News - March 24, 2010

Councilman asked for $500,000 loan, says Atherton resident who is suing town

by Andrea Gemmet

Atherton Councilman Charles Marsala is accused of asking for a large personal loan from a man who is suing Atherton in federal court.

His accuser is Jon Buckheit, an Atherton resident who is advocating the creation of a police oversight board. When the oversight board idea was tabled at the March 17 City Council meeting, he protested the vote during a public comment. "Charles, when you came to me asking to borrow money, you had a very different view than you do today," Mr. Buckheit said.

Mr. Marsala told The Almanac after the meeting that he could not comment. "I spoke with the city attorney and I've been advised not to talk about it because we're in litigation with (Mr. Buckheit)," he said. "I'm comfortable with my vote on Wednesday night. I voted with the majority of the council ... and I explained my reasons."

Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac that in late September 2009, Mr. Marsala asked him for a $500,000 "hard money" loan against his Atherton house. Mr. Buckheit said the size of the loan request gave him pause, but that he considered an arrangement that would make him one of several investors in the loan to Mr. Marsala.

"It didn't pan out," Mr. Buckheit said.

Mr. Buckheit forwarded three e-mails regarding the loan to The Almanac, dated Sept. 25-30. Two, which appear to be from Mr. Marsala's personal e-mail address, inquire about the loan's status. "Jon, I do not need all the money at once. $200,000 to start and knowing a remainer (sic) is available works," said one dated Sept. 25. The second e-mail, dated Sept. 28, said, "Any updates?"

In the third e-mail, dated Sept. 30, Mr. Buckheit responds, saying: "I spoke with the remaining hard money broker. She won't touch it because it's not fully documentable."

Mr. Buckheit's e-mail finishes by saying: "Sorry I couldn't be more helpful. I would need to do these loans through a broker since I don't have a license."

In October, Mr. Buckheit filed a lawsuit against the town and two of its police officers over the handling of a domestic dispute at his house in 2008. Mr. Buckheit was arrested on domestic violence charges, but never charged. He was later exonerated by a San Mateo County Superior Court judge and granted a declaration of factual innocence. Shortly thereafter, he filed a civil rights lawsuit against the town of Atherton in federal court in San Francisco.

Mr. Buckheit said before he was asked for the loan, he contacted Mr. Marsala, whom he knew casually, about his situation with the police department. Mr. Marsala was sympathetic, and said he would try to help, Mr. Buckheit said.

The vote to table any further discussion of creating a police oversight committee was 4-1, with Mayor Kathy McKeithen opposed. At the meeting, Mr. Marsala said he was concerned that a small town like Atherton would have trouble finding enough citizens willing to serve on an oversight committee, and that leaks of confidential information regarding police officers could be a problem.

"I can't prove he changed his vote, but I don't think you go to a resident with a big problem and ask for a half-million dollars," Mr. Buckheit told The Almanac.


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