10:17 PM PDT on Wednesday, May 25, 2011

The Press-Enterprise

One of two people charged in the effort to hide a businessman’s financial involvement in the failed recall of a former Lake Elsinore councilman pleaded guilty Wednesday to a misdemeanor count of conspiracy to violate state campaign laws.

Enelida “Nellie” Caron entered the plea as a preliminary hearing was about to start for her and Michel Knight, who also is charged.

Caron faces up to a year in jail and three years probation when sentenced. No date has been set for sentencing. The Riverside County district attorney’s office agreed to drop the remaining charges if Caron testified truthfully.

Caron and Knight were charged with conspiracy, perjury, filing false documents and violating campaign disclosure requirements in connection with the filing of campaign finance disclosure statements related to the February 2010 recall attempt of former councilman Thomas Buckley.

Buckley defeated the recall attempt but lost in the general election.

The preliminary hearing continues today in Superior Court in Riverside.

On Wednesday, Caron testified that Knight orchestrated and financed the recall and involved her and other employees of Trevi Entertainment Center, which Knight owns, in the effort.

“Michel Knight made all the decisions,” Caron said. “I didn’t do anything without his approval.”

Under questioning from Deputy District Attorney William Robinson, Caron testified she first thought about taking part in the recall in 2008 due to anger over news reports related to her daughter’s death in a car accident. She blamed city officials for the reports.

About the same time, Knight was struggling to get permits from city officials for improvements at his Lake Elsinore business, Caron testified.

Knight blamed Buckley and other council members for his troubles, she said.

“It was very apparent he was upset,” Caron testified of Knight.

Robinson introduced as evidence several campaign finance disclosure forms the recall campaign filed with city and state officials that show donations and expenditures.

The forms showed that Henry Cook, another Trevi employee, paid $500 a month for several months to rent a Main Street office used as recall headquarters.

Caron testified, however, that Knight, not Cook, paid the rent and other bills, such as telephone, electricity and office supplies, and that the forms were falsified to conceal Knight’s involvement.

“He just didn’t want anyone to know,” Caron said.

Caron also said Knight met regularly with consultants, including Steve Manos, who challenged Buckley in the recall election.

Caron testified that Manos met with Knight 20 to 25 times during the effort and that it was Manos’ idea to change the name of the committee from Elsinore Voters Against Corruption to the Committee to Recall Thomas Buckley.

Caron also testified that Manos filled out a campaign finance form and emailed it to her for her signature and to be filed.

Manos has acknowledged supporting the recall but Wednesday denied being a consultant to the campaign or filling out a campaign finance form for the recall committee.

“That’s completely inaccurate,” Manos said.

Manos added it sounds like Caron is “trying to diminish her responsibility.”

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