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Spencer at center of alcohol inquiry

Former District Attorney Gordon Spencer, who resigned last month under pressure from two separate state attorney general investigations, is now the subject of a third investigation that is looking into whether he illegally served alcohol to a minor at a dinner party last December.

The California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control has already been investigating since January the death of 20-year-old Greg Gomez of South Merced.

The department said earlier this week that Gomez was served alcohol at the Merced Golf and Country Club party before he was fatally hit by a car while walking home drunk.

Spencer, who volunteered as a bartender at the Dec. 18 party, has said he "probably" served no more than two drinks to Gomez.

"A violation did take place," ABC's Stockton-based district administrator Len Bachman said this week.

The ongoing ABC investigation could lead to the country club having its license suspended or revoked.

Meanwhile, with ABC's latest information in hand, the Attorney General's Office has started its own investigation into the incident and could press criminal charges against anyone who served alcohol to Gomez.

In a letter that Merced County District Attorney Larry Morse II sent to the Attorney General's Office on Wednesday, Morse wrote that Spencer "is a focal subject of ABC's investigation."

Morse sent the letter, which he shared with the Sun-Star, after receiving a copy of an ABC report that included interviews with at least 10 people who were at the party.

The report, issued earlier this month, has not been made available to the public.

Morse, the Attorney General's Office and Bachman all wouldn't say who was named in the report. But Morse said he forwarded the report to the attorney general's office because it would be a conflict of interest for him to consider a case that involved his former boss.

Morse was a chief deputy district attorney when Spencer was the district attorney.

Spencer's own attorney, Terry Allen of Merced-based Allen, Polgar, Proietti and Fagalde, said on Friday that he has heard that the ABC report identifies two witnesses who were with Gomez. Those witnesses said Spencer and four other bartenders served Gomez alcohol, Allen said.

Gomez's mother, Mary Leon, said Friday that Gomez's girlfriend and a friend of hers were both at the party with Gomez and were both interviewed by ABC investigators.

Allen said he has not seen the report, but dismissed the witnesses' accounts and criticized the report because it "seemed to ignore other people at the country club" who had different versions of what happened.

But Bachman said that many people would not talk with ABC investigators and others couldn't be tracked down. He said investigators interviewed a range of people, including dinner guests, servers, managers and Spencer.

Bachman said that "a lot of people had reasons for taking particular stances because of their involvement or connections with people."

But he cautioned that the ABC report simply "identifies what some people said they saw." Bachman said it's up to the attorney general to decide if anyone should be prosecuted.

A spokesman for the Attorney General's Office would not say whether his office would press charges. The attorney general already is investigating Spencer for embezzlement and coercion on two unrelated matters.

The Sun-Star reported in May that Spencer took about $57,000 in reimbursements that he didn't deserve over a seven-year period, prompting the embezzlement investigation.

The attorney general also could press coercion charges against Spencer because he bought a 21-acre piece of land in 2004 from a man who was in jail and was facing prosecution while Spencer was the district attorney.

If Spencer is charged for serving alcohol to Gomez, he could be found guilty of a misdemeanor and face up to a $1,000 fine and one year in jail. California law has stiffer penalties for people who serve alcohol to a minor who is then injured or killed as a result of being intoxicated.

ABC launched its investigation almost seven months ago and only days after the Sun-Star first reported that Spencer was a volunteer bartender at the country club party.

Spencer could not be reached for comment on Friday, but he has said that he was at the party for about an hour and left at 7:30 p.m.

Gomez, who went to the party with his girlfriend, decided to walk home that night. At about 11:30 p.m., he was struck by a car while walking on an unlit part of Bellevue Road just west of Lake Road. Witnesses said Gomez was walking about three feet into the road.

He died the next day in a hospital.

Police said Gomez had a blood alcohol level of 0.24 -- more than three times the legal limit for driving while intoxicated.

Even though he didn't check IDs, Spencer said he didn't break the law or act unethically. He has said the club's manager, Berna Lucas, had assured him that she would let him know if anyone who asked him for alcohol was underage.

Lucas did not return calls left at the country club on Friday.

The club's Merced attorney, Mike Mason, also did not return calls.

Loring Astorino, the club's president, said on Friday he wouldn't comment on the attorney general or ABC investigations other than to say that the ABC report "contains a lot of inaccurate data."

He wouldn't elaborate.

State records show the country club, which has been licensed to serve alcohol since 1950, has a clean record.

That may change if ABC decides to discipline the club by suspending or revoking its license.

Bachman said he met with the club and its attorney on Aug. 8 to discuss what disciplinary action ABC intends to take, but he wouldn't disclose to the Sun-Star what that disciplinary action would look like.

Bachman said the club now has to decide whether to accept ABC's discipline or appeal the decision to a judge. He said that "based on the mood and responses, it was clear (the club) would take it to a hearing."

Bachman said a hearing probably wouldn't start until sometime in November.

Findings of ABC investigation forwarded to attorney general

Reporter Chris Collins can be reached at 385-2431 or ccollins@mercedsun-star.com.

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