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Former Planning Commissioner pleads the Fifth

County says investigation will continue
By: Jenifer Gee Journal Staff Writer
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A former Placer County planning commissioner was granted Fifth Amendment privileges by a judge Tuesday. Michelle Ollar-Burris will not have to testify in a county civil suit filed against her and two other parties. George Wasley, a consultant on Ollar-Burris’ parcels, and Thomas Van Horne, a Sacramento attorney and developer, were also named in the suit. Wasley and Van Horne were also granted Fifth Amendment privileges, which means they will not be forced to testify against themselves. The motion, however, to delay discovery part of the case was denied. Therefore, the county can pursue its investigation. During its investigation, county counsel cannot use a deposition from the three parties granted Fifth Amendment privileges. A trial date has not been set. Ollar-Burris is accused of conspiring with Wasley and Van Horne to subdivide several lots without going through a final subdivision map process, which is more costly than a parcel map that was approved for the properties in question. Specifically, the county suit charges that the three violated the state Subdivision Map Act, county Planning Ordinance and state business and professions code. All three maintain they are innocent. The defendants sought amendment protections to protect themselves from a possible criminal suit if one should be filed, according to Brigit Barnes, Wasley’s attorney. The county, however, said it would continue its investigation. “Discovery will go on,” said Anthony La Bouff, county counsel. “The county is eager to continue discovery in this case. We think we’ve been discovering lots of good things.” La Bouff said the county’s ongoing investigation of a “very deep and complicated conspiracy” has taken a “long time to completely understand.” “As we continue to work on it, we understand more and are all the more convinced on the merits of violating the map act.” He added that while the amendment privileges granted to the defendants may delay the trial date, it would not slow the county’s work on the case. According to a March deposition from La Bouff, he was aware of an anonymous letter sent to then-planning director Fred Yaeger. The letter discussed Ollar-Burris’ lot splitting activities but did not reach the depth of investigation by special counsel the county hired in May 2007 to investigate the matter, La Bouff said. When the letter was first shown to La Bouff, Yeager told him not to investigate it because he was turning it over to the District Attorney’s Office, according to a March deposition from Yeager. It was in early May 2007 when a reporter from an area newspaper interviewed La Bouff about Ollar-Burris’ activities that encouraged La Bouff to approach Supervisor Jim Holmes and County Executive Officer Tom Miller about researching Ollar-Burris’ activities, according to La Bouff’s deposition. On May 22, 2007, Rick Crabtree was hired as special counsel to investigate the matter. In November 2007, the county filed a suit against Ollar-Burris. Barnes said she would continue discovery on behalf of her client, Wasley. She said she instructed Wasley to request Fifth Amendment privileges in case a criminal suit is filed. She added she is trying to protect her client as much as possible. “In some ways it (Fifth Amendment privileges) hampers me,” Barnes said. “If I put him on the stand he could completely clear himself. “But to one extent, it’s not what I want to do because of the possibility of criminal action. They’ve already sued George. I don’t know what else they would do.” Ollar-Burris and her attorney, Michael Vinding, were unable to return comment as of press time. The Journal's Jenifer Gee can be reached at jeniferg@goldcountrymedia.com or post a comment.