BARSTOW - The prosecution told jurors that for the next few months they will hear a story about a complicated theft orchestrated by two people that almost left a Barstow business in ruin.

"This case involves the story of a theft of over $1 million," Richard Golden, the deputy district attorney trying the case of Joyce and Wesley Jaska, told the jury during his opening statement on Tuesday.

Arrested in 2002, the Jaskas are accused of stealing money from Barstow Truck Parts, where both Joyce and Wesley worked, during the course of six years. The Apple Valley couple pleaded not guilty to charges in 2005, and the trial has slowly crept along until opening statements on Tuesday.

Golden took nearly two hours to outline his case to the jurors, contending that Joyce abused her position as secretary-treasurer at Barstow Truck Parts to swindle money in several different schemes. He repeatedly referred to and showed the jury documents he claims will prove the Jaskas' illegal activities.

Both Clifton Peters and Ben Echols, defense attorneys for Joyce and Wesley, respectively, told the jurors that Golden's documents would not prove anything. They gave separate openings, but both assured the jury everything would point to their clients' innocence.

"Evidence will show an explanation that he (Golden) will show you," Peters said. "There will be explanation; there will be refutation of any illegal conduct."

Golden spent a majority of his time before the jury explaining just how he contends the Jaskas stole the money. He told the jury that Joyce reimbursed herself and her husband, a recently retired fire captain at the Barstow Fire Protection District, for money they never spent by adding money to their payroll checks and dipping into the company's petty cash box.

"They (witnesses) will testify that the petty cash box was not used as a petty cash box. The petty cash box was used as a source of money for Joyce Jaska," Golden said.

He also told the jury that Joyce would use company checks to pay her personal VISA and American Express credit cards and had the company buy her a new Volvo in 1999. The Jaskas also did not report any of the money they stole as additional income, Golden said, which amounted to tax fraud.

Collectively, the defense attorneys' opening statements took about a half hour. Peters began to cast doubt on Golden's presentation by pointing out inconsistencies, mainly dates and the sequence of events. He said Jim Rajacich, the owner of Barstow Truck Parts, knew and approved of some of the actions Golden termed malicious and illegal, like withdrawing from the petty cash box, paying extra on the payroll checks and buying Joyce's Volvo.

In Echols opening, he defended his client, Wesley, and the Jaskas' lifestyle, which Golden contended was above their means and proved their illegal activity. He also warned the jury to regard the up-coming testimony of Marsha Rajacich, Jim's sister, with suspicion. Marsha became suspicious of the Jaskas' activities in 2002 and began her own investigation. Her work led police to eventually open their own investigation and arrest the Jaskas. Echols questioned whether Marsha provided the authorities with true documentation.

"I want you to look very carefully as Marsha and her motives because a lot of what she has done is deeply obsessed," he said.

Following the opening statements, Golden called his first witness, Sgt. Andy Espinoza Sr., who investigated the case. Attorneys from both sides expect the case to last until March.

Contact the writer: (760) 256-4121 or aaron_aupperlee@link.freedom.com


The allegations
During his opening statement, DA Richard Golden accused the Jaskas of stealing more than $1 million over the span of six years through several different thefts:

1997: 58,540.52
1998: $248,346.26
1999: $247,122.52
2000: $229,907.00
2001: $250,204.36
2002: $64,400.31
Total: $1,098,520.97

Different thefts alleged
o Petty cash: Money used to reimburse Jaskas for expenses with no invoices to back claims up
o Credit cards: Company money used to pay off personal credit cards
o Volvo car payments: New car purchased by Joyce Jaska paid for by the company
o Payroll: Reimbursement funds added to the Jaskas' payroll checks
o Tax fraud: Addition income gained from the alleged thefts above was not reported to the IRS