Friday, 19 July 2024


COBB – Winter weather conditions are believed to have been responsible for knocking out power in parts of Cobb Saturday afternoon.

At approximately 1:40 p.m. 854 customers lost power as the result of a tree going into power lines, said Brandi Ehlers of Pacific Gas and Electric Co.

The first 566 customers had power restored at 3:11 p.m., with the remaining 288 customers regaining power at 3:16 p.m., Ehlers said.

Throughout the day Cobb experienced snow showers and wind, according to Cobb resident Roger Kinney.

The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for Lake County that remains in effect through noon on Sunday, warning of 35 to 50 mile per hour wind gusts overnight and early Sunday morning.

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WASHINGTON, DC – The struggling companies whose freewheeling business practices have contributed to the country's economic woes are getting a lucrative return on at least one of their investments.

Beneficiaries of the $700 billion bailout package in the finance and automotive industries have spent a total of $114.2 million on lobbying in the past year and contributions toward the 2008 election, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics has found.

The companies' political activities have, in part, yielded them $295.2 billion from the federal government's Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP), an extraordinary return of 258,449 percent.

"Even in the best economic times, you won't find an investment with a greater payoff than what these companies have been getting," said Sheila Krumholz, the Center's executive director. "Some of the companies and industries that have received payments may now consider their contributions and lobbying to be the smartest investments they've made in years."

While the Treasury Department, not Congress, doles out TARP funds to specific institutions, congressional lawmakers had to authorize that money in the first place, and lawmakers will determine in the future whether to release more funds to prop up the US economy.

During the bill-writing process, members of Congress were able to specify to some extent where the money should go, and they have lobbied regulators to urge them to inject funds into specific banks and financial institutions, including those in lawmakers' own districts.

"Taxpayers hope their money is being allocated entirely on the merits, but with Congress controlling how much money the Treasury gets to hand out, it will be impossible to completely exclude politics from this process," Krumholz said.

Some of the top recipients of contributions from companies receiving TARP money are the same members of Congress who chair committees charged with regulating the financial sector and overseeing the effectiveness of this unprecedented government program.

They include Sen. Chris Dodd of Connecticut, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs (he received $854,200 from the companies in the 2008 election cycle, including money to his presidential campaign) and Sen. Max Baucus of Montana, chair of the Senate Finance Committee (he received $279,000).

In total, members of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, Senate Finance Committee and House Financial Services Committee received $5.2 million from TARP recipients in the 2007-2008 election cycle.

President Barack Obama collected at least $4.3 million from the companies and their employees for his presidential campaign, while Sen. John McCain (R-Arizona), Obama's opponent in the presidential race, received $2.1 million.

The Center for Responsive Politics also provided Lake County News with specific information on the area's legislators, who received much smaller donation amounts.

In the 2008 election cycle, US Sen. Barbara Boxer received $7,300 from the TARP bailout companies. Boxer's counterpart in the Senate, Dianne Feinstein, doesn't appear to have received funds from the companies in the 2008 election cycle, but the center reported that Feinstein didn't do much fundraising for herself in 2008 because her next election isn't until 2012.

Congressman Mike Thompson, who represents several counties including Lake in the US House of Representatives, received $28,500 from the companies and their employees in the 2008 election cycle, according to the center's records.

Most of Thompson's contributions came from PACs, including those for Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase and Co., International Bank of Commerce, Wells Fargo, Citigroup, American Express, Morgan Stanley, FMR Corp. and Goldman Sachs, according to the center's records.

Thompson said his votes were predicated on helping get the country moving forward.

"I voted for the bailout legislation because we had to get our credit markets working again,” he said in an exclusive comment granted to Lake County News.

“I was outraged, like most Americans, at the greed and incompetence at many banking institutions that got us into this mess in the first place,” he said. “Unfortunately, our financial institutions were on the brink of collapse and hard working people in our district and across our country were caught up in a credit crunch that threatened home owners and small businesses. Even the State of California was unable to raise the funds to pay for health and safety programs."

He added, “It was clear to me that we had to act in order to begin to work our way out of this crisis – and we had to act quickly, even if the plan wasn't perfect, so that our entire financial system didn't collapse.

“Voting no on this bill would have been the easy vote, but given the unprecedented economic circumstances I had to make the hard vote in favor of this bill,” Thompson said. “I am glad that the Obama administration has already taken several steps to ensure this money is spent wisely and doesn't end up lining the pockets of bank executives.”

Some, not all, TARP recipients hired lobbyists

Of the more than 300 companies that have been aided by TARP, 25 paid lobbyists a total of $76.7 million to represent them on Capitol Hill in 2008.

Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner said recently that institutions collecting these funds won't be allowed to lobby the federal government going forward.

In the fourth Quarter of 2008, when Congress was crafting bailout legislation, these companies spent $17.8 million on lobbying – less than what they spent in the prior three quarters, probably because they were strapped for cash.

In total, 161 companies approved for TARP money gave $37.5 million to federal candidates, parties and committees in the 2007-2008 election cycle, with 57 percent of that going to Democrats (post-election data is not yet available).

The employees of these companies, rather than their political action committees, gave the bulk of that, at $26.1 million, or 70 percent.

These two groups of donors seem to have differed in their partisan allegiance – individual employees gave 61 percent of their donations to Democrats, while PACs were more evenly divided, giving 51 percent to Republicans.

Some of the companies to give the most in contributions, including Goldman Sachs, Citigroup, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley, are also among the biggest donors of all time to U.S. politics.

The companies giving the most to fund lawmakers' campaigns and spending the most on lobbying efforts were also those that received the most TARP money to help them stay afloat. This includes General Motors, which spent $15 million between campaign contributions and lobbying expenditures and got $10.4 billion (more than all other companies), Bank of America (and the investment company it bought last year, Merrill Lynch), which spent $14.5 million to play politics and received $45 billion from the bailout bill; and American International Group (AIG), which spent $10.6 million and was paid out $40 billion.

Citigroup was also one of the largest spenders to see a big result: between lobbying expenditures and campaign contributions, the company spent $12.5 million and got $50 billion. For a complete list of TARP recipients that spent money on campaign contributions and lobbying, see the chart below.

"TARP needs to be far more transparent," Krumholz of CRP said. "Hundreds of billions of dollars have already been handed out with little more than a one-line announcement. What qualified these companies for the money they're getting? What disqualified other companies? What contact has there been between members of Congress and the Treasury? What contact have lobbyists had with Congress and Treasury? These are reasonable questions, and taxpayers deserve answers."

The finance, insurance and real estate sector, including all companies and trade groups (not just those that qualified for TARP funds), spent $453.5 million on lobbying in 2008, an 8.7 percent increase from the year before.

In the last quarter of 2008, the sector spent $106.9 million on its influence-peddling efforts. The securities and investment industry spent $20.5 million in the fourth quarter, insurance companies spent $36.7 million and real estate companies spent $16.5 million.

And although this was a decrease from the third for each of these industries, they had plenty of additional support. Trade associations in the finance, insurance and real estate sector spent $123 million on lobbying last year, more than they spent in each of the three years prior.

The Center for Responsive Politics' Web site,, tracks both campaign contributions to federal lawmakers and lobbying expenditures by organization, industry and sector.

CRP calculated the numbers in this report by mashing up these databases with a list of TARP recipients accessed Feb. 2 from

Post-election contribution data is not yet available but should be incorporated into in the coming weeks.

For the table of TARP recipients that spent money on lobbying or were associated with campaign contributions, visit


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.”

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The driver and passengers escaped from this pickup before it burned on Friday. Photo by Gary Madison.

LAKEPORT – Two drivers were injured in an early morning crash on Friday that the California Highway Patrol said appeared to have resulted from an icy roadway.

The collision occurred just after 7 a.m. on Highway 29 just south of Park Way near Lakeport, the CHP reported.

Officer Craig Van Housen said 45-year-old Sherrie Stanley of Upper Lake was driving her 1988 Toyota pickup southbound on Highway 29 when she lost control on the icy roadway.

The pickup slid sideways, going across the center divider and colliding with a 2002 Ford pickup driven by 33-year-old Glenn Greer Jr. of Lakeport, Van Housen said.

Van Housen said Stanley's driver-side door hit the left front of Greer's pickup, which also had three passengers, including two children, inside.

The crash closed the roadway completely for about a half hour, with the northbound lane reopening shortly before 7:40 a.m., the CHP reported.

Rescuers had to work to free Stanley from the wreckage, Van Housen said. “It took a while to get her out.”

Stanley sustained major injuries, with her left side and left arm badly lacerated, Van Housen said. She was transported to Sutter Lakeside for treatment.

She was wearing her seat belt, as was Greer and his passengers. Van Housen said two children in car seats in the pickup were properly secured and suffered no injures.

Greer's pickup, however, caught fire after the collision and was burned. Everyone got out with no problems, according to Van Housen.

Greer, who Van Housen said saw the crash coming, braced himself, and suffered what may be a shattered left wrist.

Although Caltrans has been very diligent about keeping the highways sanded, Van Housen urged drivers to be especially careful in the morning while driving to work, especially if it's between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m., when roads are likely to be very icy.

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SACRAMENTO – Attorney General Edmund G. Brown Jr. on Thursday issued a consumer alert to California homeowners about a scam targeting homeowners with declining property values.

“This blatant and costly scam holds out hope to homeowners that their property taxes will be reduced if they pay hundreds of dollars to a middleman to have their property re-evaluated,” Attorney General Brown said. “In point of fact, homeowners can seek relief directly from their county assessor free of charge. Homeowners should be on high alert.”

Companies are sending deceptive mailers to homeowners offering help in reducing property tax assessments, if the homeowner pays the company hundreds of dollars in fees. The companies use official-sounding names such as “Tax Adjusters,” “Tax Readjustment” or “Tax Review” to make victims believe the company is a government agency.

Local homeowners began receiving the mailers last week, as Lake County News has reported.

Property tax reassessment is a free service provided by county tax assessors, Brown reported. If homeowners believe their property value has declined and they are paying too much in property taxes, the local tax assessor will review the property value for free for a possible downward assessment.

To avoid becoming a victim, homeowners should:

  • Never pay money for something they did not ask for.

  • Avoid a middleman – contact the local tax assessor’s office for property value reassessment.

The Lake County Assessor's Office can be reached at 263-2302. County Chief Deputy Assessor Jim Campbell urges county residents to call with questions or to request free reassessment services.

Homeowners who believe they are a victim of this scam should contact the Attorney General’s Office by either calling 1-800-952-5225 or by writing to P.O. Box 944255 Sacramento, CA 94244.


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.

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LAKE COUNTY – Snow returned for another winter visit to the county on Friday.

Areas of Cobb have been seeing light to moderate snowfall during the week, with the snow usually melting off fairly quickly, according to Cobb area resident Roger Kinney.

But on Friday the snow was spreading itself around the county.

Areas of the Northshore were coated white during a mid-afternoon snow flurry, with snow continuing into the evening.

In Kelseyville, snow was reported to be falling at about 6 p.m.

Snow shut down the Hopland Grade for about three hours early Friday evening, according to the California Highway Patrol. The roadway was reopened at about 7:15 p.m.

The Lake County Public Works Department reported Friday that chains are currently required on Bartlett Springs Road and on Elk Mountain Road.

CHP reported numerous collisions around the county and the North Coast on Friday due to the winter weather.

No serious injuries were reported in Lake County.

However, a collision involving a single car that went off Highway 128 east of Yorkville in Mendocino County early Friday afternoon claimed the lives of both people in the car, which hit an oak tree, according to a CHP report.

The car was traveling 55 miles per hours in rainy conditions when the car slid off the roadway, according to the CHP. No identifications were offered Friday for the Windsor residents who died in the crash.

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LAKE COUNTY – A man convicted of the 1989 murder of a co-worker and the shootings of two others was denied parole at a Tuesday hearing.

The Board of Parole Hearings denied parole for convicted murderer Francisco Mendoza Castillo, 71, according to Chief Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff, who attended the lifer hearing at California State Prison-Corcoran's Substance Abuse Treatment Facility, where he argued against Castillo’s release.

Castillo was convicted of the second-degree murder of Jorge Suarez and the shooting of Francisco Parra and Ramiro Suarez, and sentenced to 26 years to life on March 2, 1990, according to Hinchcliff.

Superior Court Judge William J. Harpham sentenced Castillo, who originally was prosecuted by then-District Attorney Stephen O. Hedstrom. Castillo's minimum eligible parole date was July 8, 2005.

According to investigation reports by the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, on Sept. 15, 1989, Francisco Castillo and his brother Jose Castillo attended a party at Mariani Vineyards where they worked with the three victims.

After the party, Jose Castillo got into an argument with one of the victims at 2955 Bell Hill Road in Kelseyville, where two of the victims lived.

Jose Castillo then left and returned a half hour later with Francisco Castillo and two firearms, a shotgun and a .38 caliber revolver.

According to witnesses Francisco Castillo, who had been drinking, shot Francisco Parra in the neck with the pistol, without provocation.

When Ramiro Suarez tried to calm Castillo down, Francisco Castillo shot him in the stomach, and after Suarez fell to the ground Francisco Castillo shot him in the leg.

Francisco Castillo then shot Jorge Suarez in the hand and chest. Jorge Suarez died at the scene.

When Francisco Castillo and his brother left the scene they drove their truck over the legs of Francisco Parra as he lay on the ground bleeding.

Francisco Parra and Ramiro Suarez survived the gunshot wounds. None of the three victims were armed at the time they were shot.

The Castillo brothers were caught when a game warden, Jim Branston, heard the gunshots and went to the scene to investigate. He pursued the fleeing pickup truck and called the sheriff’s office for assistance.

Francisco Castillo was in the United States illegally at the time of the shootings, and had been previously deported by the INS in 1981.

Francisco Castillo claimed at trial to not remember the shootings due to his drinking. At sentencing Judge Harpham stated that he did not believe Castillo, and noted that the shooting was quite accurate for someone who claimed to be so intoxicated they could not remember shooting three people.

Castillo continued to claim for 15 years in prison that he could not remember the shooting, then at an evaluation in 2005 he claimed he did remember the shooting and that the victims were beating him up and he shot all of them in self defense.

At the two-hour hearing Feb. 10, Hinchcliff asked the Board of Prison Hearings to deny Castillo's parole on the grounds that he still presented an unreasonable risk of danger to the public if released, and failed to exhibit any remorse or accept responsibility for his conduct.

The Board of Prison Hearings denied parole. Castillo’s next parole hearing will be in five years, Hinchcliff said.


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,

Sue Stout is a business correspondent for Lake County News.


One person was injured in the late-morning crash on Friday, February 13, 2009. Photo by Harold LaBonte.

LAKEPORT – A three-vehicle collision in Lakeport late Friday morning sent one person to the hospital and resulted in traffic being diverted around the scene for an hour.

Shortly after 11 a.m. the crash at Forbes and 11th was reported. Within minutes paramedics, police and a handful of Lakeport city employees arrived on scene, the latter group taking up positions around the scene to offer traffic control.

Traffic was closed one block south and one block north of 11th Street, as well as one block east and west at Forbes. A large amount of debris from all three vehicles was scattered across the intersection at 11th and Forbes St.

A white Buick Regal was driving north on Forbes and witnesses said it didn't stop at a stop sign before entering the intersection and colliding with a gray mid-1970s Chevy pickup. The pickup then collided heat-on with a GMC pickup traveling west on 11th.


Both the Buick and the Chevy were heavily damaged.

The driver of the Chevy pickup sustained injuries and was transported to the hospital.

The driver of the Buick was examined at the scene by medical personnel and appeared shaken but not in need of immediate care.

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


SACRAMENTO – Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger announced on Wednesday that Del Walters will be the new director of Cal Fire, following current Director Ruben Grijalva’s announcement to retire.

“With more than 30 years of service at CAL FIRE, Del Walters is the perfect person to head our state’s firefighting efforts,” Schwarzenegger said. “Playing a key role in combating the 2007 and 2008 firestorms, he has the experience and leadership capabilities to implement the highest standards of fire prevention and fire fighting while ensuring all Californians are protected. Under Del’s leadership, I am confident that the state will continue to be prepared to respond to the intense year-round fire seasons we now face.

“I also want to thank Ruben for his service to my administration and to the people of California. He is a dedicated public servant and gifted leader who has helped see our state through some of the worst wildfires we have ever seen in our state’s history. I wish Ruben the best in his future endeavors.”

Walters has served as the executive officer for Cal Fire since 2008. He began his career as a firefighter in 1971.

Prior to promoting to executive officer, he was the assistant region chief then staff chief of operations for the Northern Region. Prior to that, Walters was the deputy chief for the Shasta-Trinity Unit.

He previously worked for the Sonoma-Lake-Napa Unit as the assistant chief of administration, battalion chief, vegetation management program coordinator forester I and fire captain. He has also served as a fire captain, fire apparatus engineer and firefighter for the San Benito-Monterey Unit. Walters has been a California State Peace Officer since 1986.

“I am honored to serve the people of California in this new role,” said Del Walters. “I look forward to working with the governor to continue our fire prevention and protection efforts while preparing Californians for the extraordinary fire seasons our state faces.”

Walters, 54, of Redding, received his bachelor of science degree in forest resource management from Humboldt State University.

This position requires Senate confirmation and the compensation is $174,096. Walters is a Democrat.

As Cal Fire's director, Walters will oversee 5,500 full-time and seasonal employees. Cal Fire is dedicated to the fire protection and stewardship of more than 31 million acres of California's privately-owned wildlands. In addition, the department provides various emergency services in 36 of the State's 58 counties via contracts with local governments.

Cal Fire firefighters, fire engines, and aircraft respond to an average of more than 5,700 wildland fires each year. Those fires burn nearly 170,000 acres annually.


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.


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