Essapour sentenced to 6 months' jail for misusing DeMartini's ID

Serena Essapour
Serena Essapour Modesto Bee

A woman who used to work with Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini was sentenced to six months in jail Thursday after she pleaded no contest to three felony charges of using DeMartini's personal information to charge almost $10,000 on two credit cards.

Serena Essapour, 23, of Turlock agreed to the plea deal to avoid a trial and move on with her life, her attorney, Pat Harris, said.

"We're in a situation where she's had a very difficult past year, which has included a lot of her character being assassinated," said Harris, who works for Mark Geragos, Essapour's original defense attorney.

Geragos is known for taking high-profile cases, including representing Modestan Scott Peterson, who was found guilty of killing his pregnant wife.

The Essapour case drew attention when Geragos suggested that DeMartini had a close, even sexual, relationship with Essapour. DeMartini denied it.

Authorities have said Essapour used DeMartini's Social Security number to open two credit card accounts to buy flowers, balloons, a watch and other items in May and June of 2006.

The felony counts are for impersonation, misuse of personal identifying information and grand theft. A no contest plea has the same legal consequences as a guilty plea, but is not an admission of wrongdoing. Judge Donald Shaver presided over the hearing.

When asked for a comment about the deal, Essapour said, "I'd like to say a lot, but I'm fine with no comment."

DeMartini did not attend the hearing but, when contacted at his office, said he was content with the outcome.

"I'm satisfied with the resolution the judge imposed. It was no contest, which is essentially a guilty plea," he said. "I'm satisfied the DA did not drop the charges down or eliminate them."

Essapour is scheduled to serve 180 days in jail, but Harris said she would apply for a work or community-service program instead. Essapour has one day of time served; she will have to report to jail or an alternative program by Sept. 10.

After her sentence is served, Essapour will be on probation for three years. Also, as part of the plea agreement, Essapour waived her right to appeal the case.

Deputy District Attorney Dawna Frenchie said the plea agreement was fair because Essapour accepted responsibility early on and the sentence is a "serious" amount of time behind bars.

Essapour and DeMartini met when she worked with the Republican Central Committee, which he headed. She later worked with several movers and shakers in the Republican Party and as a reporter at the Turlock Journal newspaper.

To help Essapour buy a car, DeMartini paid Mistlin Honda $6,500 and co-signed a loan for $21,600 in June 2005. It was that gesture that stirred rumors of a relationship between the two.

The loan paperwork contained DeMartini's Social Security number, which is how authorities said Essapour obtained DeMartini's personal information.

In June, DeMartini coasted to re-election to a second term on the county Board of Supervisors. He said the Essapour case dragged on in an attempt to cost him the election.

Bee staff writer Michelle Hatfield can be reached at mhatfield@modbee.com or 578-2339.

Related stories from Modesto Bee