By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Motion to remove DA from Essapour case denied by judge
Placeholder Image
A motion filed by attorney Mark Geragos to have the entire District Attorney's office recused from prosecuting the case of Serena Essapour, was denied Monday, Feb. 11 by a Stanislaus County Superior Court judge.

Essapour, 22, of Turlock, is accused of using the personal information of county Supervisor Jim DeMartini of Ceres to open up fraudulent credit cards under his name and rack up more than $10,000 in charges. Essapour has pled not guilty to charges of false impersonation, misuse of personal identifying information and grand theft.

Judge Thomas Zeff ruled that Geragos had failed to prove that a conflict existed and that is was so grievous that it would keep the District Attorney's Office from exercising their discretionary power in prosecuting the case against Essapour.

"To rule in favor of this option, there must be established more than just an appearance of conflict," Zeff said in making his ruling. "There is no evidence before the court that she (Essapour) has been treated unfairly."

The recusancy motion filed by Geragos contended that the District Attorney's Office should be removed from the case because as one of five county supervisors, Jim DeMartini has a direct impact on their funding and spending limits.

In his presentation to the court, Geragos made statements accusing the district attorney's investigators of following Essapour and trying to intimate her. He also made reference to public comments made by DeMartini criticizing Zeff's handling of the case as evidence the supervisor was interfering in the case and would have an unfair say in how the case was handled by the prosecution.

"What would one expect him to do if there was anything in this case that he disapproved of?" asked Geragos.

Making the argument against the recusal of the DA's office was Angelo Edralin from the state Attorney General's office. Had the motion been approved, the Attorney General's office would have taken over the prosecution. Edralin told the court that Geragos' arguments were all based on speculation and he had failed to present any evidence that DeMartini had any sway over the prosecution.

"I think we are on a witch hunt here," Edralin said.

The judge ruled the preliminary hearing will start up again on March 18. The preliminary hearing is to determine if Essapour should stand trial for three felony charges.

The alleged crimes were committed between May 16 and June 16, 2006. Essapour made purchases of clothing and jewelry and ATM withdrawals during that time.

DeMartini said he believes the case against Essapour is "so solid that it looks like an open and shut case to me."

Detectives have videotape of Essapour using a credit card fraudulently obtained using DeMartini's name.

DeMartini, a Ceres area rancher who became the District 5 Supervisor in 2005, met Essapour through the Stanislaus County Republican Central Committee. Essapour did some part-time computer work for the committee, he said, as she was attending college. She later worked for Modesto attorney George Petrulakis, then several key Republicans, including state Senator Jeff Denham and state Assemblyman Greg Aghazarian.

While working for Aghazarian, Essapour got into an accident in which her car was totaled and she sustained injuries requiring hospitalization, said DeMartini. He said he "felt sorry for her" and offered financial assistance to get her a car.

DeMartini said he strictly had a working relationship with Essapour and offered to help her financially. He made arrangements to put $6,500 down on a white Honda - not expecting to be paid back - and co-signed for a loan on the balance.

He said Sheriff's Department investigators believe that Essapour took his Social Security number from the loan document which he cosigned and used it fraudulently to apply for credit cards about a year later.

DeMartini said Essapour applied for the cards in her name, using her mailing address but including DeMartini's Social Security number. He said he didn't know anything about the fraud until a credit card company called him to ask if he applied for it.

"To charge up $10,000 in one month while she was working part-time, there's no way that she had any intention of paying for that, or at least wasn't using any judgment," said DeMartini.

DeMartini said investigators acquired a surveillance videotape of Essapour using one of the credit cards at a convenience store. He stated that she admitted her wrongdoing to authorities on videotape. Essapour came to DeMartini shortly after her arrest to get the district attorney to drop charges, he said.

"She admitted it to me. She always denied it (before). After they arrested her and had the goods on her on videotape, she finally admitted it to me. I think if she's sorry at all, she's sorry she got caught. She just seemed concerned about her own future."

(Courier editor Jeff Benziger contributed to this article).