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Alleged Extortion in a Divorce Case 'Gone Awry'

A Murrieta councilman is accused of counts including conspiracy and subornation of perjury in what is called a plot to cheat his wife.

January 12, 2006|Lance Pugmire | Times Staff Writer

A Murrieta councilman arrested this week had threatened to break a tile contractor's leg if he didn't help him cheat his wife in a divorce settlement, prosecutors said in court documents made public Wednesday.

Councilman Warnie Enochs, 56, allegedly made the threat in November 2003 after he asked the man to provide a signed courtroom declaration stating that Enochs' wife, Julia, had an extramarital affair with the tile contractor's foreman, according to the Riverside County district attorney report.

Enochs also persuaded the owner of a Murrieta roofing company to file a lien against the couple's house and sue them -- in a scheme intended to lower the value of the couple's home and reduce his wife's divorce settlement, district attorney's investigator Gerald Fox stated in the court document.

The roofer told authorities that when he asked the councilman to reimburse him for $7,000 in legal fees, Enochs threatened to falsely accuse him of setting a fire that destroyed a Lake Elsinore church in 2003, the report alleged.

Enochs and his wife did not return telephone messages left at his office and her home. Sherry Collins, the councilman's divorce attorney, said the couple's divorce "is a family-law case gone awry" but declined to elaborate.

Enochs, a longtime Murrieta resident who has served on the City Council since 1995 and spent part of 2005 as the city's mayor, was arrested Tuesday on 14 counts, including extortion, forgery, conspiracy and subornation of perjury. He was released after posting $20,000 bond. His arraignment in Riverside County Superior Court is scheduled for Feb. 7.

Murrieta Mayor Kelly Seyarto said in an e-mail that it would be interesting to see how Enochs' legal troubles affect his role on the council following Enochs' own push for a City Council code of ethics that took effect in November. The new ethics policy allows the City Council to censure a member who has committed "a serious offense."

According to the court report from the district attorney's office, Julia Enochs alerted authorities in July 2004 that her husband "had committed some criminal acts."

She reported that she had witnessed the councilman forging a policeman's signature on a citation he received at Big Bear Lake for failing to register his boat in 2002. The forgery indicated that the infraction had been corrected, and Enochs avoided a fine, authorities said.

Fox reported that he found copies of the ticket in San Bernardino County Superior Court and that it was signed by a nonexistent officer, "Steve Baxter," with a nonexistent Murrieta police badge number.

The Riverside County district attorney filed three counts of forgery against Enochs related to the boating ticket.

A Temecula tile contractor also told authorities that he had sent a worker to the Enochses' Murrieta home for a $1,800 tile job in September 2003. The contractor alleged that the councilman became enraged when he learned the tile worker had dated Julia Enochs before the marriage, according to the court document.

After first refusing to pay the $1,800 bill, Enochs called the tile contractor two months later and said he "would trade what [the tile contractor] wanted -- his $1,800 -- for what Warnie wanted, something written in a declaration against Julia," Fox stated in the court report, which said that Enochs told the contractor "something to the effect of, 'Write down that they ... were having an affair.' "

When the tile contractor declined to do so, Enochs "threatened to break his leg," the report alleged.

The investigation also revealed that Enochs paid $31,000 for a new roof and other related work on his home -- far short of the $48,000 claimed in a lien and a subsequent lawsuit filed against the couple, the court document alleged.

The roofer told Fox he inflated the roofing cost because "when a friend is going through a divorce, you try to help him out," the court report stated. But, he said, his cooperation ended after the councilman declined to reimburse $7,000 in legal fees and then threatened to implicate the contractor in the church fire.

When interviewed by the district attorney investigator, Enochs denied any wrongdoing.

Enochs didn't attend a council general plan meeting Tuesday night, and his future on the council remained uncertain, a city spokesman said. The next scheduled council meeting is Tuesday night.

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