Last March, there was a three-day preliminary hearing in Ventura County about the allegations of fraud against James Stewart and two other principles in the Rawesome affair–Sharon Palmer and Larry Otting. The allegations mostly concern a mortgage transaction and loans in connection with the acquisition of Healthy Family Farms, where Palmer does her farming, in 2008.
The hearing was held so the judge could hear evidence in the case, and determine whether it seemed a substantial enough case to move forward in the judicial proceedings.The felony charges are serious enough that the penalties for Stewart and Palmer could be more than 30 years in jail. Over the three days, about a dozen witnesses testified, including investigators for the Ventura County District Attorney’s office, an officer of the bank that extended a mortgage on the property, an individual who loaned money to Sharon Palmer, and Larry Otting, the real estate developer and Rawesome member who used his credit to obtain a mortgage on the farm.
Contrary to all the perceptions about James Stewart as being totally averse to lawyers, he had a lawyer representing him during those three days, Ajna Sharma-Wilson, who practices out of Beverly Hills. She cross-examined each witness, asking about James Stewart’s role in the fund-raising, negotiations, and signing of legal documents that led to about $2 million being raised for acquisition of the farm.
No one placed Stewart in the negotiations for the deal, and there wasn’t a single piece of paper anyone could point to with his signature…and, as in any complicated real estate transaction, there were many signatures on many pieces of paper. The three DA investigators, who mostly interviewed individuals who had loaned money to Palmer, barely knew who Stewart was. The closest anyone could come to linking Stewart directly to the transaction was a relative of a Rawesome member who loaned money to Palmer, who said Stewart had told him Palmer was seeking to raise money to buy the farm. There was also a flyer inviting members to meet Palmer and learn about the farm, which a Rawesome member put up on a bulletin board at the buying club, along with the routine announcements about services for hire and apartments for rent. The prosecution suggested Stewart had something to do with the flyer, but under questioning by the defense, investigators could provide no linkage.
No one even implied Stewart received compensation for making the introductions. His only motivation for encouraging the transaction seemed to be to secure a local source of food for Rawesome Food Club.
Despite the absence of evidence tying Stewart to the securities fraud alleged in the Ventura County charges, the judge ruled at the end of three days that the case could go forward as it was, including Stewart.
Shortly afterwards, I spoke with Stewart and asked him what he thought after watching the three days of proceedings. “There is no justice,” he said simply. I tried to encourage him, telling him he could well win in a trial, that there are all kinds of cases in which victims of overly aggressive prosecutors wind up winning.
“Yes, that’s what they say. You also hear about people winning in Las Vegas. They want you to think you can win, but we know that most people lose in Las Vegas.”
In retrospect, it now seems as if Stewart may well have lost any semblance of faith remaining in the legal system after watching those three days of testimony in Ventura County, and hearing the judge essentially say there was enough evidence for a full trial that could lead to him possibly being sent to jail for more than 30 years. If a jury believed the state, there was no reason for Stewart not to think that a judge who had heard the flimsy case against him wouldn’t also send the 65-year-old Stewart away for the rest of his life. And remember, this all followed on Stewart having been jailed for a week, and abused during some of that time.
Others who know Stewart say he never fully got over his first jailing in L.A. County, for two days, in connection with the original Rawesome raw milk case nearly a year ago. At one point during that time, he saw a man in line behind him, who seemed to be behaving normally, targeted by guards and beaten up.
I can’t imagine a jury convicting Stewart based on the evidence that was presented last March, but then, I’m not in Stewart’s jail cell. Even if there’s a 10% chance of being convicted, that’s a pretty scary prospect.
None of this justifies Stewart having skipped bail, and jeopardizing the financial backing he had from Mark McAfee and others. Perhaps more significant, Stewart’s behavior, understandable as it may be, plays into the hands of the prosecutors and state and federal regulators who are monitoring this situation. It shows them they have succeeded in one of their key goals: intimidating Stewart so much, that he’ll take ill-advised steps and, eventually, be open to a settlement of the case whereby the prosecutors can claim victory–that herdshares are illegal, that raw milk shouldn’t be allowed, that those who promote the right to access raw milk and privately access the foods of their choice are a bunch of kooks and weirdos.
On this last point about kooks and weirdos, they even have McAfee playing into the game promoted by Amanda Rose, Kristen, Milky Way, and others–the game of distracting people from the real issues here. His statement following my previous post suggesting that Rawesome “at its core…was an alternative reality…” is unfortunate. I’ve met many of the people at Rawesome, and at their core, they are ordinary people very worried about the quality of the factory food available in the public food marketplace. They are people who decided to buy different food, on a private basis. If they didn’t approve of events taking place at Rawesome, it was their choice to leave Rawesome, and join another club, or go back to the public marketplace. Few of them left Rawesome.
And that gets to the real point here, actually two points.This case is about two key issues:
1.Our right to organize and obtain our food privately. The people trying to confuse things here, at their core, want us to think that all food distribution is public, and thus under the iron fist of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and all the state and local agencies that feed off the FDA.
2.Related to the previous, our right to organize herdshare and cowshare agreements. The original L.A. County charges against The Rawesome Three accuse them of selling milk that was being distributed via a herdshare through Rawesome.
To the extent we lose sight of those two points, we risk a major loss of rights via the Rawesome case. The authorities in L.A. County and Ventura County are working in tandem, and they are both trying to please their handlers in Washington at the FDA. The last thing they want to see is a jury trial, ether in L.A. County or Ventura County, on the charges at hand, and they will go to extraordinary lengths to avoid that.
Natural News is reporting that James Stewart has engaged a lawyer, who is seeking to have the Ventura County case dismissed. I wouldn’t count on that happening, given the proceedings in Ventura County last March that I described. It’s still a long road to jury trials in these two cases. But these two cases against James Stewart are winnable. To the extent that people who care about the rights at hand turn their back on Stewart, we will all lose big time.
As long as we’re on the subject of Food Rights, I was interviewed by Kevin Brown of Liberation Wellness last week. I answered a number of questions he had about the origination of the food rights and raw milk issues–the 20-minute program can be viewed online. .