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Coroner: Death of developer in Sonoma Valley Bank fraud case was accidental

The Marin County Coroner’s Office has ruled out suicide in the May death of developer Bijan Madjlessi, a central figure in the collapse of Sonoma Valley Bank and the target of federal prosecution at the time of his demise.

Investigators have determined Madjlessi’s death resulted from an accidental vehicle crash and nothing more, Marin County Sheriff’s Lt. Keith Boyd said Wednesday.

“With his history, you know, we definitely evaluated other factors — really took a hard look to make sure that nothing appeared or presented itself to indicate it was a crime, or nothing appeared or indicated it was a suicide,” Boyd said.

But all the evidence, he said, “just led us to, ‘This is an accident.’ ”

Madjlessi, 58, had been arrested four weeks earlier on charges of bank and wire fraud, money laundering, conspiracy and other federal criminal offenses in connection with a complicated series of loans and financial transactions that ultimately led to the failure of Sonoma Valley Bank.

He personally faced 28 criminal counts, including 13 that carried maximum penalties of 30 years in prison and $1 million in fines, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Conviction also would have exposed Madjlessi to asset forfeiture, which would have permitted the government to seize his home or other assets acquired with the proceeds of criminal conduct. His death means any such assets are no longer at risk of forfeiture, even though three defendants are still charged in the case, according to New York attorney Steven L. Kessler, a national expert on asset forfeiture law.

Madjlessi and his business partners defaulted on at least $34 million in loans made by Sonoma Valley Bank, which was closed by regulators in 2010.

A three-year federal investigation resulted in a 29-count grand jury indictment issued March 19 and unsealed April 9 that charged Madjlessi; his attorney, David Lonich of Santa Rosa; former bank president and chief executive Sean Cutting, a Sonoma resident; and former bank chief loan officer Brian Melland of Santa Rosa.

All four defendants pleaded not guilty, and Madjlessi was “completely convinced” that he would be acquitted of the charges, his defense attorney, Steven M. Bauer, said last May.

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