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Judge drops criminal charges against former San Jose mayor

The jurist rules that the grand jury was given improper instructions, invalidating its corruption indictment.

June 13, 2007|From the Associated Press

SAN JOSE — A Santa Clara County judge has dropped all criminal charges against former Mayor Ron Gonzales, who was accused of bribery in an alleged backroom deal with a trash hauling company, court officials said Tuesday.

Superior Court Judge John Herlihy said Gonzales and aide Joe Guerra improperly concealed their dealings with Norcal Waste Systems Inc., but that improper instructions given to the grand jury that indicted the pair required him to throw out the charges.

"The court concludes that given the complexity of this case, the instructional errors, in their totality, undermined the grand jury's determination of probable cause on all the charged counts," Herlihy wrote in his 33-page ruling.

Gonzales, who was forced out of office last fall because of term limits, had been charged with six felonies, including conspiracy, bribery, misappropriating public funds and falsifying records. He faced up to eight years in prison if convicted.

Prosecutors alleged Gonzales pressured Norcal into hiring the Teamsters -- instead of a lower-paid union -- to staff a recycling plant in October 2000.

They said that the mayor secretly agreed to help the San Francisco-based trash contractor recoup the extra labor expenses.

The deal that Gonzales and Guerra brokered cost taxpayers $11.25 million more than they would have had to pay another contractor, prosecutors alleged.

Some legal experts questioned the bribery charge because Gonzales did not receive any money as a result of the deal, but prosecutors say he won political favor from the union.

Guerra and Norcal also had been indicted for allegedly conspiring to defraud the public and misuse public funds.

All pleaded not guilty.

In his ruling issued Monday, Judge Herlihy discussed the appearance of impropriety surrounding the mayor's actions.

"There is no question that Norcal, defendant Guerra and defendant Gonzales were delinquent in their responsibility to be open and to fully disclose their knowledge, actions and policies," he wrote.

The Santa Clara County prosecutor handling the case did not return telephone calls seeking comment.

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