This week, former Redwood Region Economic Development Commission Executive Director Jeff Zander was scheduled to appear in an Iron County, Utah court of justice to face felony charges: nine counts of theft and forgery pertaining to a stolen checkbook belonging to his wife's ex-husband.
The alleged crimes, a relatively minor episode in Zander's storied career in white-collar crime, took place after Zander returned to Utah from a few month stint at RREDC, an economic development agency comprising the county government, the county's seven incorporated cities and various other governmental bodies. But they don't represent the first time Zander has appeared in the dock -- see "Who was Jeff Zander?," Sept. 3, for a more thorough rundown of the time Zander spent posing as a military attorney and his subsequent stint in a military brig -- and it appears that they will not be the last.
The question: How did the man ever get hired in Humboldt County?
The resume that Zander presented to RREDC upon applying for the job -- a copy of which was obtained by the Journal through a request under the California Public Records Act -- contains numerous falsehoods and omissions that should have been easily spotted with a simple phone call. Most glaringly, it mischaracterizes Zander's most relevant bit of work experience -- his tenure as the economic development director of Utah's Paiute Tribe.
In his resume, Zander states that he was employed by the tribe from 2002 to 2006. During that time, he writes, he created economic development strategies, negotiated land deals, lobbied Congress and recruited investment into tribal territory. After leaving the tribe, Zander writes, he went on to spend two years obtaining a graduate degree in economic development from Penn State. He purports to have graduated from that program in 2008.
But according to Stephanie Zehren, an attorney for the Paiutes, Zander actually worked for the tribe through late March 2008, just a few months before he was hired by RREDC. And his departure was less than friendly: Zehren said last week that Zander was fired after the tribe uncovered evidence that seemed to indicate that their economic development director had been skimming money from tribal accounts and placing it in shell companies under his control. State and federal law enforcement agencies are currently investigating the alleged embezzlement, she said.
The tribe's legal troubles with Zander don't end there, though. According to Sgt. J.R. Robinson of the Cedar City (Utah) Police Department, his agency has charged Zander with burglarizing Paiute tribal offices in February 2009, when he was still serving as RREDC executive director. Robinson said that the Cedar City Police have surveillance video that allegedly shows Zander entering the offices after hours. That case is still pending.
Zander's continued ability to get a high-profile job, despite his much higher-profile criminal history, still baffles many. "I've been through this with the tribe -- how did this happen?" said Zehren from her Colorado offices last week. There don't seem to be any good answers as regards his Humboldt County job, except that a leaderless organization apparently seems to have let the job of checking the backgrounds of job applicants fall through the cracks. Zehren said that since Zander left the tribe, all calls concerning him have been forwarded to her, and she had not received any from Humboldt County.
In June 2008, the RREDC board appointed a subcommittee to head up the search for a new executive director. The subcommittee was composed of Arcata City Councilmember Alex Stillman, Blue Lake Mayor Sherman Schapiro, Harbor District Commissioner Mike Wilson, former Eureka City Councilmember Chris Kerrigan, McKinleyville Community Services District Director Helen Edwards and Humboldt Bay Municipal Water District Board Member Bruce Rupp. According to minutes from the June meeting, the subcommittee was to enlist the help of Humboldt County's personnel department and Gregg Foster, the RREDC executive director who preceded Zander in the executive director position and later came back to the commission to replace him.
Ron Halverson, a personnel analyst with the county, ended up assisting RREDC in the executive director search. But last week he said that his role and Foster's didn't amount to much more than conducting outreach for the search and forwarding applications on to the commission.
"We were approached by RREDC to assist them, because they didn't really have the staff to do that," Halvorsen said Monday. "What we did was place ads, and then served as the repository for people to apply."
"My role was to assist the board with recruitment, which meant identifying trade publications and organizations that would publicize the position," said Gregg Foster Tuesday. "I then met with the committee to review the resumes and identify those that should receive further screening -- 'this resume looks good, let's follow up with them' versus 'send them a thanks-but-no-thanks letter.'"
Zander was among the candidates that made the initial cut. He was put on the short list for the RREDC job, and was interviewed face-to-face by members of the subcommittee. The entire board later voted to hire him, and was apparently impressed by his bearing. "He presented himself very well," said Wilson.
But Zander lasted only two months on the job before being placed on administrative leave, for reasons that RREDC still will not discuss, and in the summer of 2008 he was let go with threats of litigation hanging in the air. His past life as a fake military attorney and as his cloudy history with the Paiute Tribe were largely unknown until after he had gone.
"To the degree that he was not the man, and whatever shortcomings he had, I think we were all a part of that process," Rupp said Monday.