County Says it was Taken for $5.5 Million

RIVERSIDE, Calif. (CN) – A man under indictment for illegal campaign contributions and trying to bribe public officials is accused of bilking Riverside County of $5.5 million in a land sale by claiming the land included a “fee exemption,” though it did not. The Riverside County Transportation Commission sued Steven Holgate and The Shelbran Co., of which he is president.

     The county claims Holgate added $5.5 million onto the price of a 36.8-acre lot he sold it by including a bogus fee exemption value; the extra $5.5 million brought the price to $22.6 million, according to the complaint in Superior Court.
     Holgate, of San Jacinto, called the fee a “vested right,” and in response to a letter in which Holgate claimed it, the county increased its bid, “based in large part upon the Fee Exemption Value,” the complaint states. It adds: “Unbeknownst to RCTC, the demand for payment presented by defendants was in fact false, as the subject property’s supposed Fee Exemption Value was not valid.”
     The 36.8-acre plot is in San Jacinto, a town under the western slopes of Mt. San Jacinto. On the eastern side of the giant mountain is Palm Springs.
     Holgate has been indicted in a criminal complaint brought by the Riverside County’s District Attorney’s Office that accuses him of “making and arranging for unlawful campaign contributions to individuals serving, or seeking to serve, as members of the San Jacinto City Council,” the county’s complaint states. “Holgate is also accused of offering to bribe, or giving a bribe, to a member of the City Council in order to influence an official vote of the City Council in Holgate’s favor.”
     The “litany of actions set forth in the criminal case” came while Holgate and his company were “seeking various discretionary approvals for the subject property for the subject property,” according to the complaint.
     The county seeks damages for inadvertent presentation of a false claim, receipt of fraudulent development approvals to support a false claim for payment, and intentional presentation of a false claim.
     Also named as a defendant is Shelbran Investments, an LP and general partner of The Shelbran Co.The commission seeks treble damages, civil penalties and costs. It is represented by Keith McCullough with Adorno, Yoss, Alvarado & Smith of Santa Ana.

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