Almanac

News - February 23, 2011

FBI is also looking at DA's office, sources say

by Renee Batti

A source recently interviewed by the FBI has revealed that the apparent investigation by the federal agency isn't limited to the town of Atherton, but includes the San Mateo County District Attorney's Office as well.

Since late January, the FBI has been interviewing Atherton residents and others about matters involving the town of Atherton, according to several sources.

But after the Almanac reported the apparent investigation, another reliable source contacted the newspaper to talk about being interviewed by two FBI agents. That source said the federal law enforcement agency is seeking people who have information about possible misconduct, or who have witnessed possible misconduct, by the District Attorney's Office. The source spoke on condition of anonymity.

County District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe wasn't buying the allegation that his office is being investigated. "This whole FBI thing has been manufactured ... there's no FBI investigation, in my belief," he said.

"There certainly has been nobody (who contacted) us, and that's a standard procedure the FBI would follow."

Noting that interviewing someone doesn't constitute an investigation, he added: "There's nothing to investigate involving us. What would it be? ... There's been some pretty unfair coverage of the District Attorney's Office and the men and women who work hard in it." ... There've been some misconceptions put out there that have damaged the reputation of the office."

Atherton resident Peter Carpenter acknowledged playing a role in the amatter, but noted that it was only as "the switchboard" helping to connect several people with the federal agency.

Several people who felt they had evidence of wrongdoing came to him for advice, he said, and because he has a number of contacts within federal agencies, he was able to help. "My role was simply to identify an appropriate FBI person to whom that person could speak."

Former finance director John Johns, who successfully sued the town for wrongful termination and currently has a complaint filed against the police department, said he was interviewed about his experiences with the town of Atherton in late January by an agent in the San Francisco office of the FBI. And an Atherton resident who did not wish to be identified acknowledged that he, too, had been interviewed about his experiences.

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, could not be reached for comment. In the past year, three council members have been subjects of internal reviews conducted by the city attorney after complaints were made about their actions.

Atherton resident Jon Buckheit is suing the town, three police officers, Councilman Jerry Carlson and the county in federal court over the handling of his 2008 arrest during a domestic violence incident. He and Mr. Johns, the former finance director, have accused the police department of falsification of police reports and other misconduct.

The building department has had its share of complaints as well. Mr. Johns' audit of that department shortly before he was fired turned up questionable practices and possible misconduct. He also challenged expenditures by the police department he said were not proper.

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