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Builder Seeks to Sidestep Restitution to Park Service

January 20, 1988|JAMES QUINN | Times Staff Writer

Saying his unsolicited gift to the government of 20 acres of parkland should be enough, a San Fernando Valley developer has appealed a requirement that he make more than $300,000 in restitution for defrauding the National Park Service.

In papers filed in the U. S. Court of Appeals in Pasadena, Encino developer Jerry Y. Oren, a leading contributor to the campaigns of many Southland elected officials, also asked that his July 15 conviction be overturned.

An attorney for Oren, 61, said Tuesday that the appeal is based on the contention that trial judge Harry L. Hupp should have thrown out charges against Oren of wire fraud and of making a false statement on a matter within Park Service jurisdiction.

Oren was convicted in U. S. District Court of scheming to cheat the government in the 1985 sale of 336 oak-covered acres in Agoura's Cheeseboro Canyon.

Fake Letter Used

The developer used a fake letter to inflate the value of the property, prosecution witnesses testified.

In the letter, a New York real estate agent told Oren that Union Pacific had offered $9.3 million for the developer's Agoura acreage. A Union Pacific vice president testified that no offer was made.

Appraiser Thomas W. Erickson told the court that, after receiving the purported Union Pacific offer from Oren, he raised his estimate by $2,000 an acre, for a total of $672,000. Erickson pegged the tract's value at $8.4 million.

Another appraiser earlier had put the land's value at $5.8 million.

In December, 1984, Oren sold the tract for $7.5 million to the San Francisco-based Trust for Public Land, which was acting as intermediary for the Park Service.

The trust resold the land a month later to the Park Service for the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area.

Asst. U.S. Atty. Ralph F. Hirschmann contended that Oren faked the letter because he was worried that the appraisal would not come in high enough.

An appraisal of at least $8 million was essential, the prosecutor said, because the Park Service cannot buy land unless its sale price is substantiated by an appraisal.

In September, Hupp sentenced Oren to five years on probation and ordered him to perform 1,500 hours of community work.

But the judge rejected Hirschmann's request that Oren be imprisoned as a deterrent to other developers.

As a condition of probation, Oren was ordered to pay the government $272,000 in restitution, plus interest from the date of sale in January, 1985. Hupp also imposed the maximum fine of $11,000.

Gift of 20 Acres

Shortly before the sentencing, Oren had donated the 20 acres to the government. However, both prosecution and defense attorneys agreed that Hupp left unclear whether the gift of land would satisfy the restitution requirement.

Before sentencing, one of Oren's attorneys had told Hupp that the defendant offered the land "because he did something wrong, and he wants to fix it."

James C. Chalfant, co-counsel for Oren, said Tuesday that the appeal argues that the donated land, "which is worth at least $400,000, is more than enough restitution."

In addition, Chalfant said, the mail fraud conviction should be thrown out because federal law requires that the government incur actual loss, "and all evidence points to the fact that the government got a good deal in this transaction."

The developer also should not have been charged with making a false statement in a matter within Park Service jurisdiction because "this was a matter between Mr. Oren and the Trust for Public Land," not involving the federal government, Chalfant said.

Chalfant said Oren is not appealing his sentence of probation and community work. To fulfill the work requirement, Oren has begun the design and construction of a halfway house for federal convicts.

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