Friday, 14 June 2024

Preliminary hearing begins in senior center embezzlement case

LAKEPORT – A former Lucerne Alpine Senior Center director was in court Wednesday for a preliminary hearing to see if he will stand trial on charges that he embezzled funds from the center.


Rowland Mosser, 64, of Lucerne, went before Judge Richard Martin along with his wife, Jayne Sleeper Mosser, 61.


The Mossers were arrested last April. Rowland Mosser was charged with four felony counts including embezzlement, grand theft by an employee, grand theft and keeping a false record of government funds, while his wife faces a single felony count of committing grand theft, as Lake County News has reported.


Rowland Mosser was the center's director from July 2002 to August 2005.


Deputy District Attorney Gary Luck is prosecuting the case, alleging that the theft and embezzlement activities occurred between Jan. 1, 2005, and Aug. 12, 2005.


Defense attorney Judy Conard represented Rowland Mosser, with Mitchell Hauptman defending Jayne Mosser.


The proceedings lasted close to three hours and were punctuated by frequent breaks as Luck and the two defense attorneys waded through the detail-heavy case.


Anticipating that the hearing would not be finished on Wednesday – and it wasn't – the Mossers waived their right to a continuous preliminary hearing.


On the stand for the entire time was Ron Larsen, a retired captain with Clearlake Police who was hired as an investigator by the District Attorney's Office in March 2007, specifically for the purpose of investigating the senior center's finances, which also had been the center of a grand jury investigation.


Larsen recounted interviewing witnesses – including former center board members and employees – who gave information on alleged financial irregularities.


Former center board member Marilyn Johnson spotted Mosser at a bank in mid-2005, where he allegedly had a $15,000 check made out to the center. Larsen recounted that Johnson stated that Mosser cashed the check, paid in cash the wages of several employees who were with him, and then left with the remainder of the money.


Larsen also interviewed Jim Swatts, who in 2005 was elected chair of senior center's board of directors. He and Mosser had a “strained” relationship, Larsen said, using Swatts' words.


Swatts told Larsen that he asked Mosser in August of 2005 to present a financial statement on the center during the open portion of a center board meeting, which Mosser refused to do. Mosser did, however, reportedly present it to the center board in closed session.


In the mean time, Swatts reportedly began to discover more about the center's financial situation, including levies on bank accounts and outstanding judgments against the center, and finding out that some food distributors would only take cash or provide no services at all because of money the center owed them, said Larsen.


At the August 2005 senior center board meeting, Mosser presented the financial report to the board in closed session, along with his typed resignation. Larsen said that Swatts directed the center secretary at that time to prepare a document stating that Mosser was on immediate leave and that he needed to turn in his keys to the building.


Defense raises numerous objections


As Larsen presented his findings under Luck's questioning, Conard and Hauptman did their best to trip up the prosecution, firing objection after objection at Luck's questions.


In all, at least 33 objections were lodged, faulting Luck for failing to provide foundation, asking leading questions or attempting to introduce hearsay. Martin sustained several of the objections.


The rapid fire of objections prompted Luck at one point to explain that he had had conversations with the defense about how he would be allowed to present his evidence at the preliminary hearing through Larsen's statements, rather than having to present voluminous documentary evidence.


With the defense appearing to disagree with how the hearing should go, Luck explained that if he had to begin going through the documents piece by piece – and there are an estimated 13,000 pieces of paper in the prosecution's case – a continuance would be needed to retrieve all the documents.


“The case is overwhelming as it relates to paper,” Luck said, adding that the investigation itself took a year and a half to go through all of the documents.


Luck said the need to introduce documents now also could extend the preliminary hearing by several days. “I was trying to do, in one day, work that will probably require three to four days,” he said, with multiple exhibits to be entered into evidence.


Martin directed Luck to present as much of his case as he could, since the judge had delayed four other cases that had been set for trial on Wednesday. “I want to use this day and get the most value out of it that I can,” Martin said, noting that the courts are struggling to keep up the their caseloads.


Continuing through his reports on various witness statements, Larsen recounted interviewing Lucerne resident William Ellis, a longtime center member and treasurer who was involved before, during and after Mosser's tenure.


Ellis told Larsen that he did financial reports for the center board of directors, compiling the reports by going through receipt books and bank statements. By early 2005, Ellis stated that he had trouble getting the information from Mosser, who would never get him the full information he requested.


In reviewing the documents in the case, Larsen said he went through “boxes and boxes” of documents and records at the center, reconciling checking accounts and bank statements, cashed checks and computer files from before, during and after Mosser's time as executive director.


When Mosser became executive director in 2002, the senior center had seven checking accounts, said Larsen. By early 2005, four of the accounts had been closed, with the remaining three accounts hit with court-ordered levies, which resulted in any money being put into those accounts being sized by creditors.


Larsen also stated that he had discovered a payment from center funds for the electricity bill at the Mossers' home on Sixth Avenue in Lucerne.


Investigator examines bank accounts


In order to access records on the Mossers' bank accounts over a period of several years, Larsen served a search warrant at Westamerica Bank's Upper Lake branch.


From March 2003 to August 2003, Larsen calculated about $167,600 in deposits in the form of checks with Jayne Mosser's name on them from the Emmett A. Larkin Co.


Based in San Francisco, the Emmett A. Larkin Co. provides “full service execution, clearing and custody services for other broker dealers and investment advisors,” according to the company's Web site.


Hauptman objected to the statements, asking their relevance. Luck replied that he was attempting to show that the Mossers had money coming in from investments.


“Within a two-year window, all that money was gone,” said Luck.


At the time the Mossers' checking account was closed in 2005, they had no source of income besides Rowland Mosser's income as the center's executive director, Luck explained.


“When their money disappears, that's when the Lucerne Senior Center's money disappears,” Luck alleged.


Luck said that the couple enjoyed a lifestyle that resulted in them spending the money down in a “very short period of time.”


In 2002, the Mossers had less than $10,000 in deposits in their checking account. That increased slightly after he went to work for the senior center. By 2003, the Larkin deposits begin, totaling more than $167,600.


Throughout 2004, there was just over $24,000 in deposits in the Mossers' account, said Larsen. By the time the account was closed in February of 2005, the account was overdrawn by $483.


Larsen used documents he found at the senior center – receipts and copies of checks – to calculate $28,538.75 in reimbursements the center paid to Jayne Mosser from January to August of 2005.


Former center employee Aura Thomas also spoke with Larsen, explaining how she paid the center's bills, did the payroll, kept records and handled cash during her time there from 2004 and 2005. Thomas compiled financial reports based on information Rowland Mosser provided.


According to Larsen, Thomas said Jayne Mosser was at the center a lot, and did a lot of shopping for the center, turning in the receipts for reimbursement.


Larsen outlined the center's debt in August of 2005, when Rowland Mosser left. He calculated more than $40,000 that was owed to major creditors, with many more smaller debts outstanding as well.


In contrast with the center's deteriorating financial condition, Larsen testified that a California Department of Aging official provided him with the amounts of money that the agency allocated to the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center over a period of several years.


The breakdown is as follows: 2002-03, $77,992; 2003-04, $81,431; 2004-05, $88,709; 2005-06, $38,888 for first half of the year, Larsen said.


He also testified that Brenda Pier, a certified public accountant who worked for the Lucerne center from 1998 through November 2004, said she eventually left her post because she was unable to get “accurate, up-to-date financial information” from Rowland Mosser.


Larsen said on Jan. 30, 2008, he served a search warrant at the Mossers' home on Sixth Avenue. He found no records there relating to the senior center or its bank accounts, or any other information relevant to the case.


Luck asked Larsen to go over deposit amounts into the senior center's accounts from 2002 to 2005.


Larsen's calculations suggested that the numbers changed dramatically. In 2002, the accounts had $66,164 in deposits, followed by $73,295 in 2003.


In 2004, the deposits began to drop, with the accounts showing $43,078 in deposits. By the following year, the deposits had fallen to $2,812.


Larsen said deposits began to climb again in late 2006, with $11,384 between August and the end of the year, and $11,942 in funds recorded in deposits from Jan. 1 through Aug. 31, 2007.


During Mosser's last few months at the center, he had organized a duck race fundraiser. Ellis told Larsen that Mosser had said he didn't have the more than $1,200 needed to pay a t-shirt maker for the shirts, which Ellis did as a donation to the center.


As Luck began attempting to enter documents into evidence, Hauptman and Conard objected, questioning how the documents were prepared. At least one of the four documents Luck addressed Wednesday appeared to have been hung up by those objections, while Martin overruled other objections.


After the several hours of complex testimony, the court recessed shortly after 3 p.m. The hearing will continue on Feb. 10, which will give Luck and Larsen an opportunity to prepare their documents in an effort to convince Martin to hold the Mossers for trial.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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