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Central Valley Extortionist Wins Partial Verdict Reversal

A former San Joaquin County political operative who was convicted of corruption in 2005 has had five of 17 guilty counts thrown out by the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The appellate panel overturned counts of attempted extortion against Monte McFall but upheld conviction on 12 counts of extortion, mail fraud and witness tampering.

A former Water Reclamation District 17 board member and Stockton-based lobbyist, McFall was charged with illegally trying to block Calpine from competing with his client, Sunlaw Energy, for the right to build a power plant at the Port of Stockton. He was also charged with, among other things, shaking down a company called Golden State Developers for $50,000 to $100,000. Federal prosecutors indicted McFall, then-San Joaquin County Sheriff Baxter Dunn, former county Supervisor Lynn Bedford, and Allen Sawyer, who was chief deputy director of the Governor's Office of Criminal Justice Planning, in September 2004. Dunn, Bedford and Sawyer all pleaded guilty to mail fraud or making false statements. McFall went to trial and was convicted in March 2005, as was a former aide to Bedford. McFall was sentenced to 10 years in prison and a $50,000 fine (see CP&DR In Brief, April 2005, February 2005).

The Ninth Circuit, however, found that McFall was not guilty of attempting to extort Calpine. According to the court, McFall, Dunn and Sawyer formed a company that had a contract with Sunlaw that would pay them handsomely if Sunlaw won the right to build at the port. They pressured Calpine to withdraw from port competition; when Calpine refused, McFall and his partners drew up a resolution raising environmental, health and safety concerns about a Calpine project in neighboring Alameda County. Bedford sponsored the resolution, which the San Joaquin County Board of Supervisors passed 4-1. McFall's participation in that activity, the Ninth Circuit ruled, did not amount to a conspiracy to commit extortion.

Because of an improper jury instruction, the Ninth Circuit overturned McFall's conviction on attempting to extort money from Golden State Developers in exchange for delivering Bedford's vote.

Part of McFall's case could be retried, or he could have his sentence reduced. He remains in prison in Arkansas. The Ninth Circuit ruling in United State v. McFall, No. 07-10034, 09 C.D.O.S. 2860, was filed March 9.