Thursday, 25 July 2024

News

LAKEPORT – The prosecution against a Lucerne couple took an unexpected turn on Wednesday, when the deputy district attorney on the case decided to request a dismissal in order to bring the case back with the help of a financial expert.


Rowland Mosser, 64, and Jayne Mosser, 61, were in Judge Richard Martin's Department 2 courtroom for the third day of their preliminary hearing, which began last month, as Lake County News has reported.


The proceedings already had gotten under way when Deputy District Attorney Gary Luck made the announcement to the court.


“At this point we will be dismissing the charges and refiling the complaints,” Luck said.


The former Lucerne Alpine Senior Center executive director, Rowland Mosser was charged with felony embezzlement for allegedly taking funds from the center between Jan. 1, 2005, and Aug. 12, 2005. He also was facing felony counts of grand theft by an employee, grand theft and keeping a false record of government funds.


Jayne Mosser was charged with felony grand theft, which the prosecution alleged took place in the same time frame as the charges against her husband.


The couple sat in the jury box while, across the room, about 10 people in the audience – a mix of seniors and other Lucerne residents who have followed the case – watched the proceedings.


On Wednesday, Investigator Ron Larsen of the District Attorney's Office had returned to the stand, and was undergoing cross-examination by Judy Conard, representing Rowland Mosser, and Mitchell Hauptman, who is defending Jayne Mosser.


During the hour of cross examination, Conard and Hauptman began a steady assault on the district attorney's case, questioning Larsen in detail about the center's finances and the banking evidence on which the allegations were based.


The line of questioning zeroed in on third-party audits and assessments of the center's books, with Larsen relating statements made to him by Diane Plante, a certified public accountant who the center had hired to try to reconstruct its financial records after Mosser left in August of 2005, according to testimony.


However, after the first hour of the proceedings, Luck called for a break and returned 15 minutes later to request the dismissal and explain his plans for moving forward with the case.


Luck said he will bring a forensic accounting expert in to work on the case and explain the financial details.


“The banking records are extensive,” said Luck.


Larsen has decades of experience in criminal investigations, but he doesn't possess the type of forensic accounting skills that Luck believes is necessary to “close the gap” in the evidence and explaining it to the court.


Judge Richard Martin granted Luck's motion to dismiss the case, and also ordered the $10,000 bonds against both of the Mossers to be exonerated.


Defense works to unravel case


Conard, who had begun cross-examining Larsen on Tuesday, continued with her questioning when the case reconvened Wednesday morning.


Referring to evidence presented the previous day, she questioned Larsen about a cash account that Plante had reviewed using QuickBooks. Plante, a professional QuickBooks advisor, had told Larsen that she estimated that, based on deposit records, a center cash account should have had in excess of $60,000 in it.


Conard asked if Larsen had any evidence – such as spreadsheets – to support Plante's statement. He said he didn't.


She asked if he had reviewed the bank accounts of any of the center's other employees, its board members or anyone who had access to the center's cash revenues. No, Larsen replied.


Did he find checks from the center in the Mossers' account? Yes, Larsen said, in the form of Rowland Mosser's paychecks.


There also was a large cash deposit from 2003, for $167,674, from the Emmett A. Larkin Co., which was stock or brokerage income but was not related to the center's funds.


Conard questioned Larsen about whether or not records he subpoenaed from Robinson Rancheria Resort and Casino showed any large losses from the Mossers.


Luck objected to the questioning, which Conard defended, saying the prosecution was accusing the couple of taking the funds and using it at places like the casino. Martin overruled the objection, and Larsen answered that he found no signs of large losses from the couple.


Larsen, who seized Mosser's computer via a search warrant in January of 2008, said he found some senior center records on the computer but, when asked if he found anything showing the Mossers were taking money from the center and using it for their own purposes, his reply was no.


Conard then focused on an audit of the center's books for July 2002 through June 2004, conducted by certified public accountant Joan Sturges of Kelseyville.


She asked if Larsen found the audit complete; he replied he wasn't qualified to answer the question. He did confirm that he spoke with Plante about the audit and that she made comments about it, which neither Conard nor Luck asked Larsen to state during testimony.


Larsen also stated, in response to a question from Conard, that he hadn't gone to Sturges to question her about the audit.


Luck objected to the relevance of the questioning about the audit, which he said was for a time period a year and a half before the crimes were alleged to have taken place. “It has nothing to do with the essential facts of the case.”


Conard responded that she was trying to rebut testimony about the center's taxes, which Larsen had testified had not been paid for several years.


Luck said the taxes weren't paid, and many other outstanding obligations for the center weren't paid from money going through Rowland Mosser's hands.


“Some of the gaps haven't been filled here,” said Martin, noting that it would make a difference in the testimony if the money went to the IRS and not Mosser. He also pointed out that no one has asked what Plante's comments about the audit were.


Conard responded that it didn't matter what the comments were if they didn't check back with the original auditor.


Martin then ruled that while the issues of the tax payments was tangential, it also was relevant, and he overruled Luck's objection.


Conard questioned if Larsen found any proof of the center's missing money being deposited into the Mossers' accounts. “I don't believe so,” he said.


She pressed him on where the checks were being deposited. Larsen said that, for a period of time, once levies were filed against the center's bank accounts, the center couldn't use its accounts without the money being seized. So the majority of the incoming checks were being cashed by Mosser with bills being paid in cash.


Conard asked if Mosser was acting “as a sort of bank.” Larsen said yes.


She asked if the 25 checks submitted on Tuesday at Exhibit 8 went through the bank or were cashed out. “Those 25 checks all went through that senior center bank account,” said Larsen.


Conard asked if they were deposited back into the account. Larsen said they were paid through it.


She said she noted that the Exhibit 8 checks had a note saying they were for deposit only, but then they were redeposited into the bank account. Larsen said she was correct.


Conard said the money was being put back into the senior center. “Did you look at these checks?” she asked, setting the exhibit before Larsen.


“Yes, for months,” he replied.


Conard same the checks are endorsed for the same account on which they were drawn. She then stated that it was done for bookkeeping purposes, which is what Sturges told Mosser to do for tracking purposes.


Luck objected to Conard's statement, saying it called for speculation. Martin agreed and sustained the objection.


Conard asked Larsen if it was true that the cash account was set up to keep as much cash as possible out of the bank so the levies wouldn't get it. “I would assume so, yes,” Larsen said.


She asked if he found any documentation that went along with the checks. “Absolutely,” Larsen said.


Conard asked if a forensic accountant had ever gone through the center's bank accounts. No, Larsen said. Was then and independent audit performed? No, he replied.


She also pointed out that the checks in Exhibit 8 were signed by two center board members, not Rowland Mosser, which Larsen confirmed.


Defense questions different signatures


Conard's questioning lasted roughly a half hour before she handed off to Hauptman, who went directly for Exhibit 8.


Along with those 25 checks, he handed Larsen defendant's Exhibit A, a 12-page document including copies of checks from Westamerica Bank, which Larsen got through a subpoena on the Mossers' private bank records.


The checks, from 2005, had Jayne Mosser's signature.


Hauptman asked if Larsen compared the signatures on the two sets of checks. Larsen said he couldn't recall if he had.


Larsen was asked to compare the checks. “It's not going to be a great leap to conclude that's not her signature, is it?” Hauptman asked.


Luck objected to what he said was the argumentative tone of Hauptman's question, so Hauptman rephrased and asked Larsen to look at the signatures.


“They appear to be different,” said Larsen.


Hauptman then gave him a 47-page document, Exhibit B, with Westamerica Bank statements.


“There never fails to be an 'S' in any of the signatures,” Hauptman said.


“That appears to be correct, yes,” said Larsen.


Hauptman later told Lake County News that Jayne Mosser signs her checks with her middle initial, “S,” for Sleeper. He added that the signatures on the different sets of documents aren't even close.


During cross examination Hauptman also questioned the accuracy of the assessment Plante did on the center's accounts, suggesting it was a matter of “garbage in, garbage out” – if you put in bad information, good won't come out of it.


Hauptman ended his cross-examination of Larsen after only about 15 minutes.


On redirect, Luck asked if the center was paying any of its vendors in 2005. Hauptman objected but was overruled.


When Larsen replied, “A majority of vendors were not paid during that time period,” Hauptman moved to have the statement stricken. Martin agreed, saying it was a yes or no question.


When Luck attempted to ask the question again, Hauptman objected and Martin overruled him, saying that the very thing the court needed to hear was where some of the funds may have gone.


“Did any of those vendors indicate that they had received any payment on the outstanding debt in 2005?" Luck asked. Larsen said no.


Luck asked if the IRS received any payment from the senior center in 2005 while Mosser was still director. Hauptman objected, Martin overruled, and Larsen replied, “No they did not receive any payment during that time.”


He followed with a question about the state Franchise Tax Board and if it was able to obtain tax payments in 2005. Hauptman again objected and was overruled. Larsen said the board was able to obtain some funds through a center bank account.


Luck asked about the status of the Mossers' personal checking account in 2005. Hauptman objected and was overruled before Larsen replied that the account was closed in February 2005 due to nonsufficient funds. He found no other active bank account for the couple from then until August 2005.


When Luck asked Larsen if he had bank statements for the center, Larsen said no, and then Luck said he needed a recess. After that, he returned and announced his plans to seek a dismissal and to refile the case.


“The court was involved in at least two warrants and maybe more with Detective Larsen,” said Martin, explaining to Luck that those warrants – which would have “significant evidentiary value” – can't be considered in a new prosecution unless they are newly presented. Luck said they would be sure to do he foundational work.


Hauptman said later in the day, “It's not at all clear whether the mess is incompetence or thievery.”


He added, “Our view is, it's certainly not thievery.”


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


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LAKE COUNTY – Lake County is in the process of developing a countywide Safe Routes to School plan. The purpose of the plan is to make walking and biking to all of Lake County's schools safer.


The plan will also make the county more competitive when applying for safe routes to school grant funding.


“Helping children to be safe and physically fit is a major component of this project. We are working very hard to improve the quality of life for everyone in Lake County, and the Safe Routes to School Plan helps move us towards that goal,” said Lisa Davey-Bates, executive director, Lake County/City Area Planning Council (APC).


Three workshops are planned for mid and late February. Parents, school administrators, teachers and community members are invited to attend and provide feedback about challenges that keep children from walking and biking to school.


Parents will have the chance to identify barriers and areas of concern on maps. Children are welcome, and a special children’s mapping station will be set up for them to participate in the project as well.


Three workshops will be held at:


  • Upper Lake High School (school cafeteria), Feb 17, 6 p.m.: Covering issues in the Upper Lake Union and Lucerne Elementary Unified School districts.

  • Middletown Multi-Purpose Room, Feb 24, 5:30 p.m.: Covering issues for all of the Middletown Unified School District.

  • Kelseyville Lions Club, 4335 Skylar Lane, Kelseyville, Feb 25, 5:30 p.m.: Covering issues for Kelseyville Unified School District.


For parents unavailable on these workshop dates, there will be an opportunity to meet with the consultant team at your school while they are conducting pedestrian safety audits of the schools in February and March. The consultant will notify your school as specific dates for the safety audits are scheduled.


In addition, parents are invited to take an online survey. The purpose of this survey is to learn from parents about their thoughts and concerns related to children traveling to school. This survey will be used to focus the plan on solving real problems facing families with schoolchildren. Parent surveys can be found on the APC website: http://www.lakeapc.org/ (see “parent survey” link on the right side of the Web page).


The State of California Safe Routes to Schools Program currently has $48.5 million available for funding school project statewide.


“Funding is available for school traffic safety projects, and having this plan in place will make us more competitive in obtaining money to build projects,” said Terri Persons, project manager for the APC. “We are eager to complete a plan that successfully addresses community concerns, so we can move to implementing projects as soon as possible.”


The APC is the Regional Transportation Planning Agency for the Lake County region. More information about the council can be found on the Web site, www.lakeapc.org/.


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LAKE COUNTY – Now in its 12th year, the Great Backyard Bird Count, an annual four-day event led by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, with sponsorship from Wild Birds Unlimited, kicks off on Friday, Feb. 13 and runs through Monday, Feb. 16.


This family-friendly event invites everyone to count birds anywhere – backyards, parks or wilderness areas – to create a real-time snapshot of where the birds are across the United States and Canada.


Anyone can participate, from beginning bird watchers to expert birders. It takes as little as 15 minutes on one day, or if you're truly inspired, you can count for as long as you like each day of the event.


As the count progresses, the Great Backyard Bird Count Web site is updated so that anyone with Internet access can see what is being reported here in Lake County or anywhere in the United States and Canada.


Located along the major bird migration route, the Pacific Flyway, Lake County is home to more than 300 species of birds, according to the Redbud Audubon Society, making spotting many different types of birds in your backyard easy.


For a family outing, you can watch birds at the Rodman Slough Park or join the Saturday morning guided bird and nature walks hosted by the Lake County Land Trust at the Rodman Slough Preserve.


The guided walk is free and begins at 8 a.m. in the summer and fall; 9 a.m. in the winter and spring. Walks begin at the Rodman House, at the corner of Westlake Road and the Nice-Luceren Cutoff in Lakeport.


Other locations to easily spot many types of birds include Clear Lake State Park and Anderson Marsh State Historic Park.


In the 2008 count, 37 reports were submitted that included nearly 150 different species of birds in Lake County.


The Great Backyard Bird Count is important because scientists can learn a lot by knowing where the birds are.


Bird populations are dynamic and constantly changing due to a myriad of reasons, and documenting the migration, movement and distribution of so many so many different species in such a short time would be impossible for even a team of scientists.


According to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society, some of the questions that can be answered by the data collected in the Great Backyard Bird Count include:


  • How will this winter's snow and cold temperatures influence bird populations?

  • Where are winter finches and other "irruptive" species that appear in large numbers during some years but not others?

  • How will the timing of birds' migrations compare with past years?

  • How are bird diseases, such as West Nile virus, affecting birds in different regions?

  • What kinds of differences in bird diversity are apparent in cities versus suburban, rural and natural areas?

  • Are any birds undergoing worrisome declines that point to the need for conservation attention?


The Great Backyard Bird County Web site includes everything you will need to participate including bird identifications, educational materials for teachers and parents, and even a contest for photographs of birds.


For more information and to download a checklist to participate, visit www.birdsource.org/gbbc/.


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


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LAKEPORT – A Lucerne couple was back in court on Tuesday for the second day of testimony in their preliminary hearing.


Rowland Mosser, 64, and and Jayne Mosser, 61, returned to Judge Richard Martin's court on Tuesday for the hearing, the first day of which was held on Jan. 21, as Lake County News reported.


Defense attorneys Judy Conard and Mitchell Hauptman are representing Rowland and Jayne Mosser, respectively.


Rowland Mosser, who was executive director of the Lucerne Alpine Senior Center from July 2002 to August 2005, was arrested last April on four felony charges – embezzlement, grand theft by an employee, grand theft and keeping a false record of government funds.


Jayne Mosser was arrested at the same time on a felony count of committing grand theft.


The case against them alleges that the activities for which the Mossers are charged occurred between Jan. 1, 2005, and Aug. 12, 2005.


Deputy District Attorney Gary Luck recalled Investigator Ron Larsen of the Lake County District Attorney's Office to the stand on Tuesday. Larsen has been the primary witness in the preliminary hearing thus far.


Luck had Larsen explain several documents that were submitted as exhibits in the case.


Some of the documents included Pacific Gas and Electric and Mediacom bills, the service address for which was the Mossers' Sixth Avenue home in Lucerne, but which allegedly had been paid for by the center. Larsen found the documents during his investigation at the center.


Larsen interviewed Aura Thomas, who had acted as the center's bookkeeper for a time during Rowland Mosser's tenure as executive director. The bills, as they were presented by Luck to the court, had a cover sheet that Thomas created to denote a cash reimbursement.


As Larsen explained it, Thomas had stated that Jayne Mosser would use senior center money to make purchases for items for the center. She would then submit the receipts to Thomas and request a reimbursement.


Thomas told Larsen that she allegedly was instructed by Rowland Mosser to issue senior center checks to reimburse Jayne Mosser for the expenditures – which, again, had been paid for by senior center funds in the first place.


Rowland Mosser allegedly told Thomas that the checks would not be cashed but would be used to track the senior center's funds, according to Larsen's statements on the stand.


Another exhibit, which included a $218.79 invoice from Ukiah Paper Co., showed two accompanying checks from the senior center to pay for the bill. That also allegedly was submitted to Thomas for reimbursement in May of 2005 by Jayne Mosser, as was a second payment to that company, paid for in August of 2005 with a Lucerne Alpine Senior Center cashier's check.


Perhaps the prosecution's most notable piece of evidence discussed Tuesday was that which was submitted as Exhibit 8. It included copies of 25 checks written on the senior center's account during 2005 to Jayne Mosser, allegedly for the purpose of reimbursement, Larsen said.


In all, the 25 checks totaled $6,673.31, and were mostly issued between January and April of 2005, Larsen said.


Larsen reiterated Thomas' statement that Rowland Mosser allegedly had said the checks were merely for tracking purposes. However, during questioning, Larsen explained that all of the checks had allegedly been endorsed by Jayne Mosser and cashed. He said they were processed through Lake Community Bank.


Larsen also gave testimony about his conversations with senior center volunteers, particularly the treasurer of the board of directors, who explained the revenue sources coming into the center during 2005. In addition to grant funding, the center held breakfasts and bingo games, rented rooms, catered luncheon meetings for community groups, held silent auctions and special fundraisers like that year's duck race, and received donations.


Center had problem with back taxes, investigator says


Luck questioned Larsen about his interviews with former center board president Jim Swatts, who took over running the center after Rowland Mosser left in August of 2005.


Swatts had to deal with tax levies from the Internal Revenue Service and the state Franchise Tax Board, Larsen testified.


During his negotiations with federal and state authorities, Swatts authorized several payments to the IRS for back taxes, from a $5,000 payment in August of 2005, monthly payments totaling $4,496 and a negotiated settlement for $33,865, Larsen testified.


Those tax payments, said Larsen, were based on back taxes, plus interest and penalties, that the senior center owed over several years before Swatts came to the center, according to his discussion with an IRS official.


Luck asked Larsen if the IRS official had indicated a specific time frame for the unpaid taxes. He said no, that the official indicated it was a period of several years that the taxes were not paid and the center hadn't filed a tax return. Although the center is a nonprofit, failure to file the return results in fines.


Conard objected to that statement and moved to have the statement stricken from the record. Judge Martin sustained the objection, saying without having the time period specified the statement was meaningless.


Larsen then testified about the work of certified public accountant Diane Plante, who was asked by Swatts to assist in sorting out the center's finances in late 2005.


Plante, Larsen testified, helped recreate several previous years of the center's record keeping. An auditor for local nonprofits and governmental agencies, Plante also is a professional advisor on the QuickBooks program, which she used to look at a specific cash account belonging to the center.


According to Plante's assessment, that cash account should have had more than $60,000 in cash in it based on the center's records, Larsen said.


Defense attorney focuses on audits, levies and impacts on accounts


During cross-examination, Conard questioned Larsen about the possible impacts of the center's tax levies on that cash account..


She also asked if the center's books were ever audited from 2002 to 2005. Larsen said there was one audit covering a two-year period completed by another local certified public accountant, Joan Sturges.


Conard asked Larsen if Sturges gave the center “a clean bill of health” following that audit.


“My interpretation was slightly different than that,” he said.


She asked if the center board received the audit; yes, Larsen replied. Did the audit refer to that cash account which Plante had examined? Larsen said he wasn't aware that it did.


Conard further questioned Larsen about when that cash account was created. He said it may have been set up late in 2004 or early in 2005. Was that at the time the center's accounts were levied, Conard asked? Larsen replied that it was shortly prior to the levies.


He said he didn't know if the account was created close to the time the audit was conducted, and that he hadn't spoken to Sturges, although Plante did.


In response to Conard's question about whether or not Sturges prepared the center's taxes, Larsen said he didn't know. He also couldn't tell Conard how many times the center had been audited in the previous 10 years, or if they were required to have audits because they received government funds.


The audit was conducted at around the time the center's bank accounts were levied, Larsen said.


The senior center receives funds from the state, and has many bank accounts, with restricted accounts set up for the Meals on Wheels program, said Larsen.


At one point, the center began operating on a cash basis because levies were taking the money out of the bank accounts, said Larsen. That resulted in the center making payments with cash, cashier's checks or money orders.


Conard asked if those cash payments were reflected in the cash account that Plante had examined. Larsen said he didn't believe so, as he didn't recall seeing them listed there. Larsen said he also couldn't tell Conard the total amount of money the center was receiving at that time, because there are no records. However, the deposits made showed there should have been more than $60,000 in the cash account.


Recalling testimony Larsen gave on Jan. 21, Conard asked about large checks the center received, and referred to one situation in which former center board member Marilyn Johnson told Larsen she saw Mosser at a local bank in mid-2005. He allegedly was there with several employees, and cashed a $15,000 check to the center, paid the employees and left with the rest of the money, according to Johnson's statements.


Conard asked if that check was reflected in any of the center's accounts. Larsen said no. Conard asked if he checked the senior center's accounts to see if the check showed up on a bank statement. Larsen said he did look, but didn't find that check.


The preliminary hearing will continue at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday.


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


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NICE – A 12-year-old boy involved in a collision last week while riding his bicycle has died.


The boy, who lived in Nice, died of his injuries on Saturday, according to a Monday report from California Highway Patrol Officer Adam Garcia.


The child had been riding his bicycle on Manzanita Avenue at Highway 20 shortly before 8 p.m. Wednesday when he was struck by a van, as Lake County News has reported.


The CHP said the boy was not wearing a helmet at the time of the collision.


The child was immediately transported to for treatment to the Children's Hospital of Oakland, where he died.


Garcia said that, out of respect for the family and because he's a juvenile, the child's name is not being released at this time.


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Image
T. Watts at the KPFZ microphone. Courtesy photo.



my only weapon is my pen

and the frame of mind I’m in …

Poet, from There’s A Riot Goin’ On

Sylvester Stewart, circa, 1971


Actually, there’s still a riot goin’ on in my CyberSoulMan head regarding an incident that happened to me in small claims court here in Lake County a few years back. I’ll get to that shortly.


I’d like to go back even further though, in an attempt to illustrate part of the formative childhood of T. Watts, back when the brainwash was new.


I was a CyberSoulChild, living in San Francisco, city of my birth. I actually cannot remember not having a television. One of my favorite TV shows was entitled “Captain Fortune.” It was, obviously, a children’s show, full of fantasy, magic and the like.


One of the cool things Mr. Captain Fortune could do was have one of his young charges take a crayon to an easel and mark it up all crazy and then actually redraw the mass into anything the little tyke or tykes desired. It was like, total subliminal domination of my 5-year-old mind. This cat could make something out of nothing. Pure alchemy. My mini psyche shouted, “Eureka!”


Several years later, I had a similar experience in my eighth grade math class. It was taught by a young whiz kid with a southern accent named Mr. Williams. He was a genteel, handsome type, natty dresser, really popular with the students and, I imagine, females in general.


Mr. Williams, through a series of seemingly algebraic formulaic smoke-and-mirrored sleight of hand, proved to the class that 1 + 1 = 3. There. It had happened again. I had been shown by someone that I had a modicum of faith in, that the impossible was occasionally possible. Mr. Williams, bless his heart, did undo his fraudulent math lesson to illustrate to our teenaged sensibilities that people can be made to believe anything.


Here folks, is where the bloggy gets foggy. I’m easing toward my tale from the cryptic courtroom now.


You see, I was a Lake County landlord a few seasons back. I learned that there are some very fraudulent renters out there. These are people who make a living at renting for free. They’ll show up like the all-American family. They have maybe one or two vehicles and a couple of children. They will be slightly short of the total move-in costs to secure the rental of your property and have a less-than-stellar credit report as well.


They’ll give you a story that will tug at your heart. You agree to rent them your property. They pay the rent fine for a couple of months. Then suddenly they can’t pay the rent because they are separated. The wife and children are gone and the husband has a sad story. This goes on for close to three months.


Then their former landlords make contact with you, the current landlord. You compare notes. It’s a ruse. You discover they scammed more than one former landlord the same way. You might even catch your tenants at Kmart acting very unseparated, spending your mortgage money. The husband refuses to vacate your property.


You explore your legal options. In my case I decided to use a legal reference handbook for landlords taking their tenants to court. I file all the papers, to evict the tenant(s) and sue for back rent and property damage.


On the day of court reckoning, I walk in the courtroom dressed like a lawyer. You know, sport coat, tie, slacks, shined shoes. I spy a popular Lake County doctor in the courtroom dressed for business as well. We acknowledge each other and wait for the judge.


Lot on the plate of some of these judges. Makes them a little late sometimes. One pleasantry about the proceedings is that the court stenographer is my neighbor.


His Honor finally saunters in and we do the “All rise.” He calls the doctor’s case and quickly finds for the doctor. The doctor is able to hear the nature of my case before he leaves the courtroom. His Honor calls my case. At some point during the proceedings His Honor scowls at me like I’m a menace there to do harm to the defendant, who looks like he slept in his clothes.


Rather than give you the blow by blow, let me just suffice to say that after presenting my case and finally getting the sheriff to give my tenant the boot, His Honor asked me where I got my legal advice. When I told him the title of the legal handbook he angrily told me that I was misinformed, that I was not eligible for the two and a half months back rent and all I could be awarded was a $200 cleaning fee.


Hey, wait a minute, I’m thinking. This is some negative alchemy. This judge is trying to convince me that I’m wrong, when I know I’m right. All my i’s are dotted and my t’s are crossed. This is bad mojo. The impossibly unfair has the shady scale of justice on its scanty side.


But wait, there’s more proof. I ask my neighbor the stenographer what she made of the court action. She said something to the effect of, “I don’t know what came over the judge. I’ve never seen him act like that before. He acted like you did something to him.”


I bumped into the doctor a few days later. He too, was surprised that I didn’t get the verdict I was seeking.


I’ve gotten out of the land lording business. Nothing lasts forever. Not even unrighteous judges who ignore scandalous behavior. Me? I’ve got bigger fish to fry. Maybe next I’ll write about Rush Limbaugh’s pain pill connection. Papa’s got a brand new bag!


Keep prayin’, keep thinkin’ those kind thoughts.


T. Watts is a writer, radio host and music critic. Visit his Web site at www.teewatts.biz.


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LAKEPORT – As a voice for local businesses, the Lakeport Regional Chamber of Commerce remains focused on the issues facing the area’s work places despite economic challenges of its own.


The chamber recently canceled a popular annual event because “people were not in a position to buy tickets.” In addition, the chamber is operating on a reduced budget, which resulted in the loss of one part-time job, according to Melissa Fulton, Lakeport Regional Chamber of Commerce chief executive officer.


Members and guests were supposed to be enjoying a night of dinner and dancing Jan. 31 at “Hawaii 5000,” the Chamber’s fundraising soiree.


However, individuals apparently couldn’t afford the $145 per couple price tag and chamber officials decided it “wasn’t something that would work this year,” Fulton said Thursday.


Cancellation of the event and the potential for additional economic impacts to chamber functions will be evaluated during an upcoming retreat for the chamber’s board of directors, Fulton noted.


A primary focus of the retreat is the issue of businesses having a hard time in this economy, she stressed.


“That is our challenge, our focus,” she said, “to identify tools to help business members stay in business and grow. We see it as a priority.”


During the retreat, the board will be looking at ways to “provide (businesses) with tools to stay productive and stay in a positive position,” Fulton added.


In addition, the chamber plans to conduct a member survey to identify what the membership would like to see the chamber do, she said.


No longer hired by the city of Lakeport to be the city’s “marketing arm,” the chamber is feeling the pinch of the current economic climate. It is familiar with problems facing the businesses, said Fulton.


“I’ve had to let a part-time person go (from the chamber office),” she noted.


Explaining some of the history, Fulton stated that since about 1997 the city had hired the chamber to do marketing for Lakeport. The city paid a flat sum from the city’s general fund each year.


Facing financial challenges of its own, the city of Lakeport decided last June that it could no longer retain the services of the chamber. That meant a 20-percent budget reduction, according to the long-time chief executive officer.


The city determined marketing was one expense it could not afford at this time, interim City Manager Kevin Burke confirmed Monday when asked about the decision made for this fiscal year.


Whether or not the chamber is hired to do the marketing in the future is “up to the City Council,” said Burke. However, “marketing is not a budgeted expense” for now.


While the council continues to look at other ways to fund promotional activities, the city’s priorities are meeting payroll for staff and “bare bones operating expenses,” said Burke.


Despite the fact that funds are not available from the city, the Lakeport Chamber’s chief executive officer is optimistic that traditional events such as the Fourth of July fireworks and celebration in Lakeport will not be affected by the hardships felt locally.


A meeting of chamber officials, city staff and community club representatives is scheduled for Tuesday to look at ways to assure that the annual fireworks over Clear Lake will take place.


“We are going to be talking about how this community can make it happen,” stated Fulton, noting she has no doubt that the fireworks display will occur as planned.


In the meantime, the chamber continues to offer workshops and programs to benefit businesspeople.


Businesses are still joining the chamber even though Fulton does not have a memberships salesperson on staff.


“Other members strongly urge them to join,” Fulton said.


Membership amounts depend on the number of employees in the business or company, and a payment schedule can be arranged.


Information and membership forms are available on the Lakeport Regional Chamber of Commerce Web site, www.lakeportchamber.com.


Sue Stout is a business correspondent for Lake County News.


{mos_sb_discuss:2}

LAKE COUNTY – The state's actions to freeze bond funding is hitting projects around the state, including work right here in Lake County.


In December the California Department of Finance froze use of the Pooled Money Investment Account (PMIA) for general obligation bond-funded programs and projects, according to a report from the California Watershed Coalition.


The coalition estimates that the state's action has halted $660 million a month in loan servicing for bond-funded infrastructure projects, and resulted in lack of reimbursement for some projects and thousands of layoffs.


The particular bonds whose funds have been frozen include 13, 40, 50 and 84, said Greg Dills, watershed coordinator for the East Lake and West Lake Resource Conservation Districts.


There's also the matter of grants running out, specifically those that support the county's watershed groups and activities, said Dills.


He said he's not seen bond funds actually frozen before.

“California's credit rating is the worst in the nation,” he said, adding that nobody is buying bonds.


“Locally it's just devastating,” he said.


Two Proposition 50 grants the county has support three watershed assessments and the Clear Lake Basin Management Plan. Dills said his staff is in the 11th hour on the basin management plan, which they had planned to finish in June.


He said no one has been able to tell him if they'll be able to get an extension for completing the assessments and the plan, which he called “key documents for being able to get other funds to implement projects.”


Dills also recently received official notice from the state Department of Water Resources to stop work on an assessment grant.


Projects and funding build on one another, Dills said.


The Westlake District is very small, with only three staff members as it is, said Dills. Lack of funding going forward could impact the additional three to four staffers that do seasonal work for the district.


Pam Francis, deputy director of Lake County's Water Resources Division, said they're also feeling the impact of the state's actions.


She said the division has been working on Proposition 50 and 84 grants; those and another grant account for $56,000 in funding that the county may have to cover so far this year, an estimate which Francis said is “very conservative.”


Some of the money they've been awarded may not be able to be used by the sunset dates because of the state's actions, which means the county will lose those funds, said Francis.


The grant funding Water Resources receives goes to such projects as eradicating the invasive plant Arundo donax – the giant reed that resembles bamboo that is commonly seen around the county. The county received about $181,000 three years ago for that work. Francis said that grant is now coming to a close.


There also are Proposition 50 assessments, which are snapshots of what the county's three main watersheds look like, said Francis. “It's really just to collect everything we know about these three watersheds at this point in time.”


That work is meant to help in understanding the health of watersheds. Francis said a very important component in those assessments is completing the Clear Lake Basin Management Plan, because the lake can't be separated from the watersheds.


One department staffer works full-time on that grant, and Francis said they've managed to keep her working by covering her salary from the division's funds and not from a grant. The county may or may not be reimbursed for that.


Francis said Brent Siemer, head of the county's Department of Public Works – which includes Water Resources – made the decision that the assessment and the plan were important enough that work on them needed to continue.


The county also is applying for Proposition 84 funds to support an integrated regional water management plan which extends beyond the county's political boundaries, said Francis. It would cover Upper and Lower Cache Creek and Putah Creek, and is a cooperative effort with Yolo, Solano, Napa and Colusa counties.


The regional water management plan also is a project listed in a memorandum of understanding the county reached late last year with Yolo County Flood Control and Water Conservation District, said Francis.


“This is a big deal,” she said.


Receiving additional Proposition 84 funds are hinged on the plan being completed for the area and giving the state an idea of how the funds will be spent, said Francis.


Also hung up now are flood corridor grants covering the Middle Creek area. Francis said the county needs the grants to purchase properties from two separate owners who are in flood prone areas.


“The citizens of the state need to become a little more irate and give their legislators a piece of their mind,” said Francis, expressing her frustration over the state's budget crisis.


She added, “There are people losing their jobs out there just because these legislators are trying to posture.”


Francis said the county may have to make cuts in the future if the funds aren't restored.


“There's going to be a lot of financial pressure put on at some point in time,” she said.


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


{mos_sb_discuss:2}

NORTH COAST – The North Coast's state senator has accused a state agency of failing to take action to help struggling salmon populations.


State Sen. Patricia Wiggins (D-Santa Rosa) sharply criticized the California Department of Fish and Game (DFG) on Jan. 29 for failing to take emergency steps to prevent salmon fisheries from collapsing. Her critique was issued after the DFG failed to place new restrictions on a gold mining practice that threatens the state's imperiled salmon populations.


Wiggins, who chairs the legislature's Joint Committee on Fisheries and Aquaculture, also said she is considering new legislation to limit the use of "suction dredge" gold mining, which involves the use of large dredges to vacuum rock and sand from rivers and creek beds, killing fish. Coho salmon, in particular, are at great risk from this practice, according to Wiggins' office.


Wiggins led a group of legislators in writing a letter to DFG officials in support of a petition from environmental organizations and the Karuk Indian Tribe, whose lands include portions of the Klamath River, asking DFG to restrict suction dredge mining along the Klamath. Her office said the department has thus far refused, and officials there have yet to begin a court-ordered review of the situation.


“California's once-thriving salmon populations have plummeted to the point that they face extinction unless we take immediate action,” Wiggins said. She added that it will take courage and bold action on all our parts to bring the fisheries back to healthy levels.


Jordan Traverso, a DFG spokesperson, said the agency had no comment in response to Wiggins' statements.


However, DFG sent a letter on Feb. 2 to the leaders of the Karuk Tribe and several environmental groups, in which the agency explained that the petition for emergency action failed to provide
“substantial evidence that the magnitude of the potential harm caused by suction dredge mining to the state's fisheries is so great that an emergency exists” under the Administrative Procedure Act.


Last year, commercial fishermen were told to stop fishing for ocean salmon, and it is expected they will be told to do so again this year, according to Wiggins' office.


“Even though this puts tremendous pressure on them, their families and their local economies, they understand the need to regenerate the stock,” she said. “However, a small group of recreational miners are allowed to continue suction dredge mining on the streams that serve as nurseries for spawning salmon. It is more than unfair to ask an entire industry to make sacrifices while these other activities continue.”


Wiggins said the lack of appropriate action is one factor contributing to high rates of unemployment in the fishing industry, and that "it's time for our government to step up. If the Department of Fish and Game is unwilling to place the burden of rebuilding fisheries fairly upon all users, I will continue to take legislative action to get government to do its job."


Accordingly, Wiggins says she is considering re-introducing a measure that would put a temporary halt on suction dredge mining until DFG completes its court-ordered mandate to fix long-term regulations.


{mos_sb_discuss:3}

CLEARLAKE – A traffic stop in Clearlake early Monday led to an investigation that yielded three arrests on a number of drug-related charges.


Lt. Mike Hermann of the Clearlake Police Department said officers conducted a traffic stop at 1:40 a.m. Monday on 38-year-old Timothy George Miller for driving a vehicle with a license plate that did not belong on it.


During the course of the stop, officers smelled the strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle and conducted a search of the trunk where they located approximately a quarter-pound of processed marijuana, a loaded 9 millimeter handgun with a full capacity magazine, and methamphetamine along with packaging materials and a digital scale, Hermann said.


Hermann reported that officers also seized more than $1,000 in cash from Miller.


Clearlake Police called agents from the Lake County Narcotics Task Force to assist with the investigation and a search warrant was obtained and served at Miller’s Middletown home, Hermann said.


During the course of the warrant service, agents found the location to have been modified for marijuana cultivation. Hermann said that more than 100 immature marijuana plants, along with over 3 pounds of processed marijuana were seized from the location as well as 10 guns and additional items for packaging and sales.


While at the location, officer located and arrested two additional subjects, said Hermann.


Damin Anthony Pashilk, 33, of Napa originally opened the door while holding a loaded handgun upon officers' arrival. Hermann said Pashilk immediately ran back into the residence and attempted to hide the weapon which was located and seized.


Pashilk, who was wanted for parole violations in Napa, was arrested without further incident for being a felon in possession of a weapon and possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, Hermann said.


Kelsey Marie Saunders, 19, of Clearlake also was arrested and charged with cultivation of marijuana and possession of a controlled substance, in this case methamphetamine. Hermann said all three were transported to the Lake County Jail and housed and additional charges are pending completion of the investigation and review by the District Attorney’s Office.


Hermann said Miller initially claimed to have a medical marijuana card but was unable to provide any documentation of such. There were also no documents located during the service of the search warrant at his residence to support the statement as well.


{mos_sb_discuss:2}

Image
Upper Lake High School's Academic Decathlon team, along with Principal Patrick Iaccino (left) celebrate their win on Saturday, February 7, 2009, at the Lake County Academic Decathlon. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 

MIDDLETOWN – Four teams, 45 excellent students and four coaches met Saturday in Middletown to compete for the honor of being this year's county Academic Decathlon champ. {sidebar id=120}


After the pencils were down and the brain dust had settled, Upper Lake High School – led this year by new coach Anna Sabalone – took the prize, with Lower Lake High right on their heels, along with Clear Lake and Middletown high schools.


Lake County Superintendent of Schools Dave Geck emphasized that all of the teams and students were winners, worthy competitors who deserved honors for the work they'd done – from months of preparatory study on the subject of Latin America, to the Saturday competition.


Saturday was the culmination of a lot of work, and was just the last step in the competition. Nancy Harby, Lower Lake High's coach, said the essay, speech and interview portions of the competition were held late last month.


That left yet another seven subjects for Saturday – language and literature, fine arts, social services, mathematics, music, economics and the Super Quiz.


The Super Quiz was the only portion of the competition open to the public. Close to 70 family and community members – in addition to the students, coaches and officials – crowded into the Middletown High School multipurpose room to see the quiz play out.


Over about 50 minutes, the student teams worked through 45 questions, with each student getting five questions that focused on evolutionary biology, the Super Quiz theme.


Genetics, alleles, neuropeptides, natural selection, the Galapagos finches studied by Charles Darwin, scientific techniques for tracking the age of the universe and more questions that would make a Jeopardy contestant flinch were read by Middletown Principal Bob Roderick. Roderick, the quiz's moderator, was given props for weathering through the tricky pronunciations of the names of evolutionary scientists and the complicated terminology.

 

First up in the Super Quiz were Varsity Division students, with grade point averages ranging from 2.99 GPA and below.


After the test proctors had tallied the results of the first 15 questions, Upper Lake led with seven points, followed by six for Clear Lake High and Lower Lake High, and five for Middletown.


Then came the Scholastic group (GPAs of 3.0 to 3.74) and another 15 questions which seemed to get harder and more technical with each round. The scoring update showed that Upper Lake still led, with 13 points, with Lower Lake at 12, and Clear Lake and Middletown with nine points each.


The Honors Division (GPAs of 3.75 to 4.0) was the last to sit down for the quiz. After that final round of 15 questions, Upper Lake and Lower Lake were tied with 17 points each, followed by a second tie between Middletown and Clear Lake, which each scored 14 points.


Then it was time to wait.


With the Super Quiz scores in hand it was up to the judges to tally the final results, a process which took about a half hour.


Students chatted, fretted, checked their cell phones and sent texts. Harby pointed to senior Emmalena Illia's nervously tapping foot as signs of the nerve-wracking wait. Illia said the competition seemed about as hard as her two previous visits to the Academic Decathlon.


Then Geck was back at the microphone, telling everyone it was time to announce the results, which had been delivered to him in sealed envelopes by Robin Totorica of the Lake County Office of Education.


Geck called up the principals of the four competing high schools – Patrick Iaccino of Upper Lake, Steve Gentry of Clear Lake, Bob Roderick of Middletown and Jeff Dixon of Lower Lake – to help with handing out the awards.


Before awarding the medals and trophies, Geck took a minute to respond to a question posed to him by a parent during the break.


The question had been about the future of the Academic Decathlon in light of the state's budget crisis.


Geck was frank. He told the roomful of proud parents and grandparents and their students that the realities of the state budget and thinning resources will make it harder for school district boards to sustain programs like the Academic Decathlon.


His suggestion: Let legislators know that the Academic Decathlon is valued and should continue.

 

 

 

 

 

Image
Scholastic Division students take part in the Super Quiz, the theme of which was evolutionary biology. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

 

 


Geck then moved to the happier news of the awards.


The following is the list of award-winning students.


Written essay

Bronze: Grace Evans, Honors, Middletown

Silver: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Gold: William Oertel, Varsity, Middletown


Interview

Bronze (four-way tie): Marilou Montanez, Honors, Lower Lake; Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake; Kevin Boyd, Scholastic, Lower Lake; Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake; Emmalena Illia, Honors, Lower Lake
Gold: Alma Martinez, Varsity, Lower Lake


Speech, impromptu

Bronze: Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver: Ryan Wilson, Scholastic, Lower Lake

Gold: Natasha Gibbs, Honors, Middletown


Language and Literature

Bronze: Ryan Wilson, Scholastic, Lower Lake

Silver: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Gold: Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake


Fine Arts

Bronze: Thonyoon Chao, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver (three-way tie): Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake; Stephanie Tregea, Scholastic, Upper Lake; Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake

Gold: Emmalena Illia, Honors, Lower Lake


Social Science

Bronze: Garrett Schofield, Honors, Clear Lake

Silver: Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake

Gold: Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake


Mathematics

Bronze (three-way tie): Nycole Copping, Honors, Clear Lake; Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, Scholastic, Upper Lake; Thonyoon Chao, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver: Belarmino Garcia Jr., Honors, Upper Lake

Gold: Kyle Coleman, Honors, Upper Lake


Music

Bronze (tie): Desiree Quiett, Varsity, Middletown; Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver: Belarmino Garcia Jr., Honors, Upper Lake

Gold (tie): Stephanie Tregea, Scholastic, Upper Lake; Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake


Economics

Bronze (three-way tie): Alma Martinez, Varsity, Lower Lake; Grace Evans, Honors, Middletown High; Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, Scholastic, Upper Lake

Silver: Chae Carter, Varsity, Upper Lake

Gold (tie): Ben Mullin, Varsity, Upper Lake; Joe Riggs, Scholastic, Lower Lake


Varsity top scorer

Bronze: Brandon Rockwell, Lower Lake

Silver: William Oertel, Middletown

Gold: Ben Mullin, Upper Lake


Scholastic top scorer

Bronze: Kevin Boyd, Lower Lake

Silver: Marisa Feliciano-Garcia, Upper Lake

Gold: Joe Riggs, Lower Lake


Honors top scorer

Bronze: Diego Bernardino, Clear Lake

Silver: Emmalena Illia, Lower Lake

Gold: Kyle Coleman, Upper Lake


Top scoring student from each school

Clear Lake High School: Diego Bernardino, Honors

Upper Lake High School: Ben Mullin, Varsity

Middletown High School: William Oertel, Varsity

Lower Lake High School: Joe Riggs, Scholastic


Super Quiz

Silver: Lower Lake High School

Gold: Upper Lake High School


Then it was time to announce the winner.


“We know that you're all working hard,” Geck said before making the announcement.


Winning the silver was Lower Lake, with Upper Lake taking the championship. Each of the teams received standing ovations.


The full point tallies for all the schools was not available from officials late Saturday.


Afterward, there were a lot of hugs, high fives and congratulations for the teams.


“We did it!” Sabalone and a student said to one another.


“They did fantastic,” she said of her students.


She called it a “nerve-wracking and exhilarating” experience that followed a grueling final week of preparation, with students arriving at school at 7 a.m., going through classes and then studying together until 9 p.m., with parents bringing in food to the evening study sessions.


Sabalone saw the competition from the coach's side this year. While a student at Upper Lake, she competed as an academic decathlete. She said at first she was less nervous than when she was a student competitor.


But she eventually ended up worrying about other things. “When it comes down to it I wonder, did I do enough?”


Looking ahead, she said two-thirds of her team is graduating this year, but she has a lot of students coming up through the ranks who are showing potential.

 

 

 

 

Image
The jingliest of them all: Ben Mullin of Upper Lake brought in 11 medals during Saturday's Academic Decathlon in Middletown. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.
 

 

 

 


Regarding the budget concerns Geck referred to during the awards ceremony, Sabalone said she doesn't know if the budget will hurt the Academic Decathlon, but she plans to go on with the program “with or without a budget.”


When it comes to keeping Upper Lake's Academic Decathlon program going, “I plan on finding a way,” Sabalone said.


She said she's looking forward to the state competition and to the final point tally, so they know which areas need extra work.


The students have a three-day weekend to enjoy and then Sabalone is giving them a week off to rest up before they begin the furious month of preparation for the 30th annual California Academic Decathlon, which takes place March 13 through 16 in Sacramento.


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


{mos_sb_discuss:2}

LAKE COUNTY – If you see a letter arriving in your mailbox warning of your property value being overassessed, a Lake County official advises you to toss the letter in the trash.


Just this week, residents around Lake County began receiving letters from a company going by the name “Property Tax Reassessment.”


“We just got our first indication of that thing this afternoon when the phone started ringing,” Jim Campbell, Lake County's chief deputy assessor, said on Friday.


Property Tax Reassessment, which the letter says is based in Los Angeles, is not a government agency or even a recognized company, said Campbell.


“It's just strictly a scam,” he said.


Campbell said the letters began spreading around Southern California recently and have since spread north.


Press reports from around the state are warning communities to ignore the letters. In San Luis Obispo County the county assessor reportedly is planning to forward the letters to the county counsel and district attorney.


Online consumer watchdog groups also are warning that the letter is a scam.


The letters look real enough, listing the property owners' specific assessment values – which Campbell said to have been drawn from county records, which are public.

 

An example letter Lake County News obtained estimated how much property tax savings the property owner could realize if they paid $179 for reassessment services before Feb. 26. After that date, a $30 late fee is added.


“Upon receipt of your service fee, Property Tax Reassessment will thoroughly review your individual property value. If, after our review, it is determined you do not qualify for a reduction, your service fee will be immediately refunded,” the letter states.


Campbell said the services which the letter offers to property owners are done by the Lake County Assessor's Office – for free.


He said the letter has incorrect dates for the reassessment process, which already has passed for this fiscal year.


“It's just strictly a scam,” said Campbell, who called the effort to take funds from property owners through this kind of misinformation “totally immoral.”


Property Tax Reassessment has no listed physical address; in the letter it directors property owners to send checks to P.O. Box 25519 in Los Angeles, an address which at one time was reported to have belonged to ISU Insurance Services, whose Web site lists no connection with Property Tax Reassessment.


Likewise, the letter lists a phone number, 888-879-4259, which does not show up in any phone listings or reverse searches.


When Lake County News called the number, a female answered and said it was not the number for the company.


You can, however, pick up the phone and call the assessor's office at 263-2302, which Campbell urges property owners to do if they have any questions.


The bottom line, said Campbell, is that the services offered in the letter are “totally unnecessary,” and no one should pay the fees.


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


{mos_sb_discuss:2}

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