Deputy DA in hot water — Schlueter’s gifting circle comments backfire |

Deputy DA in hot water — Schlueter’s gifting circle comments backfire

Deputy District Attorney Erik Schlueter’s comments to a group of women involved in a pyramid scheme has raised concerns from Sacramento law enforcement.

Schlueter, involved in a November runoff election for El Dorado County district attorney against incumbent Gary Lacy, told a group of women participating in the Women Helping Women that their scheme was legal, contrary to Lacy and other district attorneys’ declarations.

Schlueter defended his decision.

“I’ve spoken to a couple of groups of women,” Schlueter said. “Based on the presentation I heard in Cameron Park it is legal, but if it varies from that, all bets are off, it could be illegal. I’ve also told them my opinion means diddly. My opinion means diddly because the district attorney in El Dorado County said it was illegal.”

Referenced was a January meeting in Cameron Park with a group of about 10 women involved in the gifting circle, Schlueter said. At that meeting he answered questions and determined the pyramid scheme was legal.

His conclusion was based on determining that the gifting circle didn’t recruit and mandate new members to pay for membership.

Several arrest warrants have been issued for organizers of the scheme, Sacramento authorities said.

Sacramento County sheriff’s Lt. Tom McMahon said the department is looking into the appropriateness of the remarks that were made while investigators were at a gifting circle meeting.

“Our investigation has also revealed that the district attorneys in Sacramento County, El Dorado County and surrounding counties have all stated that the pyramid scheme is illegal,” McMahon said. “Therefore, he gave the women false information. At some point it can be constructed that his actions could further perpetuate the pyramid scheme. That would be illegal and prosecutable.”

“I’ve been very careful laying it out,” Schlueter said. “I am not going out saying the way every group is being run is legal. I can only say the group in Cameron Park does not fall under an endless chain scheme.”

The gifting circle has been declared illegal by several top prosecutors in El Dorado County and surrounding areas. It has appeared at South Lake Tahoe, where thousands of dollars have been drained mostly from Latino women, said South Lake Tahoe police.

Gifting circle members can be charged with either a misdemeanor or felony under the “endless chain schemes” statute of California law. Punishment ranges from a maximum one year in jail or three years in state prison, depending on the district attorney’s discretion.

Schlueter added the timing of the discovery was a political ploy by Lacy. John McGuinness, undersheriff for the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, was Lacy’s former campaign manager. Lacy said McGuinness stopped being his campaign manager about six months ago after becoming undersheriff.

“I think Lacy is trying to make an issue out of this and using Sacramento (County) Sheriff’s Department through McGuinness to do it,” Schlueter said.

Lacy denied any personal involvement.

“I had nothing to do with this,” the district attorney said. “This is being done by Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department, Placer County Sheriff’s Department and other agencies. For him to claim this is some political ploy to cover up for his possible involvement in illegal activity is completely missed base.

“Every single law enforcement in the state, including the California Attorney General’s Office, that has looked at this has all said this is a clearly an illegal enterprise.”

Rafael Elias is a reserve officer for the South Lake Tahoe Police Department and community advocate for the South Lake Tahoe Women’s Center. He works closely with police and victims of the gifting circle who lost money. He said a few women have come forward after the Tahoe Tribune published an article on Aug. 29 about the illegal activities of the circle.

Elias estimated about 50 women lost money, as much as $10,000 each.

— Contact William Ferchland at

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