Ex-OC Democrat’s Boss In Gay Sex Scandal Wins Extortion Case Appeal

Toledano

An appeals court has overturned the 2014 conviction of the onetime chairman of the Orange County Democratic Party who was accused of extorting $350,000 from an ultra-wealthy conservative couple embarrassed by an alleged sexual affair involving a gay exercise trainer.

A three-justice panel of the California Court of Appeal noted the law required them to give wide discretion to the jury’s guilty verdict as reasonable, but determined Superior Court Judge John Conley, a former prosecutor, botched a key jury instruction in favor of a deputy district attorney, a move that robbed Jim Toledano of a fair trial. 

In 2007, Toledano—then an Irvine-based attorney—represented Michael Roberts, the trainer who lived in Bo and Dick Marconi’s guest house and claimed he’d had a steamy affair with the wife before relations soured and the parties became hostile. 

Roberts, who also worked as a seller of exotic plants to rich Southern Californians, claimed the Marconi couple smeared his business reputation with his clients, costing him the loss of several hundred thousand dollars annually.

Toledano, who is gay, advised the Marconi’s lawyer, Richard Roper, that the affair would likely remain a secret if the couple paid his client for his loses.

Rather than pay the requested $350,000, the Marconi’s, a Republican couple who’d given campaign contributions to Republican Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, went to the prosecutor, who was known to give favors to those who sent him money, for assistance. 

Rackauckas, working with the Newport Beach Police Department, started building an extortion case against Toledano and Roberts, which ended with a sting operation involving a suitcase loaded with cash, undercover surveillance and a rendezvous in the parking garage of a high-end hotel. 

To win a grand jury indictment, Rackauckas’ office summoned Roper as a key witness. Roper testified that it was unheard of for a civil lawyer to ever negotiate with the opposing party before filing a lawsuit.

Oddly, Roper forgot to advise those jurors that in the 1980s he’d won a pre-lawsuit deal of $265,000 for Jessica Hanh, the sexually-abused secretary for infamous Jim Bakker of the Praise the Lord (PTL) Christian broadcasting operation. 

In part because of that factual omission, Toledano and Roberts ended up indicted.

But the appeals court determined that Conley’s refusal to give a correct jury instruction at trial prejudiced Toledano, who’d insisted he had only acted ethically representing Roberts.

“Toledano’s files show he conducted an extensive interview of Roberts and met with Roberts on multiple occasions,” wrote Justice Richard Aronson for colleagues Eileen Moore and Kathleen O’Leary. “The record also established Toledano received information, such as photographs and memorabilia, that supported Robert’s version of events. As late as May 13, 2008, Toledano reference the defamation lawsuit in a letter to Roper. On these facts, a reasonable jury could find that when Toledano issued his threats on May 28, 2008, he was seriously considering and contemplating in good faith litigation against [Bo Marconi], and he made the threats to settle the anticipated litigation.”

Conley blew that fact scenario, according to the panel, which continued: “The jury, however, was never informed that conduct otherwise criminal is permitted if it falls within the litigation privilege. It never had the opportunity to decide whether the litigation privilege applies to protect Toledano’s statements. On this record, there is a reasonable chance the jury would have rendered a more favorable verdict for Toledano had it been properly instructed. . . . Thus, the error is prejudicial.”

Whether to refile the case falls to Todd Spitzer, who replaced Rackauckas as DA in January.

CNN-featured investigative reporter R. Scott Moxley has won Journalist of the Year honors at the Los Angeles Press Club; been named Distinguished Journalist of the Year by the LA Society of Professional Journalists; obtained one of the last exclusive prison interviews with Charles Manson disciple Susan Atkins; won inclusion in Jeffrey Toobin’s The Best American Crime Reporting for his coverage of a white supremacist’s senseless murder of a beloved Vietnamese refugee; launched multi-year probes that resulted in the FBI arrests and convictions of the top three ranking members of the Orange County Sheriff’s Department; and gained praise from New York Times Magazine writers for his “herculean job” exposing entrenched Southern California law enforcement corruption.

One Reply to “Ex-OC Democrat’s Boss In Gay Sex Scandal Wins Extortion Case Appeal”

  1. John Connelly is a waste of an Ivy League education. He could be the most pro law enforcement judge in the bench in OC. Which would be fine if he followed the law he has sworn to uphold. But he instead rides roughshod over the 4th Amendment and other constitutional safe guards. He and his ilk are enablers of the corruption in law enforcement

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