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FBI agent offers details into investigation of McFall

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Posted: Friday, February 4, 2005 10:00 pm

SACRAMENTO -- FBI Special Agent Andrew Manson described to jurors a government corruption investigation that kept spreading with every interview, ending the second week of trial Friday for Monte McFall, 59, a former San Joaquin County lawman and water board member.

"There was sort of a progression where when we first opened the case, we thought it was just John Verner saying something, and as we talked to people, we heard more that we felt we had to investigate," Manson said.

He described a seven-month investigation that led to McFall's trial on 19 counts of public corruption that include attempted extortion, attempted conspiracy and honest services mail fraud.

Manson said the first complaint about McFall's actions as a lobbyist and member of Reclamation Board 17 came to the San Joaquin County district attorney's office of investigations, which began working with Manson's Stockton FBI office in February 2002 to investigate McFall.

Verner, also a lobbyist, complained to the district attorney's office that McFall, angry over past monies he said Verner owed him, had said he would kill the Riverwalk project in Lathrop that Verner was working on, according to Manson.

Subsequently, Manson testified, a private investigator from Southern California contacted investigators about McFall's attempted extortion on a different development project -- that of a power plant Diamond Energy wanted to build in south San Joaquin County.

Munson said in that situation, McFall met with Diamond officials and strongly suggested they move their proposed plant to property near Ripon where McFall had a stake.

Investigators planned to fit a Diamond official with a wire microphone to see if they could record McFall making the comment again, Manson said, but scuttled the idea after developer Susan Dell'Osso, who was also at the meeting, inadvertently tipped off McFall about the investigation.

But Manson said under cross-examination from McFall's attorney, Bill Romaine, that the Diamond project was not in the reclamation district.

"Well, why did you go to all that bother?" Romaine said. "Were you trying to get Mr. McFall?"

Manson replied that the FBI's concern was that McFall wasn't listing those actions on his statement of economic interest, a form public officials must fill out and submit to the state each year.

Romaine also attacked an interview then-Lathrop Mayor Steve McKee had with Manson, where McKee described McFall's negative attitude toward Verner. Manson testified that in that interview that McKee had also said, "McFall is a lot of talk. About 90 percent of what he says is not true, and Verner is the same way."

Manson also described a search warrant FBI agents carried out at McFall's Lathrop ranch in July 2002, describing copies of phone records, financial statements and lists of contributors to then-Supervisor Lynn Bedford's re-election campaign. Both Manson and County Counsel Terrence Dermody testified about a Calpine Inc. power plant in eastern Alameda County that McFall and then-Sheriff Baxter Dunn opposed. Prosecutors say both men, and a former state government official, N. Allen Sawyer, formed two partnerships to help Sunlaw Energy Corp. get a contract to build a power plant in the Port of Stockton in 2001, during the state energy crisis. The men stood to receive a $2 million commission if Sunlaw built the plant; Calpine had a rival project for the port at the time.

With Dermody testifying, jurors saw a video of a June 2001 board of supervisors meeting where Dunn publicly opposed the plant on safety grounds, and supervisors voted 4-1 to pass a resolution against the project.

Dermody testified that Dunn did not mention his financial stake in a project rivaling Calpine at the meeting, and that it was unusual for a resolution like the one passed to make the agenda without passing through Dermody's office first.

But Dermody also testified that the resolution did give Calpine leeway to tweak the project to meet the board's approval, and that he did not know which supervisor wrote the resolution.

In previous testimony, government witnesses have said McFall seemed to have considerable influence over Bedford as a supervisor.

Romaine said he thought the week went well for his client, adding that the evidence bolstered his contention that McFall was acting simply as a lobbyist would.

Judge Morrison C. England upbraided Romaine during his cross-examination of Manson, saying he was asking questions already answered.

"How many times are you going to ask about this?" England said. "Obviously, too many." He later warned Romaine, with the jury out of the room, against further such questioning.

Romaine said he had no problem with the judge's order. "It's his proceeding, not mine," he said. Testimony will resume Wednesday, and Tracy developers Tony and Mike Souza are scheduled to testify for the government.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Ben Wagner said that could change, though, depending on other witnesses' schedules and availability.

Contact Tracy Press Associate Editor Ben van der Meer at benvan@tracypress.com.

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