Preliminary hearing set for Holzworth embezzlement trial

Erik Jorgensen, Courtroom Correspondent

The trial over embezzled campus parking meter money inched closer to commencing after a March 27 readiness hearing confirmed a preliminary hearing set for April 2.

Former Santa Rosa Junior College officer Jeffrey Holzworth held sole responsibility, without oversight, for collecting parking fees from SRJC campuses in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Windsor. Holzworth, a 28-year veteran with SRJC District Police, faces 11 charges of receiving stolen property and one charge of embezzlement, enhanced for an amount over $150,000. Prosecutors allege Holzworth embezzled $300,000 since 2005.

Holzworth’s wife Karen faces three charges of receiving stolen property and one charge as an accessory to a crime.

Judge Jamie Thistlethwaite presided over the brief March 27 readiness hearing in courtroom 2 to confirm the April 2 preliminary hearing. Holzworth’s attorney Joe Passalacqua confirmed his own readiness and spoke on behalf of Karen Holzworth’s attorney George Boisseau, absent from the hearing defending another case. Passalacqua said “with that caveat” of Boisseau’s temporary absence, the defense was ready for the preliminary hearing.

Assistant District Attorney Amy Ariyoshi confirmed the prosecution’s readiness, and its plan to bring a written summary of their case for the court.

The Holzworths and their defense attorney declined to comment after the brief hearing.

Santa Rosa Police detectives served their warrants Nov. 28, 2012 and their search of Holzworth’s personal and work vehicles, work locker and house discovered $14,259 in quarters, $1 and $5 bills, including 16 canvas bank bags full of cash, five glass jars full of coins and $350 in $5 bills tucked in a dresser drawer. One canvas bag held $470 in rolled quarters.

“Holzworth has also told staff at the [bank] that he owns a vending machine business, which appears to be his justification for possessing $1 and $5 in such large quantities,” according to SRPD detective Mark Azzouni’s search warrant affidavit. “Based on this information, it appears that Holzworth turns in bills with small denominations ($1s & $5s) for larger bills ($100s).”

Detectives also found notebooks full of sports betting information, casino player’s club cards, business cards for “female escorts” and shredded remains of SRJC parking permit machine test printouts. Holzworth’s work locker held the laptop and cable he used to erase the internal memories of SRJC parking permit machines. “In doing so, an accounting of the parking machine cannot be completed,” Azzouni’s affidavit said. “If he does not turn in the money from a particular machine, the omission would not be recognized by accounting or police department staff. By discarding the receipt, no one at the accounting or police departments would know that Holzworth collected money from that particular machine. In turn, Holzworth could keep the money.”

In a Feb. 5 hearing, Presiding Judge Kenneth Gnoss reviewed the three search warrants served by SRPD detectives, and the evidence collected by them. The first two warrants placed GPS trackers on Holzworth’s vehicles and obtained his Equifax credit report, and both based their probable cause entirely on observations made by Holzworth’s coworker Sgt. Stephen Potter. Gnoss ruled Potter made his observations while “acting in his law enforcement capacity,” therefore Potter’s discovery of stacks of small bills in Holzworth’s work bag and in his personal vehicle constituted illegal searches.

The “fruit of the poison tree” legal doctrine states an illegal or warrantless search taints any evidence discovered and excludes the tainted evidence from trial. Gnoss excised all of Potter’s tainted observations as well as the first two warrants based on them.

Azzouni based his third search warrant affidavit on personal observations made by several SRPD detectives assigned to follow Holzworth. Even after Gnoss excised all of Potter’s statements and everything obtained by the first two search warrants, enough evidence remained for Ariyoshi to say, “We still have everything.”

After the readiness hearing, Ariyoshi explained the new courthouse policy where all preliminary hearings will now be conducted in courtroom 10 under Judge Peter Ottenweller. Thistlethwaite estimated the hearing will take about four hours.

Holzworth’s preliminary hearing starts 9:30 a.m. in courtroom 10 of Sonoma County Hall of Justice.