The Public Eye

The Public Eye: Agencies say they have no link to Nutting, want funds restored

Published: Sunday, Jul. 14, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1B
Last Modified: Thursday, May. 8, 2014 - 9:35 am

In the 375-page El Dorado County grand jury transcript of The People v. Raymond James Nutting, a prosecutor took aim at two checks that an official from an obscure local resource district co-signed on behalf of another agency.

Deputy District Attorney James Clinchard asserted the state fire prevention grant checks paid to Nutting in 2009 were evidence the four-term county supervisor was guilty of a felony conflict of interest.

Yet now, following the release of the grand jury transcripts, two El Dorado County resource districts – and a former official who co-signed the checks to Nutting – wonder about the prosecution's assertions.

They question authorities' theory of political corruption that connects Nutting's grant income to his votes to fund two other local districts that handle conservation projects.

They contend the local resource districts have been unfairly tainted by the Nutting controversy and – as a consequence – have temporarily lost their county funding until the matter is sorted out.

"I want to assure you there is no collusion going on and no special favors," said Al Hubbard, who served until 2012 on the Georgetown Resource Conservation district, a local board that pays state and county money to contractors for fire safety, water and habitat projects. "I can promise you that."

From 2009 to 2012, Hubbard also served as a chairman and vice chairman of the Sierra Coordinated Resource Management Council, a regional state agency that administers separate direct grants to property owners for brush clearing and other fire prevention work.

He co-signed SCRMC checks that paid Nutting's trust $49,405 and $22,423 in 2009 for state-authorized work on the supervisor's 340-acre timber ranch. The money flowed under contracts with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection – or Cal Fire.

Marilyn Meixner, a forensic auditor for the District Attorney's Office, told the grand jury that Nutting or his family trust was awarded about 20 percent of all state fire prevention grants in El Dorado County between 2009 and 2012.

According to recently unsealed transcripts, Clinchard also argued to the grand jury that "Ray Nutting had a financial interest" when he cast votes in 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 to approve county funding for the Georgetown district and its sister El Dorado Resource Conservation District.

Hubbard isn't accused of any wrongdoing. But the prosecutor suggested the official's dual positions with the Georgetown district and the state entity that cut checks to the supervisor meant Nutting needed to recuse himself from the board votes on local conservation funding to avoid a criminal conflict of interest.

"He (Hubbard) is the chairman of the (Georgetown) Resource Conservation District," Clinchard argued to the grand jury on May 23. "He is the one who signs the check to Ray Nutting in 2009. He is the one who signs the check or the contracts between Cal Fire and the SCRMC."

The Georgetown resource district, with a budget of $550,000, and the El Dorado district, with a budget of nearly $800,000, receive the bulk of their money in state grants under a 2002 initiative, Proposition 40.

But as a result of the Nutting controversy, El Dorado County recently suspended annual payments to the local conservation districts of $70,000 to $80,000 a year to support staffing and other costs.

"They are not processing our budget agreement," said Mark Egbert, district manager for the Georgetown and El Dorado resource districts. "They are making sure they don't have a conflict of interest with Ray Nutting being on the Board of Supervisors."

Egbert, who was called to testify before the grand jury, said the case "is concerning to us" because "we have to make sure our programs are transparent and accountable."

Yet Egbert said Nutting didn't stand to gain financially from the local resource districts because neither is responsible for the Cal Fire property owner grants the supervisor received.

"It is absolutely different money. None of it overlaps," said Egbert, who said Nutting also wasn't on the board when the local agencies signed their original contracts with the county in the mid-1980s.

Nutting asserted his Fifth Amendment rights and declined to testify before the grand jury. In a recent interview, he said, "There is no conflict – none" in his votes to continue funding the districts.

He pointed to a letter from the state's Fair Political Practices Commission that said the supervisor didn't have a civil conflict of interest because there was no evidence that county funding of local resource agencies had any "material impact on your personal finances."

However, the FPPC later sent a second letter to Nutting saying its administrative review was separate from the criminal case and involved separate areas of the law.

Hubbard, who said he was questioned at length by investigators for the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office, said he told authorities he has no relationship with Nutting.

He said he and other officials of the Sierra council co-signed checks to the supervisor as routine administrative actions after the work on Nutting's ranch was reviewed by a private forester, approved by Cal Fire and certified as completed.

"He (Nutting) is not a personal friend," said Hubbard, now retired from both the Sierra and Georgetown agencies. "He didn't solicit any favors from me. Quite frankly, I don't know what to think."

Nutting faces additional legal challenges in the grand jury indictment unsealed June 10. He is also charged with felony counts of perjury and filing false documents for failing to properly report state income for 2009 brush clearing and herbicide work on his ranch and for allegedly providing false information on when the work was completed.

In addition, he faces seven misdemeanors under a separate criminal complaint accusing him of illegally soliciting money from two county workers and a major construction contractor to bail himself out of jail after his May 28 surrender on the political malfeasance charges.

Egbert, of the Georgetown and El Dorado resource districts, said the local agencies are "trying to connect the dots as well" to understand the Nutting matter.

But he said he wants the case concluded and the agencies to get their county funding back.

"The whole Ray Nutting issue, I wish they would just resolve it," he said.

Call The Bee's Peter Hecht, (916) 326-5539.

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