CALDWELL -- The criminal case against former Canyon County Prosecutor John Bujak continues to evolve with twists and turns. On Wednesday, prosecutors amended the charges against him.
The amendment happened Wednesday morning during what was expected to be day two of a preliminary hearing for felony grand theft charges. Bujak now faces a felony misuse of public money charge.
While that charge is different, the possible punishment is the same as grand theft (up to 14 years), and the prosecutor says the case facts also remain the same. He is accused of taking more than $200,000 from Canyon County through a prosecution contract the city of Nampa held with the county.
On Tuesday, there was a full day of testimony against John Bujak. After hearing hours of city officials say they never authorized Bujak to personally profit, the hearing ended Wednesday without the judge hearing the end of witnesses. Attorneys had been in and out of the courtroom for more than an hour when the amendment was agreed upon and filed.
The amended charge is a misuse of public money, which is a felony, the same as grand theft. It is a different characterization legally of the same type of conduct, Latah County Prosecutor Bill Thompson said.
Prosecutors explained why they made the change saying the main reason has to do with a recent state supreme court decision that determined this specific prosecution contract was publicly held, not privately held by Bujak.
When we originally filed charges, we didn't have the benefit of the Henry decision from the Supreme Court, so we charged under the statute we thought most applicable at that time, and we've also had the benefit of seeing the testimony live in court yesterday and assessing the case further, and we believe that this is a better way to proceed, Thompson said.
Bujak agreed to waive his preliminary hearing for the new charge. Prosecutors say facts from the originally filed complaint will stand.
Our position is the money was taken wrongfully. Our position still is the money was taken wrongfully, based on the probable cause affidavit and what you heard in the preliminary hearing yesterday. But we've elected to pursue this new label, which we believe is a more accurate label. And the fact that the defendant was willing to waive his preliminary hearing on the amended charge, I think, is a benefit to all concerned, Thompson said.
During court, the judge also agreed to amend Bujak's conditions of release and is allowing Bujak to have his GPS tracking device removed.
Bujak is scheduled to enter a plea for the amended misuse of public money charge next week. His attorneys indicated he will plead not guilty.
The attorneys for both sides have agreed to attempt mediation in an effort to settle the charge without needing a trial. After court, neither Bujak nor his attorneys were willing to comment on the amended charges and conditions.