Biz Buzz: Lenders’ lawyers: Conflict of interest possible

Defense attorneys in the Estate Financial Inc. criminal case told the court at a pretrial hearing on Tuesday that the San Luis Obispo County Employees Association was an investor in Estate Financial’s securities and loans. If that is the case, employees in the District Attorney’s Office could be among Estate Financial’s alleged victims, thus creating a conflict of interest for the prosecution, the defense said.

Estate Financial principals Karen Guth and her son, Joshua Yaguda, who were present at the hearing, have been waiting for trial since their arrest last October. They are accused of 26 felony counts, including investment fraud. The company, which is now bankrupt, collected an estimated $340 million from private investors in real-estate-backed securities before it collapsed in 2007.

Defense attorney Dyke Huish told the court that his team had only recently discovered that the “DA’s union” had invested money with Estate Financial. Since the defense attorneys’ charge has not been formally filed, and they showed no proof of their findings during the hearing, Judge Jac Crawford made no ruling on the potential conflict of interest — although he said he would be interested to know more.

Crawford also reminded Deputy District Attorney Steve von Dohlen — who did not respond to the specifics of the charge during the hearing — that he expected him to clarify any potential conflicts to the court, either before or, when necessary, during the preliminary hearing.

Kimberly Daniels, general manager of the Employees Association, said the union is an Estate Financial creditor, but she did not say how much it was owed.

After the hearing, Von Dohlen said the deputy district attorneys are not part of the association, nor are their investigators. But clerical staff could be.

Crawford also said he would not postpone the date of the preliminary hearing, although the defense had sought more time to gather information. The preliminary hearing is set to start at 8:30 a.m. Oct. 5 in the San Luis Obispo Courthouse. At that hearing, prosecutors will present evidence, including alleged victims’ testimony, to show there is sufficient evidence to proceed to trial.

Guth and Yaguda remain at County Jail in lieu of posting $5 million bail apiece.

— Melanie Cleveland

San Luis Obispo’s Corner View restaurant has hired Chef Matthew Beckett and is featuring a new menu to include fresh, locally grown ingredients. 

“We are switching to a three-menu-a-year format, which allows us to offer even more local seasonal food,” said Patty Carpenter, co-owner of the downtown restaurant. “We've been looking for the right chef for a while and we are very excited to have Chef Matthew Beckett with us. He does beautiful food.”

Beckett apprenticed at the Ritz Carlton in Laguna Niguel under international award-winning Executive Chef Christian Rassi-noux. He has worked as the executive chef of the San Luis Obispo Country Club for almost nine years. 

“We’re introducing a wild salmon with a miso glaze and jasmine rice, which is very different from Corner View offerings in the past,” Beckett said. “Even the salads are going to be seasonal.”

— Melanie Cleveland