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Couple Plead Not Guilty in Fraud Case

March 30, 1993|RENE LYNCH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SANTA ANA — Orange County socialites Daniel and Susie Hernandez pleaded not guilty Monday to federal charges that they skimmed millions of dollars from a precious metals firm--money that they allegedly used to support their lavish lifestyle and contribute to local charities.

Daniel Hernandez, a 12-year employee of PGP Industries in Santa Fe Springs, admitted in an interview with The Times this month that he took nearly $8 million from company customers but asserted that he did it on PGP's behalf. He argued that the money amounted to a "commission" for his work.

The couple entered their pleas in U.S. District Court in Santa Ana before U.S. Magistrate Ronald W. Rose, who scheduled a trial for May 11.

Each faces 11 charges: one count of conspiracy to defraud, five counts of money laundering and five counts of mail fraud, U.S. Atty. Stephen Wolfe said.

Daniel Hernandez has said that PGP allowed its employees to doctor books and to steal from precious metals sales. Company officials strongly deny those claims. Several former employees have backed Hernandez's claims and federal prosecutors have said they plan to investigate.

Hernandez has said he would be willing to cooperate with federal authorities in return for a reduced prison sentence. The prosecutor and defense attorneys in the case declined Monday to discuss the possibility of a plea agreement.

Prosecutors accuse Hernandez of funneling money to bank accounts in California and Texas that were controlled by his wife. Wolfe said the couple used the money to buy real estate, luxury cars, clothing and jewels and to contribute to local charities.

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