Holgate

10:00 PM PST on Monday, December 6, 2010

By DUG BEGLEY and DUANE W. GANG
The Press-Enterprise

PDF: Read the most recent grand jury indictment against Stephen Holgate

Special Section: San Jacinto Corruption Probe

More charges were filed in Riverside County Superior Court against Stephen Holgate, the embattled San Jacinto developer accused of filling local election coffers with covered-up contributions to skirt election finance laws.

Holgate was indicted Friday by a Riverside County grand jury with one felony and nine misdemeanors, related to contributions to John Benoit’s successful state Senate election.

The indictment is the second involving Holgate related to local politics. He faces 151 charges from a November 2009 indictment, many involving former San Jacinto officials netted in a corruption probe that led to the replacement of four city councilmen.

Holgate, 64, pleaded not guilty to all the recent charges Friday. He faces up to three years in state prison on the felony count.

The indictment accuses Holgate of concealing his contributions to “Friends of John J. Benoit,” the campaign’s election fund, by having someone claim to be the source of money actually provided by Holgate.

Benoit testified before the grand jury Nov. 19 and said Monday that he “was not a target of their inquiry nor was accused of any wrongdoing.”

In a statement, Benoit called Holgate a former supporter.

“I had no reason to believe that any rules or laws were violated,” Benoit said.

Three people, Petra Tucker, Byron Ellison and Matthew Wood, are named as the people who reportedly made the donations of $3,600 each to Benoit’s campaign. But their contributions were later discovered to come from Holgate, according to the five-page indictment.

Two of the charges relate to Holgate’s contributions to Conservative Leaders of America, an independent expenditure committee set up to aid Benoit’s primary race for the 37th Senate District.

No other indictments are expected in relation to Holgate’s most recent charges, Assistant District Attorney Chuck Hughes said.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger appointed Benoit to the Board of Supervisors on Nov. 4, 2009, to replace the late Roy Wilson. Benoit left his Senate seat and took office as a supervisor Dec. 1 of that year.

State records show Benoit terminated the “Friends of John J. Benoit” committee on Sept. 7. The committee donated $10,775 this year to close the account, records show.

Last year, Benoit promised to donate to charity any suspect donations. Benoit’s chief of staff, Michelle DeArmond, said by e-mail Monday that the supervisor has donated $10,000 to charity as a precautionary measure.

“The contributions to the Friends of Benoit campaign mentioned in the indictment roughly equal the same sum, although it’s important to note that there has yet to be any conviction in connection with any contributions to a Benoit campaign,” DeArmond said.

The new charges are in addition to others Holgate, four former members of the San Jacinto City Council and four others face in a sweeping corruption indictment last year. Nine defendants are caught in the 155-count indictment, which led to the council members losing their seats in last month’s recall elections.

In that indictment, Holgate is also accused of skirting campaign laws by offering to repay money others contributed to a local Assembly race and City Council elections.

Six others were indicted for lesser roles in the supposed election fraud scheme.

Hughes said the most recent charges originated from the investigation into the San Jacinto campaign irregularities.

The 2009 and Friday’s charges are set for a Jan. 21 status conference between prosecutors and Paul Grech, Holgate’s attorney. Grech did not return a call for comment.

Campaign ties

Benoit first got to know Holgate in the early 1990s when they met at a California Highway Patrol charity golf tournament in the Coachella Valley.

Benoit and Holgate are former CHP officers.

Over the years, Holgate and his wife have been active supporters of Benoit. According to state records, the couple had donated at least $27,000 since 2005 to Benoit’s legislative campaigns.

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