Opening arguments in the trial of former Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak presented starkly different views of Bujaks taking several hundred thousand dollars from a contract to handle Nampa misdemeanors.
Bujak, serving as his own attorney with two county-paid public defenders as backup, told the jury Monday the money was his, county commissioners knew it and they only pushed him to give it back when it became a political hot potato.
Assistant special prosecutor Stephen Bywater said Bujak had vowed not to profit personally from the $600,000 annual contract an assertion supported by public statements and documents.
He said Bujak deceived county and city leaders by beginning to transfer money into his personal account Sept. 4, 2009 the day that Nampas first check was deposited into the trust account Bujak had set up.
By Sept. 30, 2010, the day Bujak resigned under pressure to pay the county, the then-prosecutor had received about $743,000 from the city of Nampa. He used about $225,000 to compensate his staff for extra work and cover contract-related expenses, and pocketed about $345,000 more than three times his salary as prosecuting attorney, which he had also received, Bywater said. Bujak repaid the county $171,000 shortly before he resigned but reportedly used the rest to pay personal expenses and debts.
Bujak told jurors he resigned because if he didnt, county commissioners threatened to abandon the Nampa contract. That would have ended the salary increases Bujak had arranged for his staff, he said.
I walked away so my people could keep their money, he said.
Bywater noted that the amount Bujak personally took from the contract is more than the total his staff received in salary increases.
Bujak contends county leaders knew from the beginning that he expected to profit from the contract and that everything beyond contract expenses was mine to do with as I pleased.
Commissioners have said they didnt know Bujak could profit until late spring or early summer 2010. And prosecutors have said Bujak is charged with taking $236,000 in public funds because thats how much he took before commissioners learned he intended to profit.
County leaders expected the Nampa contract would provide enough money to cover the county prosecutors non-personnel expenses, thus giving the county substantial additional revenue, Bywater said.
Bujak made similar public statements in early summer 2010, but in his opening argument Monday, he said that plan was a fiction commissioners advocated and he agreed to after citizens pressed to find out what happened to the money.
Commissioners dont want to accept their part in putting this deal together, Bujak said. Theyre trying to make me take the fall for something they were fully aware of. Any money we were talking about wasnt public money.
Guess who got taxed on that whole ball of wax? Me.
Payments from the Nampa contract went into a lawyers trust account that only Bujak could access. Bywater said Bujak got commissioners to agree to that under false pretenses, saying that Nampa leaders didnt trust the county to handle the funds and preferred Bujak administer them directly.
City officials had no such concerns, Bywater said.
The prosecutions first witness, former Nampa Police Chief Bill Augsburger, said he was happy with how Bujak and his team handled the misdemeanor contract. But it didnt ever cross my mind that the prosecutor would personally profit.
Mayor Tom Dale is set to testify at 9 a.m. Tuesday. Special Prosecutor Bill Thompson said he plans to call a couple dozen witnesses.
Bujak said he has 10 people on his witness list, but how many he calls will depend on what the prosecution witnesses say.
Kristin Rodine: 377-6447