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Official's Bribery Charges Dismissed

Court: Federal judge rules lack of jurisdiction, but keeps mail fraud counts in highway billboard case.

January 29, 2002|DOUGLAS HABERMAN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A federal judge on Monday threw out bribery charges against San Bernardino County Supervisor Jerry Eaves but kept in place mail fraud charges.

U.S. District Court Judge Manuel Real also dismissed all bribery charges against billboard company owner William Shepardson McCook, the businessman Eaves and others allegedly conspired with and received bribes from, according to a federal indictment.

Real said the bribery charges lacked any connection to federal programs or dollars, so federal prosecutors lacked jurisdiction over that portion of the case. He indicated it would have been more appropriate for state prosecutors to bring bribery charges against Eaves. The 17 counts against McCook had included charges he bribed several Colton city officials, none of whom remain in office, as well as San Bernardino County's former top administrator, James Hlawek. McCook allegedly wanted permission to place billboards along Interstate 10 on county flood control land within the city of Colton, according to the indictment.

McCook faces no additional charges at this time.

Two former Colton City Council members, Abe Beltran and Donald Sanders, already pleaded guilty to federal bribery charges, based in part on allegations McCook bribed them. They have not been sentenced.

One of Eaves' attorneys, Arthur Lemann of New Orleans, said after Monday's hearing that he expects these men may seek to withdraw their pleas in light of Real's ruling.

The ruling, after a hearing that lasted less than an hour, leaves Eaves facing six federal felony mail fraud charges.

"I'm very happy," he said. "I said all along I thought the system would work, and this shows it does work."

The mail fraud charges allege Eaves mailed statements of economic interests to the state Fair Political Practices Commission that failed to disclose gifts from McCook. Eaves voted on matters concerning McCook, but voters didn't know of this alleged conflict of interest.

"The use of the mails makes it a federal offense," Real said.

The gifts from McCook were hotel stays in Las Vegas for Eaves and some of Eaves' children and colleagues.

Eaves' trial on the mail fraud charges is set for April 16.

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