Former Placerville mayor and councilman David Machado appeared in court Friday afternoon after reaching a plea deal with the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office, in which he pleaded guilty to three counts.
The first of the five original counts, perjury, was dismissed.
Machado pleaded guilty to count two, a felony count of conspiracy to commit an act injurious to public health, to public morals or to pervert or obstruct justice, or the due administration of laws, which was what Machado later called a “wobbler,” meaning it was a felony but will appear as a misdemeanor and be treated as such; count three, one misdemeanor count of conspiracy to commit a crime, to delay or obstruct a public officer (a building official) and destroying or concealing evidence; and count four, one misdemeanor count of conflict of interest.
District Attorney Vern Pierson took issue with Machado’s “wobbler,” however. “He pled guilty to a felony,” he said. “He can call it a wobbler, can call it anything he wants, but for the next three years, he pled guilty to (a felony).”
Count five, providing a substandard dwelling unit, will be held for 18 months, after which it will be dropped and expunged from his record so long as Machado does not violate his probation, Machado said.
“I’m not a felon,” Machado said in a phone interview after the hearing.
“But you just plead guilty to a felony,” Pierson told the Mountain Democrat later, after hearing what Machado said. He said that Machado is indeed a felon, despite what the former mayor and councilman said.
He was placed on three years formal probation and ordered to pay $5,000 in fines. Should he violate probation, he will be required to pay an additional $120 toward the restitution fund and face up to three years of incarceration. Attorney James Clark, after speaking with Machado, said his client would pay within 30 days. He was also ordered to serve 120 days in county jail or, alternatively, 960 hours of community service, minus eight hours served, which Machado’s lawyer, Clark, said he would likely spend helping to build houses over the next 36 months with the permission of the Probation Department. Judge James R. Wagoner suggested doing it within 18 months, but did not order it. Machado faced a maximum of four years, six months in jail and a $10,000 fine.
Wagoner also noted that Machado would not have restricted travel due to the misdemeanor charges, despite the “hybrid nature” of the felony changed to a misdemeanor. Machado, in one of the few times he spoke other than to affirm matters of the court, said he wanted to travel primarily to visit his son who lives in Oregon.
The charges arose after Machado, then mayor of Placerville, did not recuse himself from involvement with a redevelopment project that a rental property he owned was located in. The property later caught on fire, sustaining moderate damage but causing no injury to the occupants. He attempted to avoid obtaining proper permits and attempted to hide or destroy evidence of needing the permits. He also used his power as mayor to meet with the city council and rescind notices of non-compliance against his property.
An allocution statement was read by Clark for Machado saying that Machado was admitting guilt because he was in fact guilty and would take responsibility for his actions. He also said as the former mayor and councilman he was subject to “additional laws, and held to a higher standard” and that he “clearly overstepped” the law. As such, he resigned from his public office as councilman knowing he would be barred from ever holding a public office again, and that his resignation is connected to his plea. Machado later clarified that it was indeed a term of his plea to resign.
Machado, in a phone interview, called the plea a “negotiation” and “a big game, one with a successful conclusion.” He said the case was “very convoluted, very difficult and hard for (the DA’s office) to explain.”
He said that he was “quite willing” to reach a plea bargain, a process he started in January. “I was never going to go to jail,” he said. Instead, he agreed to the community service, fine and resignation.
“I was going to be out of office in November. They thought it was a major ding, but it’s late June, do the math. I don’t really care. I knew it would be a negotiating chip,” Machado said.
Deputy District Attorney Michael Pizzuti wrote in an e-mail to the Mountain Democrat that “it was always contemplated that we would not accept any plea without Machado resigning.”
Pizzuti also questioned Machado’s statements in court as compared to what he told media the previous day about his resignation.
“I understand he made some recent public statements that implied he had other personal reasons for resigning apart from the plea. I can’t speculate to what goes on in a person’s head to motivate a decision, but I would say this: If I’m in a burning airplane and jump out, then say to you that I jumped because I like to skydive, I’m sure you would be skeptical,” Pizzuti wrote. “Machado’s allocution statement read today in court makes it clear that his prior statement regarding resignation was untrue.”
Pierson also commented on the allocution statement, something he said is fairly rare to be heard on record in court. Machado said that he was forced to plead guilty rather than no contest by the DA’s office, and Pierson confirmed that.
“We made him plead guilty … we were insistant,” Pierson said. “He had to actually plead guilty, because he is actually guilty.”
As for his probation and community service, Machado said he will be working with EDCA Lifeskills and Green Valley Community Church, of which he is already a member, to build homes in Mexico over the summer.
“It’s something I’ve done in the past, and I was going to be doing it this summer, so I wanted to make sure it was OK, and the judge said it was fine,” Machado said.
Pierson again took issue with what Machado said. He said he could go to jail if he violates his probation, and that the 120 day jail sentence is “hanging over his head, at the approval of Chief Probation Officer Greg Sly.” Sly must approve of Machado’s community service, and if Machado violates parole, he could face up to three years in jail, rather than just 120 days.
One of the main reasons Machado decided to plea, he said, was to “save the cost of going to trial.” He elaborated that he would not have to “pay two attorneys, eight hours a day, plus prep time, and if you figure out how much, it’s a $30,000 to $40,000 expense. I avoided that. I’m very happy at the moment.”
He later said that “they say you can’t fight city hall, and it’s difficult to fight the DA’s office.”
The investigation into the case, which was handled by the DA’s office, was initially launched after a tip from a city employee, Pierson said.
As to why Machado pleaded guilty instead of no contest, he said the DA’s office “wouldn’t let me plea no contest.” He said, “It is what it is, it’s done, and now I can move on with my life.”
Machado said that his plea “boils down to a $5,000 fine and community service. If someone had told me that a couple of days ago, when I was on the city council, which is basically community service, that (for the plea) I’d be doing community service? Bingo.”
He said the case is “a bunch of nothing. All of this for community service and a fine.”
“It is a jail sentence, he’s just being permitted to do (community service) as an alternative sentence,” Pierson said. “He can try to minimize” the perceived impact, Pierson said, “but to go from mayor to where he is, a convicted felon and a proven liar, is not a lot of nothing.”
Contact Cole Mayer at 530-344-5068 or email@example.com. Follow @CMayerMtDemo.