San Mateo County Deputy Sheriff Juan Lopez was back in Superior Court in Redwood City on Feb. 13, but not about allegations that he helped smuggle a cellphone into the county jail.
Mr. Lopez, 51, faces new charges in connection with his write-in campaign for sheriff in the June 2014 election, including conspiracy, fraud, perjury and embezzlement. He pleaded not-guilty to all charges.
The defendants include Mr. Lopez's fiancee Evelyn Segura-Chavez, 34, of Redwood City, who is charged with conspiracy and embezzlement.
Mr. Lopez's attorney Stuart Hanlon called the new charges "retaliation against Juan, and now his fiancee Evelyn, because he had the nerve to run against the sheriff. ... I think the charges against Evelyn are absolutely outrageous. Her only crime was to be the fiancee of Juan."
"I think the San Mateo County DA is tied at the hip to the sheriff," he added. "They're trying to bury (Lopez) through legal charges and new costs."
Mr. Hanlon said he plans to ask that the case be taken out of the hands of Mr. Wagstaffe's office and be turned over to the state Attorney General's Office. "At least we'd get some objectivity on this case," he said.
In an interview, Mr. Wagstaffe acknowledged a friendly working relationship with the sheriff, adding that he has considerable respect for Mr. Hanlon, but that it was "simply not true" that his relationship with Mr. Munks is affecting this case.
Mr. Lopez has been on administrative leave since July 2014. He was arrested at gunpoint in November 2014 outside his home in Newark over the cellphone smuggling charges, the culmination of an 11-month investigation by the office of District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe -- at the request of Sheriff Greg Munks, Mr. Wagstaffe said.
The Sheriff's Office had distanced itself from the matter, given Mr. Lopez's candidacy, Mr. Wagstaffe said. "They very quickly turned it over to us," he said. Mr. Lopez is one of seven defendants in the case.
In the June 2014 election, both Mr. Wagstaffe and Mr. Munks were re-elected. Mr. Wagstaffe ran unopposed; Mr Munks' bid was, arguably, contested, though Deputy Lopez garnered just 1.4 percent of the vote. As a write-in candidate, his name was not on the ballot.
On his campaign website, Mr. Lopez had written that he would "restore integrity to the leadership of the Office of Sheriff," that Mr. Munks "is not the person to lead the law enforcement program," and that Mr. Lopez will be a leader that voters can "respect and trust."
Was he referring to an incident in April 2007? Police in Las Vegas detained and questioned Mr. Munks and Undersheriff Carlos Bolanos after finding them on the premises of a brothel in an unmarked house in a residential neighborhood. Mr. Munks said he'd been looking for a massage parlor and believed he was going into a legitimate business.
Mr. Lopez said he was not referring to the Las Vegas incident. "You know, I really can't say anything about that," he said. "I wasn't there and I don't have first-hand knowledge."
Asked to comment at the time, Mr. Munks emailed a statement: "I am honored to be running alone on the ballot again which I believe is an acknowledgment of the progress and fine work that we have accomplished on behalf of our community."
In his write-in campaign, Mr. Lopez raised $400, including $200 from his fiancee, according to campaign finance reports. With loans of $6,060, he spent $9,526, the report says, including $687 for robo-calls and $427 for campaign signs.
Reports show Mr. Munks received a $1,000 contribution from Mr. Wagstaffe and Mr. Wagstaffe received a $1,000 contributon from Mr. Munks.
Mr. Wagstaffe acknowledged this exchange of contributions. Mr. Lopez's case "isn't going to be decided on any relationship between the sheriff and myself," he said. "The case will work its way through on the facts."
A whiff of it
"I would agree that there is a whiff of retaliation," said Loyola University law professor and election-law expert Jessica Levinson when informed of Mr. Hanlon's assertions. "Either it is what it looks like, which is retaliation and helping out a friend, ... or it is prosecuting someone who violated the law," she said.
The campaign contribution of $1,000 would not automatically transfer the prosecution from the DA's office to the state Attorney General's Office, she said.
Given the Las Vegas incident, a subsequent supportive and sympathetic email from Mr. Wagstaffe to Mr. Munks and Undersheriff Bolanos, and candidate Lopez's remarks on his website, Ms. Levinson said she would not think it inappropriate for the DA to see a conflict and "in the interest of justice," conclude that it's better for another jurisdiction to step in.
Bay City News Service contributed to this report.