News - February 16, 2011

FBI eyes Atherton and county, sources say

FBI eyes Atherton and county, sources say

By Renee Batti

The FBI is interviewing Atherton residents and others about town matters, according to a former employee who said he was interviewed recently. But the federal law enforcement agency's interest apparently goes beyond the town's borders, according to another person who was interviewed and who contacted The Almanac.

Former finance director John Johns said he was interviewed in late January by an agent in the San Francisco office of the FBI.

Mr. Johns, who successfully sued the town for wrongful termination and has a complaint filed against the police department for alleged evidence tampering and falsification of a police report, said the agent didn't share information with him about the scale and scope of the investigation.

"It would be prudent for me to not convey to you what I conveyed to them," he said. He added, however, that he was asked about his own experiences with the town, and that he spoke to the agent about "the conduct of both elected and appointed officials."

"And they seemed to be very interested in what I said," Mr. Johns told The Almanac. "The FBI took very good notes."

Mr. Johns said he felt free to acknowledge that the interview occurred because he was not asked by the agency not to talk about it.

A reliable source who also was interviewed by two FBI agents and who contacted The Almanac said the agents' interests extended to "a number of people who work for the county." The person spoke on condition of anonymity.

An Atherton resident who did not wish to be identified acknowledged that he, too, had been interviewed about his experiences with the town.

Julianne Sohn, a spokeswoman with the San Francisco office of the FBI, said that as a matter of policy she could not confirm or deny that an investigation is taking place.

Mayor Jim Dobbie said he knows nothing about an FBI investigation of town matters, nor does anyone he has spoken to. "But that doesn't mean it's not happening," he added.

Councilwoman Kathy McKeithen, who has publicly criticized the town for not hiring neutral outside investigators when public officials are accused of possible wrongdoing, did not return The Almanac's phone calls seeking comment for this story.

Town turmoil

The town has been the target of numerous complaints and accusations of wrongdoing that go back even before the 2007 firing of John Johns. Those complaints have involved the town's police department, building department, and at least three council members whose actions were then reviewed by the city attorney.

Mr. Johns' audit of the building department before he was fired turned up questionable practices and possible misconduct; a 2006/07 grand jury report highlighted a number of problems with the department, and criticized town management's inaction in addressing those problems and questionable conduct on the part of some staff members.

Resident Jon Buckheit is suing the town, the county, three police officers and Councilman Jerry Carlson in federal court over the handling of his 2008 arrest during a domestic violence incident at his home.

Mr. Buckheit's complaint includes an accusation that the police report on his arrest was falsified. Because the town refused to give a copy of the report to Mr. Buckheit, he had to sue the town to obtain it, and only then did he learn that the report had been altered, after it was first filed, to include a false charge of child assault.

Kimberly Sweidy and her husband, Raymie Stata, are suing the town, its former building officials, and consultants over the building department's oversight of the construction of their home, which is now undergoing major repairs and a complete structural retrofit.


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