Opening statements in the trial of Long Beach City Councilman Michael Fagen began Tuesday, with the prosecution accusing him of stealing $15,000 in unemployment benefits and his attorney contending that his client is innocent and was set up by his political opponents.Follow Long Beach Patch on Facebook.
In Judge Mary Berkowitz’s court in Mineola, prosecutor William Jorgensen told the 14-person jury that Fagen illegally collected unemployment benefits from the state Department of Labor while he worked two jobs, one as a councilman and the other as a salesman for Willow Advisors, a start-up company.
Jorgensen said Fagen committed the crimes he was charged with in 2011 -- 38 counts of first-degree offering of a false instrument for filing, one count of third-degree grand larceny and one count of petit larceny -- between Jan. 1, 2010 and Sept. 19, 2010, during which time he collected unemployment benefits.
“He knew that they were false,” Jorgenson said of Fagen’s unemployment filings.
He said that Fagen, who started his four-year term as councilman on Jan. 1, 2010, received $19,200 in yearly salary for his work on the council, and that he was paid approximately $5,000 a month from Willow, who paid him $400 on Sept. 10, 2010, for which he was charged with petit larceny.
Jorgensen argued that Fagen’s work as councilman is a 9-to-5 position, one in which activities such as attending community events such as parades is part of his work-time. He said Fagen collected $430 a week in unemployment benefits.
“He was a full-time employee,” argued Jorgensen, who is prosecuting the case with Marshall Trager. “ … He lied about his work status.”
He told the jury, which consists of 10 women and four men, that during the trial he would call a number of witnesses to piece together a “puzzle” of evidence demonstrating Fagen’s guilt, including supervisors from the Department of Labor, who in part will explain rules and regulations of filing unemployment claims and the definition of work. Be a Follower. Explore and subscribe to Patch groups.
But Fagen’s attorney, Marc Gann, maintained that his client is innocent of the charges and said that he will show that the case is politically motivated.
“This case is about a political vendetta,” said Gann in his opening statement. “... It comes down to intent.”
Gann characterized Fagen, a Democrat, as a “gnat” and “a Ross Perot” to the Republicans, who held the majority on the City Council prior to and after his election in November 2009.
“The powers that be in Long Beach were not happy he got elected,” Gann said, arguing that the councilman exposed “financial improprieties” in the city.
Gann said that Fagen was set up, claiming that the prior administration “pushed on” him a diary in which he was asked to log his activities as councilman, including attending parades and even brief conversations with constituents outside of City Hall, as part of his work-time.
Gann argued that Fagen never earned more than $20,000 as a councilman, saying that each check he received was in the amount of $405, and that Fagen’s only responsibilities for which he is paid are to attend two council meetings each month.
Fagen didn’t start to work for Willow Advisors until after Sept. 12, 2010, when his unemployment had expired, Gann argued. Fagen, who previously worked in sports media, had lost his job in August 2009 and started to collect unemployment insurance prior to his work on the council, receiving $405 in weekly benefits.
Gann told the jurors that he didn’t expect the prosecutors to call either former City Manager Charles Theofan or former comptroller Sandra Clarson to testify as witnesses in the case. But he noted that Jeff Nogid, the sitting comptroller who replaced Clarson last year, will be called as a witness.
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