Monterey County

Former Monterey County water director takes plea deal

Stephen Collins enters no contest plea

SALINAS, Calif. - Embattled former Monterey County water director Steve Collins has taken a plea deal in the conflict of interest case against him.

Collins pleaded no contest Tuesday afternoon to felony violations of conflict of interest and grand theft. He also pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor of unlawfully receiving money for attending meetings.

Collins' pleas come a day after a Monterey County Superior Court judge issued a ruling that struck a blow to the defense strategy. Jury selection in Collins' trial was expected to begin this week.

The charges against Collins stemmed from his involvement in the failed regional desalination project. Prosecutors said it posed a conflict of interest for Collins to work as a consultant on the project while he sat on the board of the Monterey County Water Resources Agency.

According to prosecutors, Collins also billed a consulting client more than $89,000 during a three-year period for services he didn't perform. They also said he billed a consulting client for attending some public meetings in his official capacity as a member of the water board. State law bars public officials from receiving payment not authorized by law for doing an official act.

At his sentencing on May 22, Collins will be given three years of felony probation and could be ordered to serve up to a year in county jail. Additionally, he will be ordered to pay restitution, and will be precluded from holding any public office in California ever again.

District Attorney Dean Flippo called the plea "gratifying," and praised Assistant District Attorney Stephanie Hulsey for her tireless efforts in the case.

Collins has waived his right to any appeal or motion to withdraw his plea in this case.  He may, however, appeal to the court to have the felony charges dropped to misdemeanors after 18 months.

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