Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said Cortland Fort pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit grand theft; he pleaded no contest.
One of five Cal Poly football players arrested in August 2014 in connection with an early-morning attempted robbery at a San Luis Obispo fraternity house will avoid jail time following a plea deal with prosecutors.
Cortland Josiah Fort, 21, accused of acting as getaway driver in the crime, pleaded no contest Monday in San Luis Obispo Superior Court to a single felony count of conspiracy to commit grand theft.
He had faced 11 felonies after a judge ruled in January that there was enough evidence to take Fort to trial, including first-degree attempted robbery, first-degree residential burglary and false imprisonment with several enhancements for participating in a crime where a firearm was used.
As terms of his plea, Fort will be required to serve three years of formal probation including contact with a probation officer, as well as perform 1,000 hours of community service, when he is scheduled to be sentenced May 11, Deputy District Attorney Eric Dobroth said.
Conviction for felony conspiracy carries a maximum sentence of three years in San Luis Obispo County Jail.
“The degree of his involvement and his honesty with speaking to our investigators after the crime both support the resolution of his case,” Dobroth said Wednesday. “We think that significant jail time was not warranted in this case given that degree of involvement.”
Dobroth also said community service would allow Fort to continue his academic and athletic careers and was preferable to him serving his sentence in custody.
“We thought this young man should return back to the community what he took,” Dobroth added.
Fort’s attorney, Chris Casciola, agreed. He commended the District Attorney’s Office on the deal, saying prosecutors rightfully considered a large packet of transcripts and letters of personal reference from Fort’s past coaches, teachers and professors speaking to his character and hard work in the classroom and on the field.
“Clearly my client Cortland is not the (same) person who was being depicted in the courtroom. He’s got a very bright future,” Casciola said, adding that Fort is a good student with no previous criminal history.
“My hope is that he gets another shot to play football again. He deserves another chance, and (prosecutors) were kind enough to recognize that.”
Since his arrest, Fort moved to Riverside County, where he recently finished a season as a defensive back with Riverside City College.
Casciola said it was important to have the case resolved so Fort, who is from Fontana, could decide on one of a number of colleges who are currently considering him as a student and athlete.
When he arrived in San Luis Obispo, Fort was competing for a starting spot as cornerback on the Cal Poly football team. He was a late off-season addition after transferring from the University of Wyoming, where he was a redshirted freshman.
He was arrested the morning of Aug. 10, driving away from the Delta Sigma Phi fraternity house near the Cal Poly campus as police responded there to reports of armed suspects attempting to rob residents of the house.
Fort was leaving the scene in a still-unidentified person’s rental car, without the vehicle’s headlights on. In the back of the vehicle, police found cell phones belonging to at least three other Cal Poly football players.
Casciola argued at a January preliminary hearing that Fort had only been in town for two weeks, did not know the other defendants and was only driving because he had not been drinking and wanted to fit in.
At the fraternity house, Cameron Akins, 20, was arrested after allegedly brandishing an unloaded .38-caliber derringer-style pistol at fraternity members and demanding cash and marijuana, which was being sold at the house by the then-chapter president.
The other co-defendants, Dominique Love, 19, of Poway; Jake Brito, 18, of Cypress; and Kristaan Ivory, 20; of Los Angeles, still face various charges. Akins and Love are charged with a host of felonies having to do with the attempted armed robbery. They have pleaded not guilty.
In January, a San Luis Obispo Superior Court judge dismissed all but single felony counts of conspiracy against Brito and Ivory, who allegedly backed out on the robbery before it occurred. They, too, have pleaded not guilty.
The four are due back in Superior Court on May 6 for trial-setting conferences.