DA investigator testifies in Nutting trial
The afternoon part of the Supervisor Ray Nutting trial on April 29 saw a district attorney’s investigator take to the stand to show how the case against Nutting progressed.
Before the investigator was called, one more witness testified about giving money to Nutting for bail: general engineering contractor Doug Veerkamp. Veerkamp told co-prosecutor Pete Williams of the state Attorney General’s Office that he has had multiple contracts with the county and had at least one at the time of Nutting’s arrest in 2012.
Nutting called Veerkamp, “crying and upset,” and said he needed help with bail as he was going to be arrested shortly. Veerkamp wired $20,000 to Nutting within 30 minutes with the expectation he would be getting the money back. He was paid back later that day when Nutting and his wife Jennifer stopped by Veerkamp’s office and cut him a check. There was no paperwork or formal agreement.
Jennifer Nutting told Veerkamp how to transfer the money, he told defense attorney David Weiner. It was about four hours later that he received his money back and was told other family members and friends had stepped up and his money was not needed. Veerkamp also told Weiner that he has known Nutting for 25 or 30 years and that his father worked on Nutting’s father’s tractors and equipment.
Next to the stand was DA Investigator John Gaines. Gaines told co-prosecutor James Clinchard of the DA’s Office that Nutting told him during an interview that the Proposition 40 reimbursement money for clearing land was considered as income for the ranch.
Gaines then was asked if he recognized Nutting’s signature on multiple documents; he did. Nutting had told Gaines that if his signature was on it, Nutting “takes ownership of it” and “takes responsibility of it,” Gaines said.
Weiner asked Gaines about interviews Gaines had conducted with Nutting. Most were with Head Investigator Bob Cosley.
During the first interview, Gaines did not consider Nutting a “target,” but simply that the DA’s Office had questions they wanted answers to.
A second interview a few months later came after Nutting called both Gaines’ and Cosley’s cell phones. Cosley agreed to the interview due to Nutting’s position as a county supervisor. Nutting, who had no attorney with him, offered to get any other information that might be needed. By this time, Gaines told Weiner, Nutting was the target of an investigation.
Two phone interviews later, Nutting “volunteered to bring in amended 700 Forms he just changed,” Gaines said, referring to forms elected officials must fill out to show income sources. Previous forms had not included any reimbursement money from Prop. 40, previous testimony showed.
The investigation was originally focused on the fact that Nutting had put a zero in the column for work done by the landowner on Prop. 40 paperwork and instead had an invoice from Nutting Brush Clearing Co. The DA’s Office did not believe the company to be real.
Clerk of the Board of Supervisors Jim Mitrisin was next to testify. He noted that the consent calendar was used to approve multiple items at a time, “relatively simple, routine items.”
He noted that Nutting had voted “yes” in 2009 on annual budgets of $80,000 each for the Georgetown Divide Resource Conservation District and the El Dorado RCD, both of which had members on the joint powers association Sierra Coordinated Resources Management Council, which cuts Prop. 40 checks on behalf of Cal Fire. Mitrisin said a board member can pull an item off the consent calendar to be heard as a general matter. A member could also pull it to abstain or recuse themselves, or abstain or recuse themselves on the consent calendar as a whole.
Multiple “yes” votes by Nutting on subsequent consent calendars for annual budgets for the RCDs were recorded, Mitrisin testified.
However, Nutting was not in office when the RCDs had their budget votes for the fiscal year of 2008-2009, when he applied for the Prop. 40 money, the clerk confirmed with Weiner.
The People then called Jose Crummett, the county Geographic Information Systems manager to the stand. He noted that Nutting’s ranch and the next-door Happy Valley Trust, with Nutting’s brother Tom as the beneficiary, were not in high- or moderate-risk areas for fire, according to a Cal Fire map. “They are not in a risk rank at all,” he said. However, he did not speak with Cal Fire officials regarding the map.
Gaines was recalled to the stand. He had pulled up the map the previous week to confirm it was still up to date. He did not talk to experts on how Nutting was able to get a grant in a low-risk area, but the DA’s Office was interested in why he was approved, he confirmed with Weiner. However, in talking with officials, he found that there was more money for Prop. 40 for the county than there were applicants for reimbursement — only eight grants were applied for between 2008 and 2012. He noted the map was from 2004.
The jury was then let out for the day, to be continued the next morning.