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Editorial: In Santa Barbara DA race, chance to focus on economic crime

By   /   Monday, May 17th, 2010  /   Comments Off on Editorial: In Santa Barbara DA race, chance to focus on economic crime

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In an important race to be decided in just a few weeks, Josh Lynn and Joyce Dudley are mounting a spirited campaign for Santa Barbara County district attorney.

This tussle between Dudley, the deputy DA, and Lynn, the chief trial attorney in the office, has become a fight to burnish tough-on-crime credentials.

A blitz of television ads is ratcheting up the volume over which candidate will make the streets safer and bring violent criminals to justice.

Fair enough. Public safety is a big issue — and one that sits at the top of the DA’s agenda.

But somewhere near the top should be security from economic crime. In our view, Santa Barbara County long has been a hotbed for unsavory stock dealers, promoters and wannabes who are all too quick to prey on the elderly, the wealthy and small-business owners.

Reed Slatkin’s Ponzi scheme, which originated in Santa Barbara, robbed some $650 million from investors. Bernie Madoff had plenty of victims in our region, and the Willingham family of Ventura County made plenty of money off failed strawberry investments in Santa Barbara County.

We now have a real estate market meltdown of major proportions, yet mortgage fraud has hardly come into view in the DA race. We also have a whole new generation of white-collar criminals who operate solely on the Internet.
To the best of our knowledge, none of the recent Santa Barbara County DA’s has made white-collar crime and financial fraud a top priority. That’s not the case in Ventura County, where Greg Totten aggressively has gone after Ponzi schemers and he has put financial crimes at the top of his strong agenda on elder abuse.

We’re not going to endorse a winner or make a guess as to who might prevail. But the election of a new district attorney should be an opportunity to take a fresh look at financial fraud as a serious law enforcement issue in Santa Barbara County. The fact that Ventura County has made some headway in this area should make it easy for Santa Barbara County to get up to speed on this — and at relatively low cost.

Given that the FBI is heavily engaged in terrorism cases and the nearest Securities and Exchange Commission office is 100 miles away, a commitment to cleaning up the financial neighborhood might just give the new DA some important headlines to crow about the next time an election rolls around.

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