Nutting takes the stand in own defense
Tuesday’s trial of Supervisor Ray Nutting got off to an inauspicious start with Mark Stewart, a registered professional forester who had previously worked for Nutting, repeating his desire to take the fifth against self-recrimination. This led Judge Timothy Buckley to strike his testimony and the jury admonished to disregard it.
Later in the day, Teresa Marty, a witness for the prosecution, also took the fifth. She was associated with the Happy Valley Trust established by Nutting’s brother, Tom.
Supervisor Ray Nutting then got a full day of questioning by his attorney, with Judge Buckley saying he hoped to get the case to the jury sometime this week.
Meanwhile, more people were in attendance with Nutting supporters on one side of the courtroom alleging he was being railroaded while on the other were several members of the DA’s staff, one of whom said he was there out of “morbid curiosity.”
Nutting began by describing himself as a rancher, teacher, coach and member of the El Dorado County Board of Supervisors. He said he began managing his family cattle ranch in 1997. After his parents died, the ranch was divided among the heirs. Later Ray and Tom bought out their siblings but ran their adjoining ranches separately. Ray is a trustee of the Happy Valley Trust, which Tom set up to protect his property. Tom has six trusts to cover all this holdings and Ray is trustee on all of them, but said he does not benefit financially from any of them.
Nutting said he was first elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1992 and was reelected in 1996. In 2001, he became involved in receiving one of three grants through the California Forest Improvement Program (CFIP also known as Proposition 40). The program, administered by Cal Fire, is designed to help pay for the removal of undergrowth that can lead to a catastrophic fire. Nutting said his property is located in a high risk area for fire and hence qualified for the CFIP program.
Registered Professional Forester Mark Stewart was initially hired by Nutting to prepare a timber harvest plan for him and his brother. Stewart was also one of several foresters who was later employed to help with the CFIP grant.
The first grant, which covered the period 2000-03, was to clear manzanita. At the time, Nutting was not on the Board of Supervisors.
In 2006, he received a second CFIP grant. However, according to the forester advising him, there had been changes made to the grant with a cap on what was paid for work such as thinning, pruning and slash and burning. No longer did he have to track the actual hours of work since payment was made on a per acre basis.
This second grant covered the period 2006 to 2009, with Nutting saying the work was completed by May 28, 2009, but was signed off on May 25, 2009, by Patrick McDaniel, who is Cal Fire’s Amador-El Dorado Unit Vegetation Management Program coordinator. The invoices for the work were given to McDaniel on May 28 and subsequently paid.
Meanwhile, by 2009 Nutting had been reelected to the board.
Nutting said the grant called for the work to be done earlier in the year, but he asked for an extension and one was granted that went through April 15, 2009. However, the herbicide he wanted to apply wasn’t effective when applied so early and he asked for a second extension to June 30. That was never granted, apparently, but Nutting said he was never notified that it had been denied. Instead, the work wasn’t finished until the end of May, but was signed off and paid for by Cal Fire anyway. On the stand, Nutting said if he had been informed there had been no extension, he wouldn’t have done the work past April 15. Nutting also testified that he never tried to hide the fact to Cal Fire or the Department of Agriculture that he had done work well into May as it was documented in forms submitted to both agencies.
“The only people who had trouble with the invoices were the DA and the state Attorney General,” he commented.
Nutting said he was first questioned by investigators from the DA’s office on May 7, 2012, regarding the CFIP’s grants. This was followed by meetings on Jan. 17, 2013, and April 3, 2013, plus two phone conversations. He maintained he answered all their questions and never brought an attorney along because, “I didn’t think there was a need and I hadn’t done anything wrong.”
In the course of the interviews, Nutting said DA investigator John Gaines and deputy district attorney James Clinchard told him he had filled out his 700 form incorrectly. The 700 is a statement of economic interests required of certain candidates running for public office. As a result, he filed an amended statement in 2013. However, later he learned they had given him some bad information and he went back and filed an amendment to the amendment.
Nutting noted part of the confusion is that Prop 40 money is government income and he’s not required to report it on the 700 form. He also didn’t report any income as a trustee because he doesn’t receive any. His financial reporting is further complicated, he said, because his ranch is both his business, his home and has rentals on it.
Asked by his attorney if he intentionally left anything out, Nutting replied “No, never.”
Nutting said his third CFIP grant was pending when the DA’s investigation began and in 2013 he stopped working on it. At the same time, he called the Fair Political Practices Commission and consulted with them. Later he proceeded with the third grant application and has since been paid for the work.
Weiner then moved on to asking Nutting about the source of his bail money. Nutting said he received a phone call on May 28 and was given less than two hour’s notice to report to jail at 12:30 p.m.
In his office at the time with his wife and assistant, he said he started crying and then began working on arranging bail, which was set at $55,000. He said he called two of his brothers, Rich Mason, Chuck Holland, El Dorado Savings and Doug Veerkamp to see if they could help. Ultimately he was able to raise more bail than needed from relatives and Veerkamp. He said he paid everyone back the same day.
Asked about his call to bail bondsman Chuck Holland, Nutting said he didn’t ask him for a loan. Instead he wanted to know about the bail process and because Holland is close to the DA. He said he only found out afterwards that Holland had a contract with the county.
In response to claims from the DA that Nutting solicited money from his staff, he said Kitty Miller, his administrative assistant, left work and then returned with $50,000 in cash. Nutting said he was surprised because he thought she was in the office working. Katherine Tyler, a clerk with the Board of Supervisors, also showed up with $8,000 in cash. Nutting said he didn’t talk to her either beforehand and was “stunned” by the gesture.
With the bail money secured, Nutting said he reported to the jail at noon and was processed and released two hours later. Asked if he had asked Miller, Tyler or Veerkamp for a loan, he replied no.
Weiner then turned to other allegations made by the DA, including filing false documents and conflict of interest. With the judge reminding Weiner that the first topic had been discussed earlier in the day, the attorney turned to discussing the allegations of conflict of interest with Nutting acknowledging he voted to approve the budgets for the El Dorado County and Georgetown Divide resource conservation districts but noted the CFIP program is state, not county funded, and at the time he wasn’t aware that the two conservation district budgets had anything to do with the CFIP program. In previous trial testimony it was brought out that some members of the two conservation districts served on the Sierra Coordinated Resources Management Council and it was SCRMC that cut the reimbursement checks for Prop. 40 money.
Nutting maintained he received no favored treatment in his receipt of the grants and his property was a legitimate target for the fuel reduction program because it was located in a high fire area. There was no ranking preference by Cal Fire, he said, and at the time I didn’t even know that SCRMC existed. “I was treated like any other citizen.”