CalCoastNews’ top stories of 2009
January 1, 2010
By KAREN VELIE
From government employees abusing the public trust to lending schemes that devastated investors, CalCoastNews readers were the first to get the news about many of the prominent local events of 2009, including:
Lending schemes devastate investors
In January, we broke the news that Heritage Oaks Bank filed foreclosure notices against developer Kelly Gearhart’s Vista Del Hombre project, as well as Karen Guth and Joshua Yaguda’s Pasolivio Olive Ranch, starting a battle with investors for first place in the quest for financial compensation. [Click here to read the original story]
In April, prominent North County developer Jimmie Shores informed Hurst Financial investors that he didn’t have to repay a $700,000 hard-money loan because his brother, Ronnie Shores, had stolen the money. In the end, he agreed to refund the investors approximately 73 cents on the dollar. [Click here to read the original story]
In June, investors filed a lawsuit alleging Stewart Title and Heritage Oaks Bank aided and abetted and/or conspired with Hurst Financial in defrauding hundreds of seniors through illegal investment schemes. Both allegations were first reported by CalCoastNews in 2008. [Click here to read the original story]
In August, we revealed how city inspectors and officials were apparently looking the other way, allowing developer Kelly Gearhart to avoid paying city fees due to falsified and unfinished inspection reports as he built more than 300 homes in Atascadero. [Click here to read the original story]
Also in August, CalCoastNews revealed that Tony Gaspar had financed a go-cart track at his Templeton home by having the asphalt contractor change the work address so it would be covered by a group of Real Property Lenders’ project investors. Surprisingly, this story was one of the most viewed articles of 2009. [Click here to read the original story]
In December, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Jac Crawford sentenced Estate Financial, Inc. principal Karen Guth to 12 years in prison and Joshua Yaguda to eight years for fraudulently selling securities without the proper licenses, lying to investors and stealing or destroying property worth $3.2 million. [Click here to read the original story]
In 2008, CalCoastNews first reported that a number of SLO County investment firms, including Estate Financial and Hurst Financial, had allegedly participated in schemes that may already have cost local investors more than $500 million. [Click here to read the original story]
Sanctuary becomes killing field for “protected” animals
Our most viewed story of 2009 dealt with how a husband and wife team of internationally known environmentalists, paid handsomely to oversee a San Luis Obispo County sanctuary for infirm animals, ordered the accelerated slaughter of many of their wards.
Following the CalCoastNews report of the organized killing of animals entrusted to the sanctuary, the non-profit board members abruptly stopped future scheduled eliminations. [Click here to read the original story]
David Edge Gail Wilcox sex scandal
A workplace sex scandal rocked the county in 2009 and ended with the termination of San Luis Obispo County’s top two administrators.
In May, CalCoastNews broke the news that Assistant County Administrator Gail Wilcox had accused her boss, Chief Administrative Officer David Edge, of sexual harassment. In June, Wilcox filed a civil suit accusing Edge of sexual harassment, retaliation, discrimination, a hostile work environment and breach of contract.
Both Edge and Wilcox were fired by the County Board of Supervisors. Edge was terminated without a formal reason as permitted by his contract.
Gail Wilcox was terminated because of an affair she was having with the married Executive Director of the Sheriff Deputy’s Association, Tony Perry. The relationship coincided with the early 2009 negotiations between the county and the association in which Perry negotiated for the association while Wilcox acted as chief labor negotiator for the county.
According to sources, Wilcox is now working for the City of Santa Maria. [Click here to read the original story]
County employees accused of theft of public funds
An investigation into the theft of county resources by at least two public works employees ended with the resignation of Public Works Manager Randy Ghezzi and the demotion of Road Maintenance Supervisor Max Keller.
Sources outlined a long list of alleged misappropriations such as supervisors instructing county employees to do carpentry work at the Ghezzi and Keller homes while on the county clock. County employees also described Keller and Ghezzi commandeering county equipment such as welders, mowers, backhoes, trucks and trailers for personal gain.
In September, under the Freedom of Information Act, CalCoastNews requested information on the investigation.
Following an e-mail from County Council Warren Jensen which listed reasons for denying the request, CalCoastNews responded with a list of court decisions supporting the public’s right to know if the “complaints of a public employee’s wrongdoing and resulting disciplinary investigation reveal allegations of a substantial nature, as distinct from baseless or trivial, and there is reasonable cause to believe the complaint is well founded, public employee privacy must give way to the public’s right to know.”
In mid-October, Jensen replied to the request, “Sorry for the delay. We’ve done our analysis, but we’re only the attorneys.
“We need to get all involved department heads together to reach a definite conclusion. The next available time for all of us to meet is next Monday, Oct. 26. I hope to have a clear answer for you by October 28.”
Jensen has not yet responded. [Click here to read the original story]
Tribe’s casino pact with businessmen suspect
A secret decade-long, eight-phase strategy by a group of local investors – including Kelly Gearhart, Atascadero attorney Grigger Jones, Chris Molina and Dan Phillips – outlined plans for construction of an Indian gaming casino in San Luis Obispo County and anticipated huge profits for its principals, confidential documents obtained by CalCoastNews revealed.
Those documents show that Gearhart, a North County developer with ties to Hurst Financial, is a primary partner in the syndicate which had signed a contract with the Salinan Tribe of San Luis Obispo County to develop an Indian gambling casino.
CalCoastNews’ investigation into the planned casino has uncovered new information that we will be reporting on in 2010. [Click here to read the original story]
Elementary school students suspended for kill list and sexual threats
After numerous complaints to the principal, two Santa Margarita Elementary School students were suspended in May for threats against other students. A fourth grader was sent home for producing a hit list and a third grader was suspended for making sexually violent threats against his classmates.
CalCoastNews had previously reported that Principal Melanie Karp has been sentenced to two days in the county jail and three years probation for driving under the influence of alcohol. [Click here to read the original story]
Police chief’s loaded gun left in unlocked car
The story of how Paso Robles Police Chief Lisa Solomon had her loaded semi-automatic gun stolen from her unlocked car, in front of her home was first broken by CalCoastNews in September. [Click here to read the original story]
There have been other stories from 2009, but hopefully the message is clear — 2009 was the year that CalCoastNews emerged as the go-to source for investigative reporting on the Central Coast. Our mission continues in 2010, but the entire staff would like to thank all of you for your support and encouragement.
Happy New Year. Keep reading.