Saturday, 20 July 2024



Eleven-year-old Arthur Wilkie of Lucerne is heading to the California State Elementary Spelling Championship in Rohnert Park on Saturday, May 16, 2009. Courtesy photo.



LUCERNE – A local spelling whiz will be making his way to Rohnert Park this weekend to represent Lake County in the California State Elementary Spelling Championship.

Arthur Wilkie, 11, a sixth grader who attends Lucerne Elementary School, will be among 62 of the state's top spellers, representing 32 counties, who will compete in the annual competition, to be held this Saturday, May 16, in Sonoma State University's Evert B. Person Theatre.

The competition, coordinated this year by the Sonoma County Office of Education, will begin at 9 a.m. It is free and open to the public.

Six fourth-graders, 24 fifth-graders and 32 sixth-graders will participate. All of them already have won school, region and county spelling bees. Each county’s first- and second-place spellers are eligible to compete for the championship title.

Trophies and savings bonds will be awarded to the top six spellers: $1,000 for first place, $500 for second place, $250 for third place, and $100 for fourth through sixth place.

All spellers will receive a participation ribbon, souvenirs, and certificate signed by Gov. Arnold


At 9 a.m. Sonoma County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Carl Wong will welcome participants and guests to the event, then show a video greeting from State Superintendent of Public Instruction Jack O’Connell.

Patricia Ehrmann, a teacher at Rancho Cotate High School in Rohnert Park, is the spell master. Serving as spelling judges are Guerneville School teacher Leslie Howell (lead judge); Mark Rasmussen, Napa area captain of the California Highway Patrol; and Sonoma County Office of Education assistant superintendent Don Russell.

The California School Employee Association is sponsoring this year’s spelling championship, which will have a country theme. Country radio station Froggy 92.9 andBuzzard’s Gulch, both of Santa Rosa, are partnering with SCOE to present the event. Radio personalities Rob and Joss will introduce the spellers as they take a virtual tour of the old west town at Buzzard’s Gulch.

The full list of participating spellers, their counties and schools is below.


Emily Deluna – age 12, sixth grade, Alliance Academy, Oakland

Karl Keck – age 11, fifth grade, Anthony Chabot Elementary School, Oakland


Samantha Riviere – age 9, fifth grade, Sutter Creek Elementary School, Sutter Creek

Matthew Spinetta – age 11, sixth grade, Plymouth Elementary School, Plymouth


Zane Harper – age 10, fourth grade, C.O.R.E. Butte Charter, Chico

Jade Holder – age 11, sixth grade, Hooker Oak Elementary School, Chico


Hannah Cutter – age 10, fourth grade, Arbuckle Elementary School, Arbuckle

Sarah Marsh – age 10, fifth grade, Arbuckle Elementary School, Arbuckle

Contra Costa

Ava Gruener – age 10, fifth grade, Murwood Elementary School, Walnut Creek

Zoe Tacderas – age 11, sixth grade, Holy Rosary School, Antioch

Del Norte

Glenn Duncan – age 11, sixth grade, Pine Grove Elementary School, Crescent City


Kathryn Moore – age 12, sixth grade, Quail Lake Environmental Charter School, Clovis

Gobind Puniani – age 10, fifth grade, Valley Oak Elementary School, Fresno


Noah Parham – age 11, sixth grade, Willows Intermediate School, Willows

Danielle Zuppan – age 10, fifth grade, Capay Elementary School, Orland


Katie Fisher – age 11, sixth grade, Scotia School, Scotia

Kayleen Kemp – age 12, sixth grade, Toddy Thomas Elementary School, Fortuna


Katie Doonan – age 11, fifth grade, Pine Street School, Bishop


Quinn Camara – age 12, sixth grade, Pioneer Middle School, Hanford

Simran Dulai – age 11, fifth grade, Mark Twain Elementary School, Corcoran


Arthur Wilkie – age 11, sixth grade, Lucerne Elementary School, Lucerne


Zachary Mah – age 12, sixth grade, Richmond Elementary School, Susanville

Los Angeles

Carina Kan – age 11, sixth grade, Palos Verdes Intermediate School, Palos Verdes Estates

Catherine Velardez – age 12, sixth grade, Will Rogers Middle School, Lawndale


Elijah Armstrong – age 11, fifth grade, Manor Elementary School, Fairfax

Jessica Brown – age 11, sixth grade, San Jose Middle School, Novato


Xiao Jin Jackson – age 11, fifth grade, Mendocino K-8 School, Mendocino

Brawley Parker – age 10, fourth grade, Oak Manor Elementary School, Ukiah


T.J. Bangle – age 10, fifth grade, Charleston Elementary School, Los Banos

Marsha Noeline – age 11, sixth grade, Westside Elementary School, Los Banos


Martin Thompson – age 11, fifth grade, Lee Vining Elementary School, Lee Vining

Glenna Wardlaw – age 11, fifth grade, Mammoth Elementary School, Mammoth Lakes


Jessica Burgess – age 11, fifth grade, Clear Creek Elementary School, Grass Valley

Emma Lauterbach – age 10, fifth grade, Pleasant Valley Elementary School, Penn Valley


Savitri Asokan – age 10, fifth grade, Excelsior School, Roseville

Alexander Chew – age 11, sixth grade, Ridgeview School, Granite Bay


Jessica Khalili – age 11, sixth grade, Susan B. Anthony Elementary School, Corona

Christian Kontaxis – age 9, fourth grade, St. Margaret’s Episcopal School, Palm Desert

San Benito

Andrew Pearson – age 9, fourth grade, Accelerated Achievement Academy at Calaveras, Hollister

San Joaquin

Mashal Chhotani – age 11, sixth grade, George Kelly Elementary School, Tracy

Leandra Evans – age 11, sixth grade, Claudia Landeen School, Stockton

Santa Barbara

Ameet Braganza – age 12, sixth grade, Monte Vista Elementary School, Santa Barbara

Quinn Hensley – age 11, sixth grade, Washington Elementary School, Santa Barbara

Santa Cruz

Andrew Miller – age 11, fifth grade, Ocean Grove Charter School, Placerville

Emily Quinn – age 12, sixth grade, Rio Del Mar Elementary School, Aptos


Hennessy McKenna – age 12, sixth grade, Pacheco Elementary School, Redding

Joe Williams – age 10, fifth grade, Millville Elementary School, Millville


Ashley Cain – age 11, sixth grade, McCloud Elementary School, McCloud

Miranda Velarde – age 11, sixth grade, Jackson Street Elementary School, Yreka


Roopkiran Minhas – age 11, sixth grade, Vacaville Christian School, Vacaville

Keo Jude Sarno – age 11, sixth grade, Rolling Hills Elementary School, Fairfield


Gage Osborne – age 11, fifth grade, Sonoma Charter School, Sonoma

Nadia Tomaszewski – age 11, sixth grade, Live Oak Charter School, Petaluma


Mahima Krishnamoorthi – age 10, fifth grade, Lakewood Elementary School, Modesto

Bowoo Lee – age 9, fourth grade, Fremont Open Plan School, Modesto


Lilyana DeArte – age 10, fifth grade, Lincoln Elementary School, Yuba City


Emalee Kourani – age 11, sixth grade, Lassen View School, Los Molinos

Jillian Strom – age 11, sixth grade, Berrendos Middle School, Red Bluff


Benjamin Harper – age 11, fifth grade, Weaverville Elementary School, Weaverville

Yori Mai-Isa Hook – age 11, sixth grade, Weaverville Elementary School, Weaverville


Darius Rucker-McCarron – age 10, fifth grade, Mary Covillaud Elementary School, Marysville

Zhang Vang – age 10, fifth grade, Linda Elementary School, Marysville


CLEARLAKE OAKS – The Clearlake Oaks/Glenhaven Business Association is sponsoring the 26th annual Catfish Derby, from noon Friday, May 15, through noon on Sunday, May 17.

Known by many as “the largest catfish derby west of the Mississippi,” the event features an Adult Derby and a Kids Derby for those under 16 years old. Barbecues will be held on Saturday and Sunday. The grand prize winner of the Adult Derby will receive a new boat, motor, and trailer plus cash prizes and the winner of the Kids Derby will receive a four-wheeled ATV.

Derby headquarters will be located at the Clearlake Oaks Fire Station, 12655 East Highway 20, and will be open daily from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Derby headquarters also will be open for pre-registration from noon to 11 p.m. on Thursday, May 15. No registrations will be accepted after 11 p.m. on Friday.

Registration for the Adult Derby is $45 ($40 for those who pre-register on Thursday). Registration for the Kids Derby is $10.

Barbecues will be held both Saturday and Sunday, with a Saturday breakfast planned. Costs for the meals are separate. Sunday will feature live music.

New this year is the inaugural Catfish Derby Cook-Off. The entry fee for the cook-off is $20, with prizes awarded for first, second and third place.

Proceeds from the event benefit community projects. For applications, call (888) CL-DERBY, (707) 998-1006; for information, (707) 998-3795,


EDITOR'S NOTE: The following article contains graphic information that some readers may find disturbing.

LAKEPORT – A Hidden Valley Lake man who pleaded guilty last month to fatally stabbing an 11-year-old girl and also stabbing and injuring her sister has been sentenced to 29 years to life in state prison.

Judge Arthur Mann sentenced James Roland Pagan, 32, to a minimum of 25 years to life with a one-year enhancement for using a butcher knife in the fatal stabbing of Tessa Walker on March 21, 2008, as she and her sister walked near their Hidden Valley Lake home.

In addition, Pagan received the middle term of three years for stabbing 14-year-old Kristen Walker.

The Walker family, who shortly after the murder had issued a statement forgiving Pagan for the stabbings, did not appear in court to give victim impact statements.

Last month, Pagan accepted a plea deal with the District Attorney's Office in which he pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and a special allegation of using a deadly weapon and assault with a deadly weapon. In exchange, other charges – including attempted murder, mayhem and inflicting injury on a child – were dismissed, as Lake County News has reported.

Mann said at the beginning of the half-hour court session that he had read the 16-page report from the county Probation Department and was inclined to follow its recommendations, which included denying probation and imposing a state prison sentence. He then asked Pagan's defense attorney, Ken Roush, if he had any comments.

As Pagan's tearful family members looked on, Roush explained his choices in the case, including letting Pagan accept the plea deal, and his concerns about Pagan's mental state as it related to the murder and assault.

“I think something that should be considered is the court has the report from mental health professionals that indicates that James does have a history of mental health issues,” said Roush. “Did they rise to the level of insanity per the legal definition? No, but he does have a history of mental health issues.”

Roush stated that Pagan has no prior criminal record and would be willing to comply with the terms of probation if offered. He emphasized that Pagan was remorseful, despite statements to the contrary in police reports and interviews.

Along with being remorseful, Pagan wanted to take responsibility for his actions, and had been willing to do so from early on in the case “regardless of what the consequences would be,” Roush said.

But before Roush would allow a plea, he said he needed to investigate the case. Many questions are still unanswered, especially as to why and how the incident could have happened.

There was no prior relationship, no heat of passion circumstances, revenge or attempted crimes, all of which are part of a traditional fact patter, said Roush.

The basic issue was the mental state of Pagan, who has a history of schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, and has been on medications for a good portion of his life, said Roush.

Roush believed that Pagan's mental health issues supported a plea of not guilty by reason of insanity,

However, when three court-appointed experts found Pagan sane, Roush said he then was able to consider allowing Pagan to plead guilty to the charges in the plea agreement with the District Attorney's Office.

Roush said the probation report contains statements by Pagan, who apologizes to the Walker family.

Murder, assault a tragedy for two families

In his comments to the court, Deputy District Attorney Richard Hinchcliff noted, “This is a tragic situation for both families involved.”

However, Hinchcliff was unsparing in his comments about the severity of the case, which he emphasized not just for the purposes of sentencing but also so that the facts of the case will be on record for a future parole hearing.

“This murder was one of the most sadistic, gruesome and callous murders ever committed in Lake County,” said Hinchcliff, who could only think of one other murder involving a child that was as bad.

Hinchcliff said Pagan butchered Tessa Walker – who was walking with her sister through the neighborhood near their home – suggesting the motive was to get attention, which also was suggested by the psychiatrists who evaluated him.

The afternoon of the murder, Pagan, who lived with his parents a few blocks away from the Walker family, picked up a butcher knife from the kitchen counter, said Hinchcliff. When his father asked him how he was doing, Pagan replied, “What the f*** do you care?” and left the house with the knife.

He encountered the girls, stabbing Kristen once in the back before attacking Tessa, who he stabbed a total of 35 times – in the neck, heart and liver, with defensive wounds also on her arms.

“Thirty-five times in that little tiny body,” said Hinchcliff, who said the child must have been going through absolute terror.

Kristen Walker ran home for help, and her parents and siblings returned to find Tessa lying in a pool of blood, said Hinchcliff.

After stabbing the girls, Pagan dropped the knife, walked home, had a cigarette, took a shower and called his girlfriend, said Hinchcliff, noting that the crime left behind many victims.

He said he felt sorry for Pagan's parents. “I'm sure they have been living a nightmare too,” said Hinchcliff, adding that they have been cooperative from the onset of the investigation.

Hinchliff recounted watching Det. Mike Curran of the Lake County Sheriff's Office interview Kristen Walker, who has a form of Down syndrome. The girl remembered her little sister as her best friend, and explained how much she wanted her sister back.

Pagan was on top of her sister, hacking the girl, and Kristen tried to push him off but couldn't. “Being a father myself, I was literally in tears a few times listening to this and watching this,” Hinchcliff said, who explained that the case has been an emotional one for law enforcement, Roush and everyone involved.

Pagan told a psychiatrist evaluating him that he wouldn't have attacked a large man if he had been walking by. Hinchcliff said Pagan chose easy victims, and there is overwhelming evidence to show that the attack was willful, premediatated and deliberated.

Whatever mental health issues Pagan has, he graduated from Middletown High School and received a psychology degree from a university, said Hinchcliff.

He said it's unfortunate that the case didn't meet the requirements for the death penalty, because Hinchcliff said he would have sought it.

“Mr. Pagan needs to be locked away forever where he can never hurt anybody else,” he said, noting the viciousness and brutality of the crimes, and no amount of time served can make amends.

While it's unusual Pagan doesn't have a criminal history, “what's very unusual of this case is the extreme viciousness, brutality and callousness of this attack,” said Hinchcliff.

Mann found that Pagan wasn't eligible for probation due to the severity of the crimes against the vulnerable 11- and 14-year-olds, but he said the attack didn't show planning.

However, Mann said he believed Pagan – who sat hunched next to Roush in a red and white Lake County Jail jumpsuit – posed a high risk of danger to society.

Hinchcliff asked for the upper term of four years for the assault with a deadly weapon charge, and requestd that the terms for both that charge and the set 25 years to life for murder be served consecutively.

Roush, again citing Pagan's lack of a previous criminal record, said he thought the middle term of three years was more appropriate, but he asked that the two sentences run concurrently.

Mann said the murder charge had the fixed term of 25 years to life, but on the matter of the assault charge, he weighed the issues of the crimes great violence and the display of a high degree of cruelty and viciousness against Pagan's lack of a previous criminal record and his willingness to plead guilty. The result was the middle term of three years, with concurrent sentences.

As he passed judgment, Mann also ruled that Pagan pay a restitution fee of more than $35,000, but waived other restitution fees, saying he didn't see a way to pay all of them. Pagan also will receive credit for 417 days in jail, but is ineligible for conduct credits. If he's ever released, he will be on lifetime parole.

Following sentencing Pagan was immediately removed from the courtroom by two bailiffs. With his hands handcuffed to his waist, he raised one hand to waive at his four family members as he left the room.

Pagan will be in his 60s before he'll be eligible for parole, needing to serve 29 years before he can be considered for release, according to Hinchcliff.

But Hinchcliff said that's an unlikely scenario, since the plea agreement was crafted specifically to keep Pagan in prison for the rest of his life.

“I can guarantee you that he'll never get paroled,” Hinchcliff said later Monday afternoon. “It's just never going to happen.”

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

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County has been awarded federal funds through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA) for the Emergency Food and Shelter National Board Program, and local groups interested in applying for the funds are being sought.

Lake County has been chosen to receive $29,583 to supplement emergency food and shelter programs in the county. These funds have been made available through the ARRA.

The selection was made by a national board that is chaired by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency and consists of representatives from American Red Cross; Catholic Charities, USA, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S.A.; The Salvation Army; United Jewish Communities and, United Way of America.

The local board was charged to distribute funds appropriated by Congress to help expand the capacity of food and shelter programs in high-need areas around the country.

A local board will determine how the funds awarded to Lake County are to be distributed among the emergency food and shelter programs run by local service agencies in the area. The board is responsible for recommending agencies to receive these funds made available through the ARRA.

Under the terms of the grant from the national board, local agencies chosen to receive funds must: 1) be private voluntary nonprofits or units of government, 2) be eligible to receive federal funds,3) have an accounting system, 4) practice nondiscrimination, 5) have demonstrated the capability to deliver emergency food and/or shelter programs, and 6) if they are a private voluntary organization, they must have a voluntary board. Qualifying agencies are urged to apply.

Public or private voluntary agencies interested in applying for ARRA Emergency Food and Shelter Programs funds must contact the Lake County Community Action Agency for applications or call 707-995-2920 and speak with Georgina Lehne, the local board chair.

The deadline for applications to be received is May 22 by 5 p.m.

Matt Hughes is joining Six Sigma Winery as its first full-time winemaker. Courtesy photo.


LOWER LAKE – A Lower Lake winery has added its first full-time winemaker as it begins expanding its vision of quality wines and sustainable farm practices.

On Friday, Matt Hughes, Six Sigma Winery's new winemaker, was busy watching over the bottling of the 2008 Sauvignon Blanc.

Six Sigma is still a small wine producer, putting out about 6,000 cases annually, said Hughes.

The 4,300-acre ranch doesn't have its own bottling facility, but they're still able to bottle on site, thanks to Onsite Mobile Wine Bottlers of Lower Lake, owned by Sam Schneider.

Schneider brought his 43-foot-long bottling trailer and spent the morning and the early afternoon bottling part of the 1,000 cases of Sauvignon Blanc, the winery's largest vintage.

Hughes said the rest of that vintage, plus Six Sigma's 2007 reds, will be bottled on May 26 and 27.

He said the Sauvignon Blanc will sit about six months before being shipped out to distribution.

Hughes is inheriting the vintages that have been aging in steel tanks nearby. “I'm like the godfather of the 2008 wines,” he joked.

Then, this fall, he'll have the chance to take part in his first harvest and beginning putting his stamp on the vintages to come.

This is the first time Six Sigma has had a full-time winemaker. Kaj Ahlmann, who owns Six Sigma along with wife Else, said for the past four years he's worked with wine consultants Denis and May-Britt Malbec, who acted as winemakers.

Hughes topped more than 60 candidates for the job, with applications coming from as far away as Australia and New Zealand, and Europe. Industry consultant and winemaking veteran Wayne Donaldson assisted with the search and transition to the new winemaker.

“In the end, it was Matt’s unique combination of technical expertise, vision for our wines, creativity, and passion for Lake County that made us realize he was the perfect fit for Six Sigma Winery,” said Christian Ahlmann, vice president of Six Sigma Winery.

Hughes, a Lakeport resident, is part-owner and winemaker for Zoom Wines of Kelseyville. Zoom Wines works out of Mt. Konocti Growers.

Nine years ago Hughes arrived in Lake County. He worked at a Kelseyville winery before moving to a laboratory position with Kendall-Jackson, where he learned the technical aspects of winemaking.

From there, Hughes joined the team at Verité Winery, in Sonoma County, where he worked on crafting critically acclaimed, classically styled wines under Bordelaise winemaker Pierre Sellan.

Eventually, he and his wife, Nancy, and some business partners began making wines under the Zoom label, which focuses on Lake County’s high elevation vineyards. Hughes also was the first president of the new Lake County Winery Association.

He's found a unique spot at Six Sigma, which has only about 1 percent of its land planted in winegrapes. Much of the rest of the picturesque ranch, located off Spruce Grove Road, is in conservation easements.

It has rich and varied volcanic soils. In one 12-acre vineyard, there are 10 different soils, said Hughes. That will require a lot of monitoring and soil management to bring out the best in the grapes.

“We're really focused on the quality not quantity here,” said Hughes. “It's kind of a winemaker's paradise.”

The Ahlmanns said Six Sigma Ranch is the life-long dream for them.

And there are still big parts of the dream to be realized, with the Ahlmanns opening the ranch up not just to children's camps but to wine lovers who want to come and taste their seven wines and enjoy the ranch.

The meandering driveway leads through the ranch and takes visitors to the tasting room, which sits on the site of the original old stage stop. On the way to the tasting room, you'll pass the building pad for the planned three-story hospitality center, which will include conference rooms and bed-and-breakfast suites.

Kaj Ahlmann is a respected expert in Six Sigma, an internationally recognized management process focused on producing high quality products or services to meet the customer's need that's based in mathematical models and developed by engineers.

He said Six Sigma – which focuses on doing business in a way that minimizes errors, ensures consistency and enhances customer satisfaction – applies to all businesses, and that's why he's running his ranch and winery based on those principles.

Ahlmann said he also looks forward to hosting visitors to the ranch and showing him how Six Sigma works from the vineyard to the bottle.

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



Onsite Mobile Wine Bottlers owner Sam Schneider (left) with one of his staff bottling Six Sigma's 2008 Sauvignon Blanc on Friday, May 8, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.




The 2008 Six Sigma Sauvignon Blanc heads down the bottling line on Friday, May 8, 2009. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

HIDDEN VALLEY LAKE – The Hidden Valley Lake Community Service District (HVLCSD) has been awarded Best Tasting Water by the California Rural Water Association (CRWA).

HVLCSD received the Best Tasting Water Award at the California Rural Water Associations Annual (CRWA) Conference held on April 28-30.

CRWA represents rural water agencies throughout California providing on-site technical assistance and specialized training for rural water and wastewater systems.

Each year CRWA hosts an annual conference addressing current water and wastewater issues and recognizing agencies and people in the industry.

The best tasting water is determined by a panel of judges who taste each sample and rate its clarity, bouquet and purity.

Hidden Valley Lake Community Service District beat out several opponents in its bid for best tasting water.

CRWA, an affiliate of the National Rural Water Association, is a nonprofit organization representing the over 9,000 water and wastewater systems in California.

Red parasols, seen here at the 2008 EcoArts reception, will be available once again this year. Courtesy photo.




MIDDLETOWN – For the seventh year in a row, the EcoArts: Lake County Sculpture Walk will exhibit large scale sculptures themed “In Dialog With Nature” at the Middletown County Trailside Park, Highway 175 and Dry Creek Cutoff, Middletown.

The exhibit will open on June 7 and run through October 17.

The opening reception is Sunday, June 7, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. along the center trail.

Works included in the exhibit are a large sculpture by Anthony Johnson, member of the Pacific Rim Sculpture Group, work by internationally acclaimed weaver, Sheila O’Hara and her students as well as perennial local favorite, Alicia Lee Farnsworth.

There will be approximately 23 works this year. Along side professional artists, will be work by local students from Coyote Valley Elementary School, Minnie Cannon Elementary School and the Lake County International Charter School.

Everyone is invited to the free reception on June 7 at the center trail of the Middletown County Trailside Park.

EcoArtists will be on hand to share their experiences. Red parasols will be available to avoid the sun. The W’Nac’di drum circle will be on hand and encourage folks to join the music making. Wiloth Equine Center will provide horse rides for a nominal fee as well as interactive art projects during the event. There is plenty of parking and restrooms.

EcoArts of Lake County is a non-profit 501(c)(3) dedicated to bringing visual art opportunities and ecologic stewardship to the residents and visitors of Lake County, California.

For more information visit:




The Iron Warriors Motorcycle Club placed a wreath at the police and firefighter memorial in Museum Park in Lakeport. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.


LAKEPORT – A brief ceremony was held Saturday to remember the county's fallen law enforcement officers.

The Iron Warriors Motorcycle Club, a national public safety officers groups, held the brief ceremony Saturday afternoon at the police and firefighters memorial in the downtown Museum Park. Among those attending was Sheriff Rod Mitchell.

A wreath was left at the memorial, which honors Sheriff George W. Kemp, Deputy Sheriff William David Hoyt, sheriff's Sgt. Richard Helbush, and Lakeport firefighters Michael Mattioda and Matt Black.

Lakeport resident Mike Pascoe, a retired NCIS agent, said the event was meant to help introduce National Police Week, May 10 through 16, which remembers law enforcement officers who have died in the line of duty.

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




The small gathering took place on Saturday afternoon. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



Carved wooden statues stand next to the memorial, including this one of a law enforcement officer. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.



The carved wood statue of a firefighter at the memorial in Museum Park. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

LAKE COUNTY – The men behind a property tax scam that earlier this year showed up in the mailboxes of thousands of California residents, including many in Lake County, has run into some significant legal trouble.

On Tuesday, California Attorney General Jerry Brown announced that he has filed a lawsuit in San Diego County Superior Court against brothers Sean and Michael McConville and their businesses, “Property Tax Reassessment” and “Property Tax Adjustment Services.”

In the first week of February, Jim Campbell, Lake County's deputy county assessor, reported that the assessor's office had begun receiving calls from concerned residents who had received letters from the Los Angeles-based Property Tax Reassessment, as Lake County News reported.

The official-looking letters told homeowners that, for $179, their property taxes could be reduced. But they needed to respond by a certain time or else pay late fees, or they would have their file marked “non-responsive” or “ineligible for future tax reassessments.”

Lake County News attempted to call the company at the number listed on the letter; a woman answered and said it was not the company's number.

Days later, Brown's office issued a consumer alert warning of scams that offered to reduce property tax assessments if homeowners paid hundreds of dollars to a middleman.

On Tuesday, Brown accused the McConvilles of ripping off tens of thousands of homeowners throughout California who were looking to lower their property taxes.

He said the men used mailers that read like government billing statements, featured official-looking logos, and demanded hundreds of dollars in payments for reassessment and reassessment appeal services.

“These scam artists ripped off thousands of homeowners for property reassessment services readily available free of charge,” Brown said in a statement. “This lawsuit seeks to end the deception and blocks these companies from continuing to scam homeowners.”

Brown's suit, which seeks $2.5 million in civil penalties, alleges that the McConvilles and their businesses violated both the Business and Professions Code and the California Civil Code in a variety of ways.

The suit contends that the men made untrue and misleading statements with the intent to induce consumers to purchase products and services; distributed solicitations implying a government connection, approval or endorsement; distributed solicitations that appear to be billing statements; and engaged in unfair competition.

Brown said neither company adequately informed consumers that they were not a governmental entity, the solicitations were not a bill, purchase of the services was not required and services were available free of charge from county assessors.

The McConvilles also failed to complete any of the property tax assessment services homeowners were billed for in 2008, Brown said.

The companies had continued their solicitations, with new mailers recently sent out with a May 26 due date, according to Brown's report.

Lake County Assessor Doug Wacker said Tuesday his office had received a rash of calls after the mailer arrived earlier this year, and that some of those people already had Proposition 8 property tax reviews under way anyway.

Wacker emphasized that having your property tax reassessed is a free service his office provides.

“My heart goes out to those people who went ahead and just wrote a check and sent it off,” he said, noting a few local people did send money in to the companies.

He said the scam mailers started in Southern California and then moved north, reaching Lake and Napa counties.

Some county officials around the state are taking action separately.

Last week, the Ventura District Attorney's Office charged one of the brothers, Sean McConville, with 20 felony counts for criminal conduct stemming from his property tax reassessment operations, Brown reported.

In Napa County, Assessor John Tuteur and District Attorney Gary Lieberstein worked together to gather evidence to prosecute the scam, according to a statement issued May 5.

Similarly, Lake County District Attorney Jon Hopkins said Tuesday he also wants to hear from county residents who sent money in response to the letter but received no services.

He urged anyone who sent off a check in response to the mailer to call the Lake County District Attorney's Office, 707-263-2251, and ask to speak to a district attorney's investigator.

Homeowners who believe they've been victimized also can contact the Attorney General's Office at, via telephone at 800-952-5225 or by mail at P.O. Box 944255, Sacramento, CA 94244.

The Attorney General's Office urges homeowners who believe their property value has declined and they are paying too much in property taxes to protect themselves by never paying money for something they did not ask for. They also should avoid a middleman and instead contact a local county tax assessor's office for a free property value reassessment.

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

The State Bar of California has created a panel of volunteer attorneys, called the Speakers Panel, to elevate the public's awareness of financial scams targeting the elderly. The author is one such volunteer.

The panel's objective is to help prevent financial elder abuse, a big problem, by educating seniors. One type of scam, discussed in this article, is the so-called “trust mill” living trust scam. The trust mill scam is a major nationwide problem that has cost many elderly persons dearly, not to mention disturbing their peace of mind. Let us see how the “trust mill” scam works.

Trust mills are NOT legitimate law firms. Some may have attorneys on staff, in order to say that they are not illegally practicing law; however, providing legitimate legal services is NOT the trust mill's true objective. Rather, the trust mill offers one thing (living trusts) in order to later-on try to sell something else altogether (financial services).

Like a traveling circus, the trust mill goes from town to town advertising free seminars in order to draw in the public. Trust mills entice people by advertising “living trust” packages at “low costs” – far less than what legitimate legal services cost.

The trusts provided are basically just a one-size fits all, i.e., fill-in the blanks form, and should not be confused with personalized legal services. As such they may or may not be drafted by a licensed attorney, and certainly are not what the public has in mind in regards to professional legal services.

These salesmen will often use phony titles like “certified trust advisor” to make themselves appear legitimate and knowledgeable about estate planning, when they are neither. Such so-called titles are deceitful as they are not certified by any state regulatory agency and were merely issued by the trust mill itself to their sales persons.

Once the trust mill has the elder's trust and financial information, they then try to sell annuities, life insurance, and reverse mortgages – usually in the privacy of the elder's own home. The sales tactics used are unscrupulous and predatory, to say the least. That is, the salesmen are often trained to manipulate the elderly person into believing that the elderly person's money is not safe the way it is, and that they have a solution.

The salesman's ulterior motive is a substantial sales commission, and not the estate planning fee for the trust. Ultimately, therefore, the trust mill experience is far from a “bargain,” as the trust mill experience winds up costing the elderly far in excess of the legal fees charged by a legitimate attorney.

Qualified, ethical attorneys, on the one hand, offer the public a legitimate professional service that they are both licensed and educated to provide – for that sake only. Attorneys develop a one-on-one personal relationship with their client for the purpose of creating an appropriate, individualized estate plan based on client meetings; and will review documents with their clients and answer legal questions. They are not going to use the relationship later-on to try to sell you financial products.

There is some good news. Trust mills are being sued and prosecuted at various levels.

The California Attorney General's Office sued the Family First Advanced Estate Planning, Family First Insurance Services and American Life Insurance Co. The case was settled for $7.2 million, including $5.5 million for defrauded consumers.

Lastly, if you believe that you were a victim, you can call the National Fraud Hotline (1-800-876-7060), your local district attorney's office, and (when relevant) the California Department of Insurance (

Dennis A. Fordham is an attorney licensed to practice law in California and New York. He earned his bachelor's degree at Columbia University, his juris doctorate at the State University of New York at Buffalo, and his LL.M in taxation at New York University. He concentrates his practice in the areas of estate planning and aspects of elder law. His office is at 55 First St., Lakeport, California. He can be reached by e-mail at dennis@dennisfordhamlaw, com or by phone at 707-263-3235.

LAKE COUNTY – Lake County residents may notice helicopter patrols this week, which are part of an annual examination of power lines.

Pacific Gas & Electric reported that it will conduct helicopter patrols of distribution lines from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday in Lake and Mendocino counties.

The patrols are meant to ensure system reliability, PG&E reported.

The goal of the annual patrols is identify fallen tree limbs, vegetation overgrowth, potential fire hazards and other problems. Issues identified during these patrols will be corrected to ensure system safety and reliability.

PG&E patrols and inspects all of its lines annually – more than 100,000 miles of them – to ensure safety and reliability, and to identify equipment in need of repair.

The company said the air inspections allow it to proactively schedule repairs of problems that might otherwise result in power outages.

In rough country, remote areas or areas where there are fewer trees, the most efficient – and sometimes only – way to accomplish this is by helicopter.

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