Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Testimony gets heated in Nutting trial

April 24, 2014 |

The end of the first day of the Supervisor Ray Nutting trial on Tuesday saw a heated discussion between a witness and the defense attorney.

After lunch, Jeff Calvert, the chief of forestry assistance for Cal Fire, based in Sacramento, was back on the stand. He first noted that, as far as he could recall, no extension for getting work done on a Cal Fire fuel reduction project had been denied — including Nutting’s or the Happy Valley Trust, what was once Nutting’s brother Tom’s land, adjacent to Ray Nutting’s land.

On an invoice from work to be done by April 15, 2009, there was a zero listed in the amount for work done by Nutting himself, but an invoice from Nutting Brush Clearing Co. Calvert told the prosecution, James Clinchard from the District Attorney’s Office and Peter Williams from the state Attorney General’s Office, that this was not uncommon. Owners of a company will have their company do the work, but won’t do the work themselves. “It’s not common, but it’s not uncommon,” Calvert said. An invoice from the company had been sent to Nutting.

Calvert noted that checks were cut to landowners from the Sierra Coordinated Resource Management Council, which in turn got money from Cal Fire that was ultimately given via Proposition 40 grant money. He told defense attorney David Weiner that SCRMC receives the money in $500,000 chunks. The Placer County Resource Conservation District administrates the money.

When asked again if he thought the zero was odd, he again explained it was not an uncommon practice. He said he also had no reason to believe it was wrong as Nutting had signed the invoice, affirming it to be true. He said Katie Maloney of the SCRMC would have also examined it, as well as Cal Fire’s Patrick McDaniel, a forester.

SCRMC has rejected applications from landowners before, Calvert said, as he has made mistakes when recommending SCRMC approves. It could, for example, be a math error he missed but Maloney did not. Reading between 50 and 150 applications a year means a mistake will slip through.

Going back to extensions, he said something as simple as bad weather affecting when a burn pile could be burned or pesticide sprayed could give cause for an extension.

After the contract expires, landowners have 45 days to submit their final invoice, Calvert said. Most do it within a few days of the expiration as they want their reimbursement from the SCRMC. It also allows time for a forester assistant specialist — like McDaniel — from Cal Fire to inspect the land to ensure the work was done to the contract. They can be busy with fighting fires, training and other duties. This was also why SCMRC was allowed to hire registered professional foresters, Calvert said. The 45 days was not, however, time to finish “odds and ends,” as Weiner asked.

“I can get in a lot of trouble if I approve work done” knowingly after the expiration, he said. State guidelines and policy read that the work must be done inside the contracted date.

Weiner and Calvert then spent time on a dollar amount recorded on an invoice. Interpretations differed between the two on whether the amount should have been for the contracted amount or for the actual amount, $30,000 more than the contracted amount. Discussion became heated when, indignant, Calvert told Weiner that in his 15 years of working with that form, no one had ever not understood it. Despite what Weiner said was an asterisk telling the person filling out the form to use the “eligible” instead of the “actual” cost, Calvert said the column should have the “actual” cost. The RPFs, one of whom was employed by Nutting, knew what to do. That form, Calvert said, had been rejected by the SCRMC until Nutting revised it.

As he left, Calvert joked that he would need to bring a dictionary to define “actual” cost if he were called back to testify; Judge Tim Buckley joked that it would take an act of Congress to bring Calvert back to the stand despite being subject to recall.

Katie Maloney, operations manager for SCRMC, was then called to the stand. She told Williams her job including checking the paperwork for the fuel reduction programs and cutting checks. She is also a part of the Placer County RCD, as the SCRMC technically has no staff. A board of directors delegated all tasks of the SCRMC to PCRCD; only Maloney and a few RFPs were actually part of SCRMC.

She also noted that the money could not be reimbursed to landowners if work was done after the contract’s deadline — in this case, April 15, 2009, for that specific Nutting contract.

Williams had her look at documents that formed the master grants with SCRMC before the trial ended for the day. The trial was to continue the next morning.





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