The case of a fugitive jailed in Sacramento on federal fraud charges this week may have ramifications in the June 5 race for El Dorado Superior Court judge.
Daniel Chartraw, now held without bail on the fraud charges, was once represented by candidate Joseph A. Hoffman in another matter, and some observers question whether Hoffman acted properly on Chartraw's behalf.
Hoffman's supporters, including prominent members of the legal community, say they've seen no indication of any wrongdoing.
Hoffman's publicist Greg Jones released a statement saying: "Judges, prosecutors and other legal professionals endorsing Joe know the law and see this for what it is: a desperate and politically motivated ploy that lacks any substance."
Much of Hoffman's connection to Chartraw comes out in a criminal complaint filed in U.S. District Court in February, accusing Chartraw of using interstate means to commit fraud in 2010 and 2011.
That complaint was used when Chartraw was arrested in San Ysidro in late April, after Mexican authorities detained him in Baja California.
An FBI affidavit in support of the criminal complaint lays out a complex series of events in which Chartraw got $1.1 million from three people identified only by initials based on mining operations that he did not own or that didn't exist.
In one case, the FBI affidavit indicates, he told two people he needed emergency loans of $100,000 to make payments on mining equipment, but used the money to buy a Cadillac Escalade.
The money went through a trust account managed by Hoffman, the affidavit says.
In most cases, the affidavit uses the initials J.H. for Chartraw's attorney, but in one spot it uses Hoffman's name.
That does not suggest Hoffman did anything wrong, said McGregor Scott, a former U.S. attorney who has endorsed Hoffman in the election.
"There's no implication at all," Scott said.
The government's failure to name unindicted co-conspirators could be taken as a further indication that there's nothing against Hoffman.
"It sort of jumps out at me that there is a complete absence of that," Scott said.
The FBI said in a statement that it would not comment "regarding whether other individuals may or may not be involved in the Chartraw case."
Henry Gimenez, named by initials in the affidavit as one of Chartraw's victims, is suing Hoffman in New York, alleging that he aided in the scam.
His loan to Chartraw was made on the basis of a letter from Hoffman, attesting to Chartraw having sufficient assets to cover loans, Gimenez said.
"We gave the money on the basis of the representation of Joe Hoffman, period," Gimenez said. He acknowledged suing Hoffman because Chartraw may not have remaining assets.
Gimenez's suit is again no reason to doubt Hoffman, Scott said.
"The truth of the matter is lawsuits get filed every day in this country that have no merit," he said.
Hoffman's actions have also been questioned by attorney Kathleen Kerekes, whose clients won a $4.5 million judgment against Chartraw in 2009 in connection with a complex series of land deals.
Seeking to serve papers on Chartraw and his wife, she attempted to contact Hoffman in August 2010, leaving messages informing him of the judgment, Kerekes said in a written declaration this week.
"I only recently discovered after reviewing the arrest affidavit that Daniel Chartraw used Joseph Hoffman's attorney-client trust account ("IOLTA" account) to conceal assets that belonged to my clients in November 2010," she wrote.
"Clearly, Joseph Hoffman knew my clients were judgment creditors by this time pursuant to my voice mail messages," she wrote.
Jones said attorney-client privilege and the active suit mean Hoffman cannot address the attacks.
"He simply cannot talk," Jones said.
Hoffman's backers see a smear effort timed to mail voting, which began this week.
"I've heard the accusations, and I've been presented with a stack of documents by a person affiliated with a campaign," said El Dorado County District Attorney Vern Pierson, who endorsed Hoffman. "There's nothing I can see in these that suggests anything improper on the part of Joe Hoffman."
One of Hoffman's opponents, Stephen Valentine, said he hadn't seen the accusations and didn't have much to say on the matter.
Warren Stracener, the sitting judge who is Hoffman's other opponent, said he had been in communication with Kerekes and considered what Hoffman did "highly questionable conduct."
He denied that his campaign has spread the information about Hoffman.
"If I do, they're going to come shooting at me, they're not going to go shooting at Hoffman," he said, meaning he would be attacked for dirty campaigning.