The Los Banos school district corruption trial date of former trustee and mayor Tommy Jones and local developer Gregory Opinski has been continued to a later date.
Visiting Judge Leslie C. Nichols on Wednesday in Merced Superior Court ruled that opening statements would now take place on Oct. 29 after new information came to light about a witness.
Opinski and Jones have pleaded not guilty to felony charges of bribing a public official in a pay-for-vote scheme in which Jones, a Los Banos school board member at the time, allegedly gave $12,000 to Dominic Falasco, another former school board trustee, on behalf of Opinski for Falasco's vote to hire Opinski as the construction manager for the expansion of Mercey Springs Elementary and other votes.
The scheme was investigated by the Merced County District Attorney's Office after Falasco reported that he felt Jones tried to bribe him with $1,500 in cash he left in an envelope on Falasco's car hood on Sept. 23, 2015, according to investigation reports.
Investigators equipped Falasco with secret audio and video recording devices that captured one-on-one and group conversations he had with Opinski and Jones over the course of 10 months.
Opinski and Jones were arrested in late July and early August of 2016 on felony bribery charges. Both were held to answer the charges after audio and video recordings of the meetings were played during preliminary hearings in July 2017. A court date of Feb. 27 was set.
The continuance of the trial was made after a lengthy in-chambers discussion between Nichols, Merced County Deputy District Attorney Nicole Silveira, Opinski's attorney, Jeffrey Hammerschmidt, and Jones' attorney, Kevin Little.
Nichols said there was "compelling cause" to move the trial date to allow sufficient time for prosecution and defense to process "recently disclosed info" about a witness. Nichols didn't mention who the witness was.
Falasco, a key witness in the case, had his law license suspended by the State Bar of California on Jan. 23 for failure to pay child support, according to State Bar records.
Also, Falasco pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor possession of a controlled substance on Sept. 15, 2017, as part of a diversion program, said Mariposa County District Attorney Thomas Cooke, who prosecuted the misdemeanor case.
Opinski's and Jones' attorneys have called Falasco's credibility into question throughout the course of the case, also bringing up unconfirmed reports that Falasco traded representation for sexual favors from a client's girlfriend.
Falasco has denied those accusations and noted that an investigation by the State Bar of California resulted in no actions taken against him.
Representatives for the State Bar have said they can't confirm, deny or comment on accusations and investigations until the agency officially charges an attorney. Aside from the recent suspension, Falasco's record indicates no disciplinary action from the agency.
Silveira declined to confirm whether or not the witness in question was Falasco, citing the open corruption case. She also declined to comment on any information regarding Nichols' decision to move the trial date.
Silveira took over prosecution of the case from former Deputy District Attorney Steve Slocum, who was appointed as a Merced County court commissioner earlier this month.
Jones’ attorney declined to comment Thursday. Opinski’s attorney didn't respond to requests for comment.