SANTA ANA — The lead prosecutor handling bankruptcy-related charges against former County Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino said Tuesday that a key witness might refuse to testify during the trial.
The witness, former Assistant Treasurer Matthew Raabe, has told prosecutors that he might invoke his 5th Amendment protection from self-incrimination if called to testify against Rubino.
Raabe's refusal to testify could significantly undermine the strength of the district attorney's case against Rubino, who is charged with two felony counts of aiding former Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert L. Citron in diverting to the county's benefit $60 million in interest belonging to other government agencies that had deposited their funds in the county-run investment pool.
Assistant Dist. Atty. Jan Nolan revealed Raabe's threatened refusal to testify during a hearing Monday on several defense motions to exclude evidence. Although Judge J. Stephen Czuleger ruled largely in favor of the prosecution, he said that Raabe's grand jury testimony could not be presented to the jury in place of his appearing in person.
Raabe willingly appeared before the grand jury last November, even though he had been indicted by the same panel in May 1995 on six felony charges related to the county's bankruptcy.
Before agreeing to cooperate with the grand jury, however, Raabe secured from prosecutors an agreement that reserved his right to avoid testifying at any trial until his case was resolved, Nolan said.
Currently, Raabe's trial is scheduled to begin Sept. 16, while Rubino's is slated for Aug. 5.
Raabe's testimony is important to the prosecution's case against Rubino because he is the main witness to actually implicate Rubino in the alleged crimes.
Nolan on Tuesday downplayed the significance of Raabe's testimony, saying that she has enough evidence to convict the former budget director without it.
"Any time there's a change in the evidence or the witnesses, it affects the case one way or the other," Nolan said. "In this case, I'm still very confident that we will be able to go forward and present this case to a jury and get a conviction."
Rubino's attorney, Rodney Perlman, said that his client is an "innocent man" and that it makes no difference whether Raabe testifies.
"This case should never have been brought in the first place," Perlman said. "To say that this weakens their case is to assume that there was any merit to begin with."