A financial adviser pleaded not guilty Monday to the Santa Monica murder of a Russian-born teacher in .
Huntington Beach resident Daniel Becerril III, 35, entered his plea in response to 31 felony charges, including fraud and money laundering, in connection with the slaying of his client, 35-year-old Alexander Merman.
Becerril is, according to jail records. He is scheduled to return to court May 15, when a date will be set for a hearing to determine if there is enough evidence for him to stand trial.
A Navy veteran and artist, Merman was found stabbed to death March 19, 2008 in his Montana Avenue apartment. Merman was working as an elementary school teacher at the Los Angeles Unified School District.
Police and prosecutors allege Merman was killed after he discovered that Becerril had stolen money from him. Becerril, the head of AP Financial group, allegedly owed Merman $250,000 and had stolen an additional $300,000 from his bank account.
Detectives also found evidence of a conspiracy involving employees of AP Financial Group in which the home of an unrelated victim—identified by prosecutors as Sandra Soria—was acquired by fraudulent means and was sold to a third party, resulting in Soria being evicted, police said.
Proceeds from the sale allegedly were received by Becerril and his associates. According to the District Attorney's Office, Merman and Soria were swindled out of about $1.4 million.
Monday's hearing had been postponed three times after Becerril's arrest March 1.
Merman's body was discovered the same week that aspiring actress Julia Redding was also found murdered in her Santa Monica apartment. The discoveries were mere days and a few miles apart.