Santa Paula Times

Trial for former SP woman accused of plotting to kill DA to go to jury

November 10, 2010
Santa Paula News

The fate of three defendants accused of plotting to kill a veteran prosecutor in retaliation for a separate crime with Santa Paula roots - including a local bank robbery - will be given to a jury this week.

Deputy Attorney General Rama Maline gave closing arguments to the jury Friday in the case against defendants Sandra Spencer, Gonzalo Mesa and Benny Figueroa.

The trio is accused of an elaborate plan to kill Marc Leventhal in an alleged plot, including driving alongside the veteran prosecutor and opening fire with an assault rifle. Leventhal had made Spencer angry by aggressively prosecuting her husband, Anthony Navarro Spencer, who was convicted of illegal real estate transactions involving hundreds of thousands of dollars. One such 2003 transaction included a Santa Paula man who gave Spencer $435,000 to buy a Christmas tree farm, a purchase Spencer said he could arrange.

Spencer, now 49, pleaded guilty to two dozen fraud charges in May 2004 and was sentenced a month later to serve 15 years in prison for his crimes that prosecutors believed netted more than $2 million. Spencer was accused of multiple counts of loan and check fraud, grand theft, identity theft, forgery, money laundering and filing false documents. He had originally pleaded not guilty, but changed his plea to guilty right before his April 2005 preliminary hearing.

Spencer also operated a Santa Paula based company called Global Surplus Recovery Inc., and received more than $580,000 in foreclosure surplus money sent to him on behalf of dozens of mostly Latino working class clients, who received only about $100,000 of the proceeds. For close to three years, Spencer would approach homeowners in foreclosure and persuade them to hire him as their agent. Spencer would eventually acquire their power of attorney and the surplus funds garnered from the sale of the properties.

Spencer and his now 42-year-old wife later moved from Santa Paula to Oak View, where he purchased a $1 million home using loan proceeds that he acquired through identity theft. According to the prosecution, Sandra Spencer became enraged when Leventhal had the bail for Spencer - who also goes by Navarro - raised from $300,000 to $1 million, and later she offered $50,000 to $75,000 to have him killed.

Sandra Spencer has pleaded guilty to money laundering in connection with the January 2005 robbery of the Wells Fargo bank in Santa Paula. Mesa and Figueroa were also involved in robberies that occurred from December 2004 to March 2005 at banks in Ventura, Camarillo, Thousand Oaks and Santa Paula. The trio is facing, conspiracy to commit murder, and Spencer is also charged with solicitation for murder.

Two of the prosecution’s key witnesses, Victor Brown and Pablo Cruz, who testified against the defendants, are in prison for robbery charges. Brown and Cruz testified they got immunity in exchange for not being prosecuted for the bank robberies, gun charges and various other crimes.

The defendants, along with Brown and Cruz, are all from Indio except for Spencer, who lives in Oak View.

The alleged plot against Leventhal included computer background searches and photographs of the prosecutor taken for the benefit of identification by Figueroa, who allegedly was going to do the shooting using an AK-47. Defense lawyers told jurors that neither the AK-47 nor the ammunition were ever found by police, and that the three key prosecution witnesses only offered testimony in exchange for deals arranged by the prosecution.