employee, and 5 percent would go to a tow truck driver.
Update: Michael J. Stewart, the CEO of now-defunct Pacific Property Assets of Irvine and Long Beach, was convicted by a jury this week of federal fraud charges in a scheme that stung investors for up to $169 million, according to the U.S. Attorney's office. Following the verdict, U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney remanded Stewart into custody. Carney could sentence the 68-year-old San Clemente resident to up to 220 years in federal prison on Nov. 2. Stewart and John Packard created PPA, which since 1999 purchased, renovated, operated and resold or refinanced apartment complexes in Southern California and Arizona. The firm would go on to be named three times to Inc. magazine's list of the fastest growing privately held companies in the nation, a regional finalist in Ernst N Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Program and was listed by the Orange County Business Journal as one of fastest growing county businesses. But as the government argued at trial that by the end of 2007, when the real estate market began to decline and credit became scarce, PPA's business model was no longer feasible. To keep PPA afloat, Stewart and Packard raised tens of millions of dollars from new investors, many of them elderly and retired people who entrusted their retirement funds with the company. But Stewart misrepresented PPA's financial condition, providing investors fraudulent financial statements that claimed the company was healthy when he and Packard were effectively running a Ponzi scheme (using funds from new investors to pay back earlier ones). PPA and a group of related companies filed for bankruptcy in June 2009, with the company claiming it owed 647 private investors more than $91 million and owed banks about $100 million. The Chapter 11 trustee appointed in the bankruptcy case later estimated the total investor losses at $169 million and predicted that investors would receive, at best, "pennies on the dollar" through the bankruptcy process. Carney is scheduled to sentence Packard, who already pleaded guilty to a count of mail fraud, on Nov. 9.
Jorene Ypanto Nicolas Backs Out of Plea Deal in Distracted Driving Manslaughter Case
Update: A jury in April 2014 deadlocked 11-1 in favor of Jorene Ypanto Nicolas being guilty of gross vehicular manslaughter for texting and chatting on her cell phone before slamming her Toyota Prius into the back of an idling car on the 405 freeway in Westminster, killing the 23-year-old driver. To avoid another trial, prosecutors offered Nicolas a deal: plead guilty in exchange for a year in jail, 500 hours of community service, five years probation and no prison time. At a hearing to take that deal, the San Diego 32-year-old instead told Orange County Superior Court Judge Steven Bromberg that she wanted a new lawyer and a new trial. She got her wish–and sobbed this week when a jury found her guilty and the judge ordered her to be taken into custody immediately. Prosecutor Jennifer Walker had informed jurors that Nicolas sent 13 text messages in the 15 minutes before the April 27, 2011, crash and answered a phone call just before the impact that killed softball star Deanna Mauer. And the Prius computer showed Nicolas drove 85 mph into Mauer's Hyundai, which was in stopped traffic just before 11 a.m. Nicolas maintained Mauer was at fault, and her attorney Joe Dane claimed investigators misinterpreted data from the crash and came to the wrong conclusion about who caused it. His client could get up to six years in prison at her scheduled Sept. 4 sentencing.
Update: Nearly 2,000 acres of land that include Irvine's proposed Great Park have been removed from the list of federal Superfund sites after a $165 million cleanup. Irvine Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway said the de-listing from the hazardous site roundup by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an important step forward in building the 700-acre park and 9,500 homes that will ring it. The former El Toro Marine Corps Air Station property, which was decommissioned in 1999, once had groundwater contaminated with PCBs and other hazardous chemicals. About 600 acres of land are still on the Superfund list until another $50 million is spent to clean it up.