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County supervisor Gutierrez testifies at McFall trial

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Posted: Friday, February 11, 2005 10:00 pm

SACRAMENTO -- San Joaquin County Supervisor Steve Gutierrez said he voted for a 2001 resolution opposing a Calpine Inc. power plant in eastern Alameda County without knowing that a friend of his had a business relationship with a rival company.

According to prosecutors, that friend, former state official N. Allen Sawyer, was in a partnership to steer a power plant to Sunlaw Energy slated for the Port of Stockton with two other men, former San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn and former water board member Monte McFall.

Calpine had a rival power plant proposal at the port, and was ultimately chosen over Sunlaw by the port commission, though the power plant was never built.

McFall is on trial for federal corruption charges.

Gutierrez said the resolution, passed at a June 26, 2001, board of supervisors meeting, was abruptly approved 4-1 even though it neither came from county staff nor was available for perusal before the meeting.

"I felt we should have the time to review it, as the public should," Gutierrez said.

The resolution opposed the East Altamont Energy Center, which Calpine was developing at the time along with a possible plant in the Port of Stockton.

Prosecutors allege McFall, 59, used influence with county officials -- including then-Supervisor Lynn Bedford, who introduced the resolution -- to oppose Calpine's projects and help Sunlaw's case.

Bedford, Dunn and Sawyer each pleaded guilty to a corruption charge last month and face prison time, as did J. Tyler Reves, Bedford's one-time legislative aide.

Gutierrez said he frequently had coffee with Sawyer and Supervisor Dario Marenco at the time, and that they occasionally discussed power plants, but Sawyer did not disclose his affiliation with Sunlaw.

If Sunlaw had built the plant, prosecutors allege, the partners stood to gain more than $2 million.

Under cross-examination, Gutierrez testified that while Sawyer may have tried to influence him, McFall did not.

McFall's attorney, Bill Romaine, said the testimony showed that his client was not involved in what other people may have done.

"Why is Monte in trouble for what Allen is running around doing?" Romaine said outside court. "Those are the kind of things I need to emphasize, because the government is taking every opportunity to take nothing and make it into something."

McFall faces charges of attempted extortion, attempted conspiracy, mail fraud and witness tampering.

The trial resumes Wednesday.

Contact reporter Ben van der Meer at benvan@tracypress.com.

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