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Essapour to answer to ID fraud charges
A preliminary hearing that has been in the making for nine months ended with a Turlock woman ordered to stand trial for stealing the identity of a county supervisor.

Stanislaus County Superior Court Judge Thomas Zeff ruled there was enough probable cause presented by the District Attorney's Office to warrant Serena Essapour, 22, be bound over for trial. She is facing felony charges of false impersonation, misuse of personal identifying information, and grand theft. The charges stem from allegations that Essapour used the personal information of Stanislaus County Board of Supervisor Jim DeMartini to fraudulently open up credit card accounts and charge up to $10,000 in about one month's time. The prosecution contends Essapour got the information off of loan documents DeMartini co-signed with Essapour to help her buy a new car. DeMartini also supplied Essapour with a $6,500 loan as a down payment. Essapour opened the credit cards online after receiving pre-approved credit card applications. She used DeMartini's information and listed herself as an authorized user. Essapour has pled not guilty to the charges.

While the pre-liminary hearing was to determine if Essapour should stand trial on the criminal charges, it was DeMartini who was under fire on the final day of testimony.

In the defense of his client, attorney Mark Geragos continued a line of questioning that attempted to skew the supervisor's creditability, a creditability that Geragos referred to as an "abomination."

In a terse exchange between the attorney and the supervisor, Geragos made several innuendoes and veiled accusations against DeMartini that covered the gambit of personal and political. He raised questions about where and when DeMartini and Essapour had lunch and/or dinners together. The list of establishments Geragos read off had DeMartini amending his previous testimony of three or four occasions to somewhere in the ballpark of 20. Geragos also said DeMartini was directing the prosecution of the case by promising Deputy District Attorney Dawna Frenchie his support for a judgeship, an allegation DeMartini unequivocally denied.

"I have not directed the prosecution in anyway, whether it be with the deputy district attorney, the district attorney, or the sheriff," DeMartini said.

As in previous days' testimony, the exact nature of DeMartini and Essapour's relationship was under scrutiny. In her rebuttal questioning, Frenchie tried to lay the matter to rest by directly asking DeMartini if he and Essapour had ever had a sexual relationship, and DeMartini said no. He then volunteered the information that in June 2007, he took a polygraph test to prove he never had a sexual relationship with Essapour.

Letting out a guffaw at the mention of the lie detector test, Geragos asked DeMartini what type of questions he had been asked on the test, particularly if he had been asked if "he was buying her things to get her to sleep with him." DeMartini answered that he could not recall all the questions he had been asked and when Geragos asked if he would be willing to take another one - one administered by the defense - DeMartini said "I think one is sufficient."

In his closing statements Geragos asked the judge to dismiss the grand theft charge and either reduce the others to misdemeanors or dismiss them outright. His reasoning for the dismissal was based on Essapour having consent to use DeMartini's credit, because he had willingly granted her access to it when he co-signed for the car loan. He also pointed to DeMartini's behavior in and out of the courtroom as evidence of his "disdain for the court" and that he was "unworthy of any kind of creditability."

In her closing statement, the deputy district attorney brought the criminal allegations against Essapour back into the spotlight and drew attention away from all the innuendoes and accusations.

"It really doesn't matter what their relationship was," Frenchie said. "Whatever Ms. Essapour did to convince Mr. DeMartini to part with $6,500 is really not the focus here."

Frenchie said Essapour never had permission to open the two credit card accounts using DeMartini's information and that she showed a pattern of criminal behavior by denying on three different occasions that she opened the accounts. Frenchie pointed to Essapour's "online romance" with a Michigan woman as proof that she never intended to pay the charges racked up on the two cards. In prior testimony, Stanislaus County Sheriff Detective Mason Mineni said a $1,700 Movado watch and $500 worth of balloons and flowers had been charged on the credit cards and sent to a Rita Somo in Southfield, Mich. When contacted by investigators, Somo said she believed the birthday gifts were from a man named "Steve," who she only knew via the Internet, according to Mineni's testimony. The woman said she did not know Essapour, Mineni said. Repeated calls to Somo have gone unanswered.

After the ruling Geragos said it was pretty much what he expected because "the standard in this state for holding a defendant over for trial is if your client is breathing."

Geragos said he plans on filing a motion to dismiss the case against Essapour.

"This thing will be made to go away," he said.

Essapour will be in court at 8:30 a.m. on April 15 for an arraignment.