January 16, 2023
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SB County District Attorney takes white-collar crime to task


After the 10-year sentence handed down to convicted ponzi-schemer David Prenatt on Oct. 9, and the more recent nine-plus-year sentence reckoned on former contractor David Lack, it’s clear that one county is sending a message that it has more than just a thing against guys named David.

While a number of years behind bars might not be enough to satisfy those whose lives and businesses were financially unraveled by Lack and Prenatt’s misconduct, it does show that the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s office is tightening its grip on white-collar crime.

It’s a welcome sign during an era of massive bailouts and sub-prime mortgage meltdowns where prosecutors at the highest levels of government can’t pin the blame on top executives, despite billions of dollars in fines levied on major banks.

And though Lack and Prenatt’s crimes aren’t responsible for crippling the U.S. financial and housing markets, they are reflective of the air of impunity that individuals at high and low levels of business have become accustomed to. Ironically, in the Lack and Prenatt cases, both men claimed the economic downturn as the cause of most of their financial missteps.

Lack tried to claim ignorance for his crimes, saying he didn’t understand the commitments he was making. According to the Santa Barbara Independent, his lawyer, Robert Sanger, argued Lack was a just another victim of the financial crisis and that his “mistakes” weren’t criminal.  But in the end, the jury viewed Lack’s purported ignorance as just that — criminal.

DA Joyce Dudley wrote: “In this case the victims are not only the two banks whose money was stolen but also the legitimate construction companies in our community who were bidding for the same jobs Lack Construction was bidding on, but lost out on those jobs because of Mr. Lack’s criminal activities.”

In comparison to the only prison term handed out so far related to the sub-prime mortgage crisis — 10 months to former Credit Suisse executive Kareem Serageldin — Lack and Prenatt appear to have had the proverbial book thrown at them. However, the ripple effect of both men’s misdeeds weren’t lost on county prosecutor Brian Cota. He proved, among other things, their actions meant jobs lost, livelihoods ruined and people deceived in the Santa Barbara area and across the region.

In July, Lack was charged in an additional felony complaint for tax evasion, failure to pay unemployment insurance, workers’ compensation fraud, contracting while his contractor’s license was suspended and grand theft. According to court documents, it’s alleged that Lack committed these crimes while out on bail from the previous case.

Lack faces an additional 11 years and eight months if convicted on those charges. A preliminary hearing is set for Nov. 21.

The message is clear: Bad business doesn’t pay.

SB County Bar President

Naomi Dewey was sworn in as president of the Santa Barbara County Bar on Oct. 30. Dewey has served on the Board of the County Bar for a number of years and has been on the Executive Committee since 2010. She is a principal at Buynak, Fauver, Archbald & Spray, specializing in general counsel and litigation services for private clients, foundations, nonprofits and small business owners, with a focus on employment law, construction and real estate.

“The Santa Barbara County Bar is recognized as one of the strongest in California,” Dewey said in statement. “Our membership grows each year, and we are very fortunate to serve such a diverse legal population. In addition to representing attorneys throughout the County, we serve as a liaison between elected officials, judges and lawyers on key issues such as court funding and access to justice. This year Santa Barbara County Bar Association was able to support Legal Aid with a $20,000 donation to fund programs for low-income residents who might not otherwise be able to afford legal help.”

Dewey is active with many local and regional organizations, including the National Association of Business Owners, California Women Lawyers and Santa Barbara Women Lawyers.

ABOTA taps Ventura lawyers

Jill Friedman, an attorney and litigator at Myers, Widders, Gibson, Jones & Feingold, LLP in Ventura, was elected to serve on the executive board for the California Coast Chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates.

Nationally, women comprise less than 3 percent of ABOTA membership, and Friedman is the third woman to be in a leadership position for the local chapter, which spans Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties, according to a Nov. 5 announcement. “It is a great honor to join the leadership of such a prestigious organization,” Friedman said. Friedman, a graduate of the University of the Pacific McGeorge School of Law, will serve as membership chair in 2015 and is in line to be president of the local chapter in 2018.

Meanwhile, Dennis LaRochelle, a partner in the Oxnard law firm of Arnold LaRochelle Mathews VanConas & Zirbel LLP  or A to Z Law, is the new president of the California chapter of the American Board of Trial Advocates. Members include judges and an equal number of attorneys for plaintiffs and defendants.

LaRochelle was installed as CAL-ABOTA president on Nov. 5 at the group’s annual conference in Hawaii. LaRochelle is the first statewide president from Ventura County since the California Coast Chapter was formed in 1988. LaRochelle previously served as president of the California Coast chapter. His new term is for one year.