COUNTYWIDE : Judge Delays Setting Trial in Fraud Case

Amid indications that the case may be settled by guilty pleas, a Ventura County judge Tuesday postponed action in the case of three brothers accused of bilking more than 100 investors out of more than $2.3 million.

Judge Frederick A. Jones delayed setting a trial date for Charles, James and Kenneth Fuentes after a 30-minute private conference with the prosecutor and defense attorneys.

"We discussed the relative disposition positions," Jones said in court. "There has been an agreement to allow the court to have more time to learn about the case."

A source familiar with the case said defense attorneys had proposed a settlement and are awaiting Jones' response as to possible sentences for the Thousand Oaks men.

If convicted, Charles E. Fuentes, 47, president of the defunct Fountain Oil & Gas Co., and James A. Fuentes, 42, vice president, could face up to 10 years in prison on charges of grand theft, securities fraud and selling unregistered securities.

Kenneth R. Fuentes, 36, had a smaller role in the company and is charged with several securities violations.

Charles and James Fuentes are accused of misappropriating money that was supposed to be invested in gas-well drilling ventures in the Sacramento Valley.

They are being held in County Jail on $500,000 bail each, while Kenneth Fuentes' bail is set at $100,000.

Settlement of the case would save Ventura County taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars in accounting fees, expert witnesses and other costs for a trial estimated to take as long as two months, according to the source, who asked not to be identified.

All three brothers have been declared indigent and are being represented by county-paid attorneys.

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