OAKLAND -- A husband-and-wife team accused of defrauding the government out of almost $500,000 while simultaneously leading a county social services agency into bankruptcy blamed their problems on Alameda County staffers and elected officials on Tuesday in court.
As an unusual felony trial against the former leader of the Alameda County Associated Community Action Program, or ACAP, and her husband began, a defense attorney representing one of the defendants described the case as a witch hunt perpetrated by a mismanaged county government attempting to save face.
County prosecutors have accused Nanette Sheree Dillard and her husband, Paul Stewart Daniels, of grand theft, conspiracy and committing a crime as a public official for a series of events that lead to ACAP illegally spending more than $400,000 in federal grant money on unauthorized expenses.
The couple are also accused of trying to cover-up their alleged fraudulent behavior using a host of tactics including a 1:40 a.m. visit to their office, caught by a surveillance camera, to clear it of any incriminating documents.
Deputy district attorney Greg Dolge told the jury of eight men and four women that details of the case could become confusing given the various government agencies and programs involved.
Dolge told the jury that he expects the defense to use those details to confuse the panel and pleaded with the group to remain focused on the simple aspect of the crime.
"In this case, it will be about keeping your eye on the ball," Dolge said. "The crime is simple. The defendants knew exactly what they were doing."
As Dolge explained it, Dillard and Daniels ran ACAP into bankruptcy and began using federal grant funds intended to help low-income residents to pay for the organization's operations.
Along the way, Dolge said, he will prove that the couple spent federal money inappropriately, for example, on fancy massages at the Claremont Hotel, and then worked tirelessly to cover up their crimes.
The couple is also accused of using grant money to pay for lavish dinners, gift cards and to fund a trip to Las Vegas for a conference that had nothing to do with ACAP's work. They also are accused of using a ACAP work crew to make improvements to their home and Dillard's brother's home.
The pair allegedly managed to defraud both the county and federal government, Dolge said, by creating false documents, lying to elected officials and then pointing fingers at others when financial troubles came to light.
"There may have been people in position who could have caught it sooner but they were not in on it," Dolge said. "I don't expect you will find any evidence that anyone else was in on it."
Brendan Hickey, Daniel's attorney, however, said that the case is a sham created in an attempt by the county to shift blame for the demise of a popular program that helped low-income people for decades in housing assistance, job training and education, and youth development services.
"The county and its district attorney are desperate to shift blame," Hickey said. "At the end of the day, (Daniels) didn't put a dime in his pocket and there is no witness that will tell you otherwise."
Hickey pointed to the creation of ACAP and the governing board of elected officials who were supposed to watch over it as the group that is to blame for the financial ruin.
He also said that ACAP's finances were controlled by the county's social services department, which frequently shifted grant monies around to pay for various programs.
ACAP was governed by one county supervisor and an elected official from each city in the county except Oakland and Berkeley. That group was supposed to meet every 90 days but didn't meet for 10 months when ACAP's finances started taking a slide, Hickey said.
Dillard's attorney, Thomas Mesereau Jr. of Los Angeles, will give his openings Wednesday after the trial was halted when a juror became ill over the lunch break.