An arraignment Tuesday for three people accused of swindling people out of their houses was continued until April.
The trio's leader, Lonni Ashlock, hired a new attorney Tuesday, freeing his previous attorney to represent without conflict another Ashlock associate, Doug Porter, a pastor from Hughson who is charged with murder.
Ashlock is a potential witness in Porter's case, and both previously were represented by Modesto attorney Kirk McAllister. He was replaced Tuesday in the Ashlock case by Studio City attorney Eric Chase.
"I was not informed of any conflict," Chase said. "But very often when one does declare a conflict, it's not in anybody's best interest to make it public. And it has absolutely no bearing on my representation of Mr. Ashlock."
McAllister refused to take questions Tuesday.
The prosecutor in Porter's murder case claimed last week that McAllister's representation of Ashlock presented a conflict. Witnesses in a preliminary hearing for Ashlock, Ronald Buhler and Sue Walls testified often about Ashlock's office in a trailer on the grounds of Hickman Community Church, where Porter previously worked.
Prosecutors have charged Porter in the death of 85-year-old Frank Craig, who wanted Porter to build a museum with Craig's retirement money. Ashlock was project director for the museum, which never was built.
A judge in November ordered Ashlock, Buhler and Walls to stand trial on 15 felony charges of fraud and grand theft. Witnesses said Ashlock and Buhler prayed with them and promised to help them escape foreclosure, then duped them into signing over property deeds.
Prosecutors added 19 charges for each defendant in December, and in January filed 22 more, totaling 56 each. The last 22 are subject to another preliminary hearing. Tuesday, a judge scheduled their next appearance for April 4.
Bob Chase, Buhler's attorney at the fall preliminary hearing, represented Buhler on Tuesday, but said he has not been retained for the long term. Bob Chase is not related to Ashlock's new attorney, said Bob Chase's stepson and legal assistant.
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Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be contacted at email@example.com or 578-2390.