Expenses for trips taken by former San Diego County Registrar of Voters Ray Ortiz and his associates, as well as thousands of other dollars for consulting work that may have never been done, were concealed in invoices submitted to the county under an election data printing contract, a Los Angeles printing company executive testified Monday.
Lynn Kienle, vice president of sales for Jeffries Banknote Co., told a Superior Court jury that Ortiz generally suggested the phraseology to be used on invoices that the firm submitted to the county for reimbursement--even though, on occasion, those descriptions bore little resemblance to the purpose for which the funds were actually used.
Prosecutors contend that those and other transactions were part of a scheme through which Ortiz diverted thousands of dollars to himself via falsified contracts that he directed Kienle to submit to the county.
But Merle Schneidewind, Ortiz's attorney, has charged that Kienle, who testified under a grant of immunity, is lying because of his anger over the former registrar's cancellation of a contract that cost him more than $100,000 in commissions.
The defense acknowledges that Ortiz was reimbursed by Jeffries for some trips to election conferences, but argues that there was no attempt to conceal those funds and that Ortiz's motivation was simply to save the county money. In addition, Schneidewind contends that the disputed consulting fees paid to Ortiz's associates covered legitimate work.
Ortiz, who had been registrar for seven years until his resignation last fall, was indicted last year on 27 counts of grand theft, misappropriation of public funds and making false entries in public records. Ortiz, 52, is charged with stealing $7,300 from the county in six transactions between 1984 to 1986, and an additional $4,000 from Jeffries.
Lance Gough, an Escondido elections consultant, also is on trial on one count of grand theft, while a third defendant, Maria Caldera, a longtime friend of Ortiz, will be tried separately later on three counts of grand theft.
During Monday's testimony, Kienle, the prosecution's key witness, said that he and Ortiz operated under a "gentlemen's agreement" in which business details related to the firm's printing contract with the county often were worked out informally between the two men.
Ortiz often suggested the amount and description of certain expenses listed on the company's invoices to the county, Kienle said. Moreover, the firm's payments to Gough and Caldera also were based, Kienle said, primarily on Ortiz's assurance that his two associates actually performed consulting work related to Jeffries' printing contracts--an assertion for which Kienle usually did not have independent proof.
Kienle noted, for example, that a $3,150 payment to Caldera was "passed through" on a $4,500 invoice for "mock election processing" sent to the county in November, 1984.
Under questioning from Schneidewind, Kienle testified that his company had conducted two "mock elections"--essentially trial runs of computerized election data--through that contract.
Therefore, if the $3,150 payment to Caldera had been concealed on that invoice, the firm's charge for the two computer tests would have been only $1,350--much less than the company charged for other smaller mock elections, Schneidewind noted. The defense attorney emphasized that discrepancy--as well as Kienle's admission that he did "not know what a fair number is" for the cost of a mock election--to suggest that the tests could have actually cost $4,500 and in an attempt to dispute the prosecution's contention that the Caldera payments were hidden within that bill.
Similarly, at Ortiz's suggestion, expenses related to trips that Ortiz and his associates made to New Orleans, Chicago and Redding sometimes were listed on the invoices under categories such as "ballot generation," "mock elections" or "customer alteration," Kienle testified.
Seeking to undermine Kienle's testimony, Schneidewind repeatly drew the jury's attention to the printing executive's previous admission that he lied last year to an investigator from the district attorney's office when he described Caldera as a Jeffries consultant. He did so, Kienle claimed, out of loyalty to Ortiz, whom he described as "a good friend and a good customer."
"Did you consider Mr. Ortiz a friend even after . . . the $100,000 contract cancellation?" Schneidewind asked.
"Yes, I did," Kienle replied.