VAN NUYS : Trial Begins for Man Over Poverty Claim

An unusual perjury trial opened Monday for a Van Nuys businessman who prosecutors allege has a net worth of $500,000, but who claimed poverty to avoid a $41 court filing fee.

Prosecutors said Amnon Charash owns a shopping center in Van Nuys, condominiums and two homes. But on two separate occasions, he filed documents in a civil lawsuit contending that he could not afford to pay the fee.

"I'm penniless, I'm poor, I can only afford one meal a day," Charash stated, according to Deputy Dist. Atty. Robert Schuit.

In his opening statement in Van Nuys Superior Court, Schuit said he plans to show that nearly $2,000 a week was flowing through one Charash bank account--even though the defendant said in one declaration to the court that he was living on $224 a week.

Charash faces up to three years in state prison if convicted by a jury of two counts of perjury and one count of altering a court file.

Defense attorney Bruce Hill, who is at least the fifth attorney to represent Charash in the case, declined to give an opening statement Monday. In an interview, Hill stated that the case is unique.

"Our research indicates that this is the only case (of its kind) that has ever been processed," Hill said.

Schuit said the criminal case started when one court clerk recognized Charash--a courthouse regular who went to law school for one year--when he filed a case to evict a tenant in his shopping center.

The clerk, remembering that Charash had earlier filed the claim of poverty, reported the matter to a judge.

Charash had apparently decided to plead no contest to one of the charges in a plea bargain last week, but the proceedings were cut short by Superior Court Judge Darlene Schempp when Charash launched into a speech about unfair treatment he had received.

He was also ordered into custody by Schempp on Thursday.

Paramedics had been summoned to the courthouse after Charash complained of severe chest pains and appeared to be experiencing mild convulsions. After he declined transportation to the hospital and asked to see his own doctor, the judge in an extraordinary hallway proceeding remanded him into custody and said medical attention was available there.

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