El Dorado County Supervisor Ray Nutting says one thing to the public while doing another in private.
That was the opening statement of the Nutting trial, which began Tuesday, presented by Pete Williams of the state Attorney General’s Office and half of the prosecution.
Nutting, Williams alleges, takes state tax money to improve his own property while speaking out against taxes and the government. He has trouble “abiding by the same laws we all have to follow,” Williams said, as well as laws elected officials must follow.
In 2002, Proposition 40 passed, Williams told the jury. Part of this allocated funds to Cal Fire to help landowners improve their lands. Initially, the California Department of Forestry and Protection — then known as CDF — would cut checks directly to landowners. But, in the 2006-2007 season, a lawsuit made CDF find a middle man — the Sierra Coordinated Resources Management Council. Prior to this, Williams said, Nutting received $49,000. Alleged false invoices concerning Prop 40 are Count 3 against Nutting.
In 2007, Nutting applied for more grant money. He submitted paperwork asking for $22,000. But there was a problem — the deadline to finish the job, after having been approved for the money, passed without the work being completed. The money should not have been reimbursed. But, Nutting certified that he did the work. Evidence will show he did not, Williams said. SCMRC would not have reimbursed if they knew.
In addition, the Happy Valley Trust — a plot of land that was once Nutting’s brother Tom’s land — also applied for grant money. The land was operated together as a family timber ranch.
In 2012, Nutting applied and was approved for $49,000. Altogether, with the Trust land, Nutting received about 20 percent of all Prop 40 money allocated to El Dorado County.
Additionally, this money was not declared on Form 700s Nutting had to file as part of being an elected official — Counts 1 and 2. As Nutting has filed at least a dozen Form 700s since 1992, he should be familiar with them. “He knew how to file these things.”
Count 4 is regarding conflict of interest votes. On the board of the SCRMC, Williams told the jury, were Al Hubbard and Carlan Meyer. Nutting, Williams alleged, voted four times to give a total of about $600,000 to the Georgetown and El Dorado resource conservation districts. Hubbard is on the Georgetown RCD board while Meyers is on the El Dorado board. While it was not a decision “made in a smoky, dark room,” there was at least a potential or possibility for conflict which should have caused Nutting to recuse himself.
There are also Counts 5 through 11, alleging that Nutting received loans for bail from county employees and contractors — something that, as an elected official, he is not legally allowed to do.
“What you have just heard is interesting,” defense attorney David Weiner then told the jury. He called the case “complicated in a way” in that there were some 30,000 pages of transcript and evidence. “In reality, it’s very simple. There’s no dispute of simple facts.” But, he said, the interpretation of those facts is key.
When Prop 40 came up, Nutting was initially against it, Weiner said. But after finding out what it would be used for — CDF/Cal Fire helping to reimburse for work done on land — he not only approved of it, but told people to apply for it and take advantage of the program. “Why call him a hypocrite?”
While Williams alleged that on one sheet, Nutting left the a section for reimbursement for work done by the landowner as zero, that was the practice — it meant that the money was just part of the contracted rate. Perhaps informal, Weiner noted, but that was how it was done. It helped CDF do its mission of getting the money out, rather than having to pay less than the contracted rate if the work ended up costing less. Corners were cut.
Nutting also did not work after the contract date, unlike what Williams alleged. Rather, the work was not expected to be done for 45 days after, when the inspection was done. Another informality that happened.
For the 2007 Form 700, Nutting was not part of the Board of Supervisors yet. He was when he was paid, but not when he applied. As for the Happy Valley Trust, Tom Nutting is the beneficiary — not Ray — and the 20 percent figure is misleading.
For the still pending 2012 grant, Cal Fire contacted Nutting, not the other way around. They knew he would use the money and do a good job.
The votes were just consent calendar votes — near automatic, not opposed, rubber-stamped votes, Weiner said.
People around Nutting stood up for him and gave him $55,000 in the two hours Nutting was given before he was arrested, Weiner said, because they knew him.
Prosecutor James Clinchard of the El Dorado County District Attorney’s Office then called the first witness: Cal Fire Camino Assistant Chief Christopher Anthony. Anthony worked on the California Forest Improvement Program — the money for improvement pre-Prop 40. It was meant to help timberland owners turn the land into productive timberland, rather than fuel clearing as it is today.
He went through the steps needed to apply, noting both Ray and Tom Nutting applied and were approved. He got the invoices and signed off on them, as was his job at the time. He noted that, of the approximately $49,500 Ray Nutting received, about $4,800 was listed as having been done by the landowner.
Anthony worked with Mark Stewart, a registered professional forester. He worked on at least 10 proposals for CFIP with Stewart, he told Weiner. He felt that Stewart did quality jobs. He did not know if Stewart filled out the proposals for Nutting, though it was a common practice for invoices to be filled out by a Registered Professional Forester.
The next witness was Jeff Calvert, the chief of forestry assistance for Cal Fire, based in Sacramento. He noted that, for the most part, landowners were reimbursed up to 75 percent of costs through Prop 40 grants.
A “cost accounting worksheet” would need to be completed if the landowner did any of the work themselves, rather than, for example, through a contractor, Calvert said.
He noted that, as the headquarters, he received copies of the Nutting brothers’ proposals. He reviewed the documents and made sure invoices were within contract specifications. He had not met either brother.
Calvert detailed how the SCRMC came to be the government entity that would cut checks for landowners for Cal Fire. A lawsuit proved that Cal Fire could not make the checks, but needed a middleman to do so.
Specifically for Nutting, his contract for 2011 was to expire at the beginning of April 2014. This was extended 30 days to finish invoices.
The court then recessed for lunch.