SANTA ANA — Listening to ex-Treasurer Robert L. Citron's attorney appeal to the judge Tuesday, one might have thought former Assistant Treasurer Matthew Raabe was the person being sentenced.
Time after time, attorney David W. Wiechert told the judge his client was "manipulated" by a "young, bright, aggressive, ambitious" underling. Citron may have been guilty of financial misdeeds, but Raabe was the mastermind behind them, Wiechert claimed.
"It was a colossal breach of trust by his right-hand person," Citron's attorney said.
Wiechert's assertions will be tested in January, when Raabe--the only remaining county official facing criminal charges--goes to trial.
Raabe, who has maintained his innocence, is charged with the same six felony counts of misappropriating public funds and lying to investors that Citron faced. Like Citron, Raabe could be sentenced to 14 years in state prison if convicted of the most serious crimes to arise from the worst municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history.
On Tuesday, as Wiechert went on his tirade against the former assistant treasurer, Raabe's attorney, Gary Pohlson, sat in the courtroom carefully jotting notes on a yellow legal pad.
"This is ludicrous," Pohlson said during a break in the hearing. "Citron was the dominating factor."
Pohlson said Raabe took orders from Citron, not the other way around. He said Wiechert's version of events is "not backed up at all" by the evidence.
After Los Angeles Superior Court Judge J. Stephen Czuleger ordered Citron to serve a year in County Jail, many court observers wondered out loud what could be in store for Raabe if he is ultimately convicted.
Pohlson confidently predicted his client will be found not guilty, but added that should Raabe lose, he couldn't see the punishment being any worse than Citron's.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Matthew Anderson, who is handling the Raabe case, declined comment.
However, it seems likely that since the district attorney recommended a mid-term sentence of seven years for Citron because of his early plea and cooperation, prosecutors would seek the maximum punishment against Raabe if they win a conviction.
The only other person charged with a crime related to the bankruptcy was former Budget Director Ronald S. Rubino, whose September trial ended with the jury deadlocked 9 to 3 in favor of acquittal. Earlier this month, in a plea-bargain worked out with prosecutors, Rubino pleaded no contest to one count of falsifying public records, and was sentenced to two years of probation and 100 hours of community service.
Since two of the three criminal cases from the bankruptcy have resulted in probation, some defense attorneys have questioned whether it is financially worthwhile for the district attorney to pursue such convictions.
"The D.A. is taking [prosecutors] away from murders and robberies and rapes to go after what appears to be technical violations," said attorney Allan Stokke, who represents Supervisor William G. Steiner in a civil misconduct case stemming from the bankruptcy. "These are offenses that are not likely to be repeated, by people who have not been problems in the past. Those are factors that the D.A. should consider."