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Judge Refuses to Cut $2.5-Million Bail in Fraud Case

TIMES STAFF WRITER

A Superior Court judge refused Friday to lower the $2.5-million bail for the suspected mastermind in the biggest fraud case in Ventura County history, saying he needs more guarantees that the defendant will not leave the country.

Judge Allan L. Steele’s refusal to lower Olen B. Phillips’ bail came despite testimony from a former employee of Phillips who said she trusts the defendant even though she lost $250,000 that she had invested with him. Phillips, 51, of Thousand Oaks and two other men are accused of bilking 21 people out of more than $3 million.

“I do not think he will leave,” testified Maxine Walbridge, who said she attends Phillips’ church and has known him for 20 years.

Asked by Deputy Dist. Atty. Rebecca J. Riley if she would put up money for Phillips’ bail, Walbridge said: “Yes, if I had it.”

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Another character witness, James McKinstry of Longmont, Colo., said he has known Phillips for 26 years and said “there is not the slightest doubt” that the defendant would show up for trial. Both McKinstry and Phillips are pilots for United Airlines.

A dozen other witnesses, including a fireman who said he lost money he had invested with Phillips, stood up in court in support of the defendant.

But Steele said he is unwilling to reduce Phillips’ bail without more concrete guarantees that Phillips will appear at trial.

“I have a gentleman here who has the ability to get on an airplane and fly anywhere in the world,” Steele said.

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The judge suggested that Phillips’ attorney, Louis Samonsky Jr., return Feb. 25 with a new bail-reduction motion. Steele said the motion should state whether United would allow Phillips to fly only in the United States, how much money and property pledges Phillips could raise for bail and what happened to properties once registered in Phillips’ name.

Phillips and two of his employees--Charles Francoeur, 33, of Agoura Hills, and Felix Laumann, 56, of Cambria--are named in an 81-count indictment charging them with conspiracy, grand theft and fraud.

Although the indictment deals with 21 victims, investigators said about 2,000 investors stand to lose as much as $30 million invested with Phillips’ company, the Phillips Financial Group of Agoura Hills.

Investigators said the defendants sold limited partnerships in various properties and then encumbered the properties with numerous trust deeds that far exceeded the value of the properties.

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Earlier Friday, Steele lowered Laumann’s bail from $1 million to $50,000, as recommended by a probation officer. Laumann posted bail and was released about 2:30 p.m.

Citing prosecutor Riley’s acquiescence to the lower bail after insisting on $1 million six days earlier, Laumann’s attorney, George C. Eskin, accused the district attorney’s office of having “punitive, mean-spirited” purposes.

“If they had fixed a reasonable amount a week ago, we could have posted bail,” Eskin said.

He said Laumann had abdominal surgery a year ago and needs medicine and a special diet. While in jail, Eskin said, Laumann twice was not given his medicine “and has had to eat the same gruel as the other inmates.”

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In response, Riley said Eskin had refused to discuss bail with her earlier. Riley said she and Francoeur’s attorney, Michael D. Nasatir, had agreed on $150,000 bail for his client and Francoeur was released on bail Wednesday.

Francoeur and Laumann are due back in court Feb. 25 for arraignment. No date has been set for Phillips to respond to the charges against him.


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