Accused in Monterey desalination case pleads not guilty

The ex water-agency member at the centre of the hiatus in the Monterey desalination project in California pleaded not guilty last week when he appeared to answer charges that he accepted payment for work associated with the project and also for work he never did at all.

Steve Collins, former board member of the Monterey Water Resources Control Agency, was arraigned in Monterey County Superior Court on 33 felony counts and six misdemeanors. His next court appearance was scheduled for 7 December 2011, when a date for a preliminary hearing is expected to be set.

The charges include two felony counts alleging Collins had a financial interest in three key project agreements he helped create. Collins was paid US$ 160,000 by RMC Water & Environment for work on the 10 MGD (37,850 m³/d) Regional Desalination Project while he was on the agency board.

RMC was subsequently awarded the US$ 28 million project management contract.

Collins also faces 31 felony counts of grand theft under false pretenses for being paid by Ocean Mist Farms over 2½ years for work prosecutors allege he never did.

In addition, Collins faces six misdemeanor counts for accepting payments from Ocean Mist that he wasn't entitled to as a public official for attending a series of water board-related meetings

The Monterey Herald reported that, outside court, Lawrence repeated the defense's contention that Collins was "recruited" by county officials to work on behalf of the desalination project, which was intended to replace water from the Carmel river which faces a state-ordered cutback.

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