Tuesday, September 17, 2002
Lawyer for San Bernardino Supervisor Decries Filing of State Charges
By J'AMY PACHECO, Staff Writer
The attorney representing embattled San Bernardino Supervisor Gerald “Jerry” Eaves yesterday decried the state attorney general’s decision to file charges against his client after federal charges were dropped, and hinted that the latest charges might be politically motivated.
State Attorney General Bill Lockyer’s office last week filed a six-count felony complaint against Eaves and businessman W. Shepardson “Shep” McCook, accusing the two of bribery in connection with billboards placed by McCook’s company on San Bernardino County land. The case was filed in San Bernardino Superior Court.
The move followed by two weeks the dismissal of federal charges against Eaves by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Federal prosecutors dismissed their remaining charges after a federal judge in Los Angeles tossed 52 of the government’s 58 original charges and dismissed McCook from federal prosecution outright.
But Assistant U.S. Attorney Edward Moreton said the charges were dismissed so that a new case could be filed to include all of the original charges against both men. Moreton said his office would await an appeal of the Los Angeles judge’s dismissals before taking further action.
San Bernardino defense attorney Donald Jordan said yesterday it is “very unusual, almost unheard of” for a defendant to be prosecuted by both state and federal authorities for “exactly the same facts” at the same time.
“It was a surprise, and is a great concern to me,” he said. Jordan speculated that the action was taken, “in my opinion, clearly because of political reasons in the Attorney General’s Office—particularly rumors that he may run for governor.”
The case originated as part of San Bernardino County’s far-reaching corruption scandal. Eaves—who managed to win reelection at the height of the scandal—was accused of accepting gifts from individuals and entities doing business with the county but failing to report those gifts.
After an investigation resulted in those allegations being made public, Eaves called the failure to report an oversight. He was initially charged with an “accusation,” a legal proceeding that could have seen him removed from office, by the San Bernardino District Attorney’s Office.
But the district attorney handed off the case to the Attorney General’s Office after revelations that top officials in the District Attorney’s Office had held telephone discussions concerning aspects of the Eaves’ case with the supervisor’s election challenger.
Eaves was initially accused of accepting other trips from entities that did a substantial amount of bond business with the county. He pled no contest to those charges, agreed to pay a $20,000 fine, and was placed on probation for three years. He was also barred from running for office for four years.
He was one of 22 defendants named in a civil lawsuit filed by the county, but was dismissed from the suit after paying financial restitution to the county.
The latest complaint accuses Eaves and McCook of conspiring with each other and others to commit bribery in exchange for Eaves’ support of McCook’s billboard project.
Prosecutors contend McCook gave Eaves thousands of dollars in campaign contributions and provided Las Vegas trips for Eaves and members of his family and staff in exchange for Eaves’ support of his billboard project.
In 1994, the complaint alleges, Eaves voted in favor of a lease allowing McCook to place billboards on county-controlled property in the city of Colton.
The following year, Eaves voted twice in favor of giving McCook’s company more time to make its rent payments to the county and extending the time for the billboards to be erected.
In 1996, the complaint alleges, Eaves attended a Cal Trans meeting on McCook’s behalf and wrote a letter to a member of the Colton City Council recommending the project.
Eaves is also accused of directing then-County Administrative Officer James Hlawek to “assist” McCook in getting county approval for the subsequent $4.4 million sale of some of the billboards.
McCook is accused of having given Hlawek $35,000 in cash as well as a Las Vegas trip in exchange for his support. McCook is also accused of bribing former Colton city council members Donald Sanders and Abe Beltran.
Hlawek pled guilty to conspiracy and bribery, and cooperated with investigating officials. Sanders and Beltran also pled guilty.
Jordan called the dual prosecution of Eaves a “violation” of the “Petite policy.”
“It is a policy whereby the Department of Justice does not normally prosecute the same people for the same things being prosecuted by another jurisdiction,” he explained.
He compared it to the prosecution of former San Bernardino County Highway Patrolman George Gwaltney, who was accused of murdering a young motorist and who eventually was convicted of federal charges.
Jordan called the latest developments in the Eaves case a “heavy burden.”
“For the Attorney General to first hand off the case to the feds and then, immediately, within two months to have other charges filed is an interesting thing,” Jordan said. “At that time, all the facts that are now known were known. What happened?”
Jordan said he can’t rule out a request for a change of venue.
“That is under consideration,” he stated. “It is one of many, many things under consideration. We’re taking a new look at it.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company