50 years ago — The Sheriff’s Office’s elaborate plan to convict a former El Centro druggist of selling sleeping pills without a prescription blew up Thursday afternoon when a Superior Court jury found the man innocent.

In effect, the jury found that Charles Barry Fishman, the 31-year-old druggist, had been lured into making the illegal sale by the charms of Nancy Bennett, a 22-year-old divorcee, and a part-time reserve deputy sheriff.

The defense, handled by Earl M. Price, a Los Angeles attorney, had argued that his client had been persuaded to commit a crime that he would not have committed had it not been for the attractive Mrs. Bennett.

That is the only defense in an entrapment case, and it is up to the defendant to show by preponderant facts that he was persuaded to commit a crime he would not have otherwise committed. Such defenses are rarely successful.

The Fishman case created considerable interest, and the result have been picked up and sent nationwide by news agencies.

Fishman arrived in the Valley early in the year to open up a new pharmacy in an El Centro shopping center. The Sheriff’s Office said it began receiving reports that Fishman appeared to be interested in marijuana and possibly in other drugs.

Mrs. Bennett, a brand-new reserve deputy was assigned to see about Fishman. She went to his store with a prescription for Seconal, a barbiturate drug.

She does not use sleeping pills. The prescription by County Medical Examiner Dr. Burke Schoensee was simply a device for her to meet the druggist. They met at the store and again during a date that evening.

The friendship apparently budded, and there were further meetings, during one of which -- at the drug store -- Fishman sold Mrs. Bennett another 40 Seconal capsules, this time with no prescription.

A later date ended in Fishman’s motel room when lawmen burst in, after Mrs. Bennett opened the door for them, and arrested the druggist on the charge of having provided the pills three days earlier. During the trial, Assistant District Attorney Harold Chaille tried hard to show that it was Fishman who took the initiative in the meetings with Mrs. Bennett.

She, however, also was called to the stand as a defense witness -- a tricky and rarely used tactic -- and testified that obtaining the pills was not her idea. It was the idea, she said of Sheriff’s Office investigator Vincent Palacio and of state Bureau of Narcotics Enforcement Agent Ruben Landa.

The jury pondered the matter from 11 a.m. to 4:10 p.m. before coming up with the innocent verdict.

When they handed it down, druggist Fishman stood up joyously, blew kisses to the jury with both hands, and shouted: “Thank you, oh thank you!”

The “Case of the Amorous Druggist,” as prosecutor Chaille had called it, was all over.


40 years ago — Valleyites attending commemorative ceremonies marking the start-up of the Brawley geothermal-electric project Wednesday knew they were watching history in the making. For the most part, they were overwhelmed.

It told in their hushed voices, in their hesitance as they asked technical questions.

Electrical energy generated from power supplied from geothermal fluids was a long time in coming to the Imperial Valley, often termed the “Saudi Arabia” of the world’s geothermal energy resources, but it has arrived.

Union Oil Company of California and Southern California Edison joined in the dedication of their plant, which since June has displaced 14,000 barrels of foreign oil while pumping electrical power into Imperial Irrigation District lines.

Both Fred L. Hartley, Union’s president and chairman, and William R. Ghouls, chairman of SCE -- here for the ceremonies -- hailed the plant as an important breakthrough toward weaning the nation from dependency on foreign oil.

The Valley is believed to have one of the world’s largest resources of geothermal energy, which is potentially capable of powering more than 3 million kilowatts of electric power for a community of 6,000.

Gould told the approximately 100 invited guests at a luncheon at the Del Rio Country Club, held in conjunction with a plant tour, “Over 50 years ago, our predecessor company Southern Sierras Power Company, drilled three geothermal wells here.

 “Although difficulties in handling the steam and hot brine brought the project to a close, our predecessor was the first utility in the United States to try to utilize natural steam for electric generation.”


30 years ago — A former manager of the bingo operation run by the Quechan Indian Tribe has been charged with embezzling more than $8,000 from the operation during 1987 and 1988, according to court documents and a county sheriff’s sergeant.

Keith Graham Emerson, 42, was arrested early today by county sheriff’s deputies, Sgt. William Hall said. He is being held in the county jail with bail set at $10,000. Emerson is expected to be arraigned today or Wednesday.

Emerson is charged with one count of grand theft/embezzlement involving 30 separate checks cashed between Dec. 18, 1987, and June 15, 1988, according to a complaint approved by the county District Attorney’s Office.

Hall said Emerson is suspected of writing checks to pay for bingo supplies but not sending them to the supplier. Evidence indicated that the checks were included with the bingo parlor earnings and equal quantities of cash were removed.

The amounts of the checks mentioned in the criminal complaint range from $8.16 to $2,000.

Hall said the tribe did not begin investigating the matter until 1989 because “nobody noticed because they thought the accounts were being paid.”

He said tribal officials first became suspicious in early 1989 when Bingo West, a supplier in Phoenix, Ariz., notified the tribe it had not been paid for supplies, Hall said.

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