Former real estate kingpin Michael Lyon barely escaped being tossed back into jail Wednesday after a new video surfaced that raised concerns over whether he violated the terms of his release on bail by using a camera to record his girlfriend driving a speedboat.
Lyon, former chief executive officer of Lyon Real Estate, faces 16 counts of electronic eavesdropping for allegedly making secret recordings of eight unnamed victims from January to September 2014. He also faces drug charges stemming from a raid by Sacramento probation officers on his Arden area home last October after he missed a scheduled meeting with probation.
Lyon, 59, was released on bail in April and warned by Sacramento Superior Court Judge Ben Davidian that he could have “no cameras of any kind,” including a cellphone with a camera.
But a new video came to the attention of prosecutors in recent weeks and was presented to the judge to review in chambers before what was supposed to be a routine hearing in Davidian’s courtroom on the first floor of the Sacramento County jail building.
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Prosecutor Mike Kane said in court that the video “showed the defendant operating a cellphone camera or some sort of camera” and that he raised the matter because of the judge’s restrictions against Lyon using a camera.
After reviewing the video in chambers before the hearing, Davidian said it was clear that Lyon appears briefly in the video, which is of a boat driven by Shannon Lynn Campbell, his girlfriend and co-defendant in the drug case, as it approaches a dock too quickly.
“Apparently, the boat came in a little hot, and either the person holding the camera or the person immediately next to that person is seen trying to stop the boat because it came in a little bit hot,” the judge said. “And clear on that photo was Mr. Lyon.”
“Now, if I was convinced that was you holding the camera I’d be taking you back there right now,” Davidian said, gesturing behind him toward the jail. “You understand?”
“Yes, sir,” Lyon replied softly.
The judge reminded Lyon about his “very clear order” against him using cameras, adding, “I have a very strong suspicion about that video.”
But Davidian added that some of Lyon’s associates said they were present when the video was taken and that Lyon wasn’t the one using the camera.
“And yet you’re the person that when the boat comes real close shows up on the video and looks suspiciously like the person who is filming,” Davidian said. “There’s not enough there for me to put you back (in jail), but if there was, that’s where you’d be.”
Lyon attorney William Portanova said after the hearing that the issue “was kind of a big to-do about nothing.”
“Mike’s following the court orders,” Portanova said. “He’s continuing to follow the court orders.”
In court, as he stood before the judge flanked by his attorney and girlfriend, Lyon appeared chastened as Davidian admonished him. He has been in the same position before.
After he pleaded guilty in March 2011 to charges that he secretly recorded his interactions with prostitutes in his home, Judge Gary E. Ransom issued a stern warning.
“I cannot stress it enough, partner ...” Ransom said. “You do it, I’m sending you to state prison.”
Lyon, a former Carmichael Boy Scout leader and community philanthropist, served his time in the county jail in that case, but faces the prospect of prison time if convicted in the current case. He and Campbell pleaded not guilty Wednesday to the charges, and Davidian ordered them to appear for a preliminary hearing on Nov. 13.
“That’s a perfect fit, your honor,” Portanova noted.
That hearing will determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial, and Davidian noted that it did not appear likely that a plea deal would be reached in the case.