Cuesta Title ex-employee tight-lipped at deposition
May 28, 2013
By KAREN VELIE
A former Cuesta Title employee refused to answer questions posed to her at a Kelly Gearhart-linked deposition, asserting her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination.
In 2009, investors filed a lawsuit alleging Stewart Title and Cuesta Title aided and abetted and/or conspired with Hurst Financial Inc. (HFI) and former North County developer Gearhart in defrauding local seniors through illegal investment schemes.
The lawsuit, filed by more than 500 investors, lists eight complaints including conspiracy, fraud, financial elder abuse and negligence. Investors are seeking punitive as well as compensatory damages.
The plaintiffs accuse the title companies of closing escrows, recording ownership interests and transferring funds in an investment scheme that cost the plaintiffs over $73 million.
At her deposition, Kim Bucknell refused to answer questions, asserting her Fifth Amendment right not to incriminate herself.
Last month, Stewart and Cuesta Title filed a motion asking the court to either grant Bucknell immunity from criminal prosecution, or agree to delay the civil trial now slated for July 29.
“Bucknell is the only person who can definitively testify to her own lack of knowledge of wrongdoing and she can corroborate that Cuesta had no knowledge of the fraud,” according to court documents.
Attorneys for the title companies argued that Bucknell’s testimony would corroborate the testimony of Melanie Schneider, an ex-employee of Stewart Title (formerly Cuesta Title) who was a key person in the majority of HFI’s alleged fraudulent transactions.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Stephen Goorvitch filed a declaration opposing the title companies’ motion on the grounds that granting Bucknell immunity could interfere with current and future criminal proceedings, according to court documents.
The title companies’ attorneys also suggested that the court postpone the civil trial until the statute of limitations regarding criminal prosecutions has run out, according to court documents.
Goorvitch fired back, saying that “where financial institutions are victims, the statute of limitations for mail and wire fraud is 10 years.”
In a tentative ruling last week, San Luis Obispo Superior Court Judge Charles Crandall denied the defendants’ request for immunity for Bucknell because the right of privilege overrides the importance of her testimony. Crandall also denied the defendants’ request for a new trial date.