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Smelser faces action by real estate board

hearing slated

February 08, 2001|By MARCY MISNER and KELLY RAUSCH, Staff Writers

A preliminary hearing has been set for next month for Brawley resident Teri Smelser, accused of embezzling about $563,000 from local organizations

Smelser also is now facing action by the state Department of Real Estate that could affect her real estate license.

Smelser, 51, appeared briefly in county jail court this morning. Superior Court Judge Matias Contreras set a pretrial hearing for March 8 and a preliminary hearing for March 26.

Investigators have been conducting detailed probes into financial records concerning the accounts, resulting in a preliminary hearing being postponed.

Smelser has been charged with four counts of grand theft by embezzlement, six counts of grand theft by false pretenses and one count of elder financial abuse.

The money allegedly came from several accounts with which Smelser was involved, such as the Cattle Call Rodeo Committee, All Saints Episcopal Church in Brawley and the Pioneers' Museum cattlemen's gallery.


Smelser also is accused of mishandling deeds to secure personal loans from several Brawley residents in connection with her job with her father's real estate company. It is those activities from which the elder abuse charge stems.

Smelser is facing action by the Department of Real Estate, which has taken a first step in attempting to revoke or suspend her license and that of Albert H. Smith Real Estate, Inc. of Brawley. Smith, Smelser's father, is not named in the document.

Smelser is designated as the broker responsible for a property management account that real estate officials say is short $86,173.35. Smelser declined to speak with a reporter when reached at the real estate office Wednesday.

Assistant Chief Counsel Larry Alamao, who works for the Department of Real Estate in the Sacramento office, explained the document was sent to Smelser at 205 S. Imperial Ave. in Brawley by certified mail Jan. 25, but his office has not gotten a response from Smelser.

"It was only filed Jan. 25," Alamao said, adding he's not certain she has received the document.

Alamao explained when a state-issued professional license is at issue, such as that of a certified public accountant, a contractor or a real estate broker, there is a hearing process to be followed. The accusation is the first step, and according to administrative law, Smelser can file a notice of defense and continue toward a hearing similar to a trial, or ignore the accusation.

"The accusation starts the process and tells the licensee what they're accused of … so they can prepare a defense," Alamao said.

Smelser could then file a notice of defense and a hearing date would be scheduled. An administrative law judge presides over such a hearing, in which witnesses can be called and documents presented. There is no jury, Alamao said.

After the hearing, the judge makes a proposed decision that could include a penalty. The real estate commissioner can adopt the proposed decision fully, in part or reject entirely, Alamao said.

A Department of Real Estate investigator is alleging Smelser did not properly oversee a property management account by failing to keep a columnar record of all trust funds received and disbursed from the company's bank account; failed to keep a separate record for each beneficiary or transaction; and allowed the balance of funds in that account to be $86,173.35 short.

Alamao said the property management funds could be security deposits, rent or something else connected with property management, but he declined to go into detail.

The accusation also alleges Smelser failed to keep three years' worth of canceled checks connected with the business.

State Bureau of Investigation agents arrested Smelser at her home on Brandt Road west of Brawley Oct. 20. She has been free on bail since shortly after her arrest.

Staff Writer Marcy Misner can be reached at 337-3441 Staff Writer Kelly Rausch can be reached at 337-3442.

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