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‘A waste of taxpayers' money’: Sheriff's lawyer questions nature of county probe into Batmobile case

County attorney: 'We’re not trying to undo or derail or shape the investigation but to understand how we got to where we are.'

Indiana-based business Fiberglass Freaks makes replica 1960s-era Batmobiles. After the business was raided this summer by San Mateo County deputy sheriffs at the behest of outgoing Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, county supervisors asked the state attorney general to investigate the raid. Courtesy Fiberglass Freaks.

As the investigation continues into the now notorious “Batmobile” case, the attorney hired to represent outgoing Sheriff Carlos Bolanos is alleging that the County Board of Supervisors has interfered with the legal authority of its district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices.

The board last month contracted with former Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith to conduct an independent probe into Bolanos’s sanctioned raid of an Indiana businessman who makes and sells 1966-era Batmobiles, and the subsequent criminal charges brought by District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe’s office.

The board also asked the State Attorney General to begin an inquiry into the criminal investigation and prosecution of the car-maker.

James Touchstone, a lawyer representing Bolanos, called the county’s investigation "politically minded” and “a waste of taxpayer money.”

“I question the timing of the so-called investigation into the sheriff’s activities when we still have a pending investigation,” he said. “To me, it appears to be designed to back the sheriff and the DA off from this case, which is improper.”

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Touchstone said Bolanos had been “very forthcoming” and cited an Aug. 8 letter Bolanos sent to the entire sheriff’s office detailing his involvement in and reasons for pursuing the case.

In contrast, he accused the county of ignoring his request for information and cited a Sept. 1 letter sent to County Attorney John Nibbelin, in which Touchstone wrote that the “legal basis for such an investigation has not been disclosed to Sheriff Bolanos.”

Nibbelin disagreed with Touchstone’s characterization.

“There’s nothing the investigation would do that would result in any kind of interference with the sheriff’s investigatory authority under California law,” he said, adding that state law permits some oversight of law enforcement activity. “We’re not trying to undo or derail or shape the investigation but to understand how we got to where we are.”

ABC7’s I-Team broke the story in late July, reporting that Atherton realtor Sam Anagnostou had recruited the sheriff to investigate an alleged “theft by false pretense” after the $210,000 Batmobile that he ordered was delayed. Mark Racop, the Batmobile maker and owner of Fiberglass Freaks, in Logansport, Indiana, said that Anagnostou did not complete a payment and stopped communicating for several months.

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In August, facing an investigation led by Judge Smith, Bolanos sought permission from the county to retain his own legal counsel, at taxpayer expense. Touchstone’s services cost $255 per hour, for a total amount not to exceed $25,000, according to a contract between the county and law firm Jones & Mayer.

Though the county could have denied Bolanos’s request and assigned him a lawyer, Nibbelin said he ultimately understood the sheriff’s concerns about conflicts of interest.

“While arguments could be made that he’s incorrect, I determined that it was appropriate to grant him his request in this case,” he said.

Nibbelin said that the sheriff could, in theory, seek a writ in the superior court to try to bar the county’s investigation, though he doubted such action would be successful. Though he said he didn’t have any reason to believe Bolanos would seek legal recourse, he added: “We’d be prepared to deal with it, if it happened.”

Touchstone said he was “not prepared” to discuss whether he and his client would take legal action against the county in light of its investigation.

However, in an extensive five-page Public Records Act request submitted to the county attorney late last month, Touchstone asked for all documentation of communications among board members, county employees and members of the public regarding the investigation of Bolanos and Wagstaffe. He also requested documents pertaining to the budget and authority of the board to conduct an investigation of the sheriff, as well as any documentation of allegations of misconduct against the county, members of the board and the county manager.

Asked whether his client would continue to cooperate with the investigation in the meantime, Touchstone said that was up to Bolanos.

“That will ultimately be the sheriff’s decision,” he said. “We’ll just have to see.”

Wagstaffe, who has not sought outside legal counsel, said in an email that he requested “four follow-up investigative steps to be completed” before deciding whether to pursue or dismiss the case against Racop. He declined to specify what those steps are.

Wagstaffe said he expected the sheriff’s office investigator to submit the report to his office in the next couple of days, at which point he would discuss the findings and then announce a final decision.

Racop, the Batmobile-maker, is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment on Sept. 30.

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Leah Worthington
 
Leah Worthington, a Menlo Park native, joined the Redwood City Pulse in 2021. She covers everything from education and climate to housing and city government. Previously she worked as the online editor for California magazine in Berkeley and co-hosts a podcast. Se habla español! Read more >>

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‘A waste of taxpayers' money’: Sheriff's lawyer questions nature of county probe into Batmobile case

County attorney: 'We’re not trying to undo or derail or shape the investigation but to understand how we got to where we are.'

by / Redwood City Pulse

Uploaded: Wed, Sep 14, 2022, 11:39 am

As the investigation continues into the now notorious “Batmobile” case, the attorney hired to represent outgoing Sheriff Carlos Bolanos is alleging that the County Board of Supervisors has interfered with the legal authority of its district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices.

The board last month contracted with former Alameda County Superior Court Judge Winifred Smith to conduct an independent probe into Bolanos’s sanctioned raid of an Indiana businessman who makes and sells 1966-era Batmobiles, and the subsequent criminal charges brought by District Attorney Stephen Wagstaffe’s office.

The board also asked the State Attorney General to begin an inquiry into the criminal investigation and prosecution of the car-maker.

James Touchstone, a lawyer representing Bolanos, called the county’s investigation "politically minded” and “a waste of taxpayer money.”

“I question the timing of the so-called investigation into the sheriff’s activities when we still have a pending investigation,” he said. “To me, it appears to be designed to back the sheriff and the DA off from this case, which is improper.”

Touchstone said Bolanos had been “very forthcoming” and cited an Aug. 8 letter Bolanos sent to the entire sheriff’s office detailing his involvement in and reasons for pursuing the case.

In contrast, he accused the county of ignoring his request for information and cited a Sept. 1 letter sent to County Attorney John Nibbelin, in which Touchstone wrote that the “legal basis for such an investigation has not been disclosed to Sheriff Bolanos.”

Nibbelin disagreed with Touchstone’s characterization.

“There’s nothing the investigation would do that would result in any kind of interference with the sheriff’s investigatory authority under California law,” he said, adding that state law permits some oversight of law enforcement activity. “We’re not trying to undo or derail or shape the investigation but to understand how we got to where we are.”

ABC7’s I-Team broke the story in late July, reporting that Atherton realtor Sam Anagnostou had recruited the sheriff to investigate an alleged “theft by false pretense” after the $210,000 Batmobile that he ordered was delayed. Mark Racop, the Batmobile maker and owner of Fiberglass Freaks, in Logansport, Indiana, said that Anagnostou did not complete a payment and stopped communicating for several months.

In August, facing an investigation led by Judge Smith, Bolanos sought permission from the county to retain his own legal counsel, at taxpayer expense. Touchstone’s services cost $255 per hour, for a total amount not to exceed $25,000, according to a contract between the county and law firm Jones & Mayer.

Though the county could have denied Bolanos’s request and assigned him a lawyer, Nibbelin said he ultimately understood the sheriff’s concerns about conflicts of interest.

“While arguments could be made that he’s incorrect, I determined that it was appropriate to grant him his request in this case,” he said.

Nibbelin said that the sheriff could, in theory, seek a writ in the superior court to try to bar the county’s investigation, though he doubted such action would be successful. Though he said he didn’t have any reason to believe Bolanos would seek legal recourse, he added: “We’d be prepared to deal with it, if it happened.”

Touchstone said he was “not prepared” to discuss whether he and his client would take legal action against the county in light of its investigation.

However, in an extensive five-page Public Records Act request submitted to the county attorney late last month, Touchstone asked for all documentation of communications among board members, county employees and members of the public regarding the investigation of Bolanos and Wagstaffe. He also requested documents pertaining to the budget and authority of the board to conduct an investigation of the sheriff, as well as any documentation of allegations of misconduct against the county, members of the board and the county manager.

Asked whether his client would continue to cooperate with the investigation in the meantime, Touchstone said that was up to Bolanos.

“That will ultimately be the sheriff’s decision,” he said. “We’ll just have to see.”

Wagstaffe, who has not sought outside legal counsel, said in an email that he requested “four follow-up investigative steps to be completed” before deciding whether to pursue or dismiss the case against Racop. He declined to specify what those steps are.

Wagstaffe said he expected the sheriff’s office investigator to submit the report to his office in the next couple of days, at which point he would discuss the findings and then announce a final decision.

Racop, the Batmobile-maker, is scheduled to appear in court for an arraignment on Sept. 30.

Comments

Brian
Registered user
Menlo Park: The Willows
on Sep 14, 2022 at 12:41 pm
Brian, Menlo Park: The Willows
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2022 at 12:41 pm

This would be hilarious if it were not costing San Mateo county tax payers so much money (and probably a lot more to come when the county is sued and has to settle with Mark Racop). If Bolanos were worried about taxpayers he would not have sent four of his officers across the country to do a favor for a guy that had already been turned down by the DA's office. This needs to be investigated and Bolanos needs to be held accountable and hopefully made to pay for his poor decisions.

Is anyone else angered by the fact that the county is paying an independent attorney to defend Bolonos? The man that already wasted our money and opened the county up to huge liability is using our money to defend himself. What a joke!


Dave Ross
Registered user
Portola Valley: Brookside Park
on Sep 14, 2022 at 12:43 pm
Dave Ross, Portola Valley: Brookside Park
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2022 at 12:43 pm

"James Touchstone, a lawyer representing Bolanos, called the county’s investigation "politically minded” and “a waste of taxpayer money.”"

Irony is not dead!


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 14, 2022 at 3:44 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2022 at 3:44 pm

Brian:

Yes, I'm angry. I've been angry about Bolanos being in office since he was anointed by the board of supervisors. And I've been angry that he faced no discipline after he, and the Sheriff at the time Munks, were caught in a house of prostitution featuring under age trafficked women. The fact that after that he still had a job and that the board of supervisor thought he was fit to be appointed to the Sheriff's position angers me. It is and was just another in a long line of corrupt acts by the powers that be in San Mateo County.

Bolanos' favor for a wealthy benefactor just goes to show how corrupt and unfit for the office he is. Thankfully, the voters of the county finally figured out he needed to go and elected someone else. Unfortunately, it didn't stop him from costing the county more money. Wagstaffe needs to go next.


Dave Boyce
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 14, 2022 at 7:30 pm
Dave Boyce, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2022 at 7:30 pm

The Sheriff’s Office has always been a black box.

In an earlier story, Wagstaffe was quoted as saying “Everybody deserves to be treated the same. ... And I'm sorry there's an image out there with the public that that hasn't occurred.’

When I was reporting for The Almanac, I once interviewed a deputy who told me that everyone is not treated the same. That interview was rare. SMCSO deputies normally don’t talk with reporters; they used to, and it was great when they did, but the incident in Las Vegas may have been a catalyst for a policy of silence.

As for everyone being treated the same, this deputy said that if a person of influence or with connections happens to be arrested in San Mateo County, the booking room at the jail will be cleared before the detainee steps inside for a photo and fingerprinting.

It was like pulling teeth to get usable information out of this deputy. There may have been more, but that’s all I remember.

Wagstaffe phrases his comment as everyone “should” be treated the same. Maybe he’s accounting for the possibility that they’re not.

It’s fantastic that the supervisors are acting independently and fearlessly (or so it seems). That is a light in the darkness that is San Mateo County government.


Dave Boyce
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 14, 2022 at 7:32 pm
Dave Boyce, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2022 at 7:32 pm

Sorry. Wagstaffe said that everyone “deserves” to be treated the same. Six of one …


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Sep 14, 2022 at 9:13 pm
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Sep 14, 2022 at 9:13 pm

Isn't this absurd? A sheriff who lost the election is sending deputies to the Midwest over a contractual business dispute, in bad economic times, and now we are paying for lawyers to defend him? What about DA Stephen Wagstaffe who is acting like some sort of bystander in this article even though he had to go along with these outrageous acts and press these vile charges? It's relatively simple for the board of supervisors to pass resolutions of NO CONFIDENCE for both of these enemies of the people and ask them to resign in the disgrace they both deserve. Then once we get a real DA who will prosecute Bolanos and Wagstaffe, and send them both to jail, San Mateo County can begin to dig out of the hole of corruption that David Boyce mentions above and enter the 20th century let alone 21st century. It's called "equal application of the law", and once this simple notion actually starts getting applied, lots of problems will go away.


Taruno
Registered user
Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:15 am
Taruno, Woodside: Skywood/Skylonda
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2022 at 12:15 am

I feel relieved that Christina Corpus is the current sheriff.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 15, 2022 at 8:06 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2022 at 8:06 am

Thoughtful:

As much as I'd like to see the corruption of SMC go away, I doubt it will. There are simply too many wealthy, entitled people in SMC. They think they are above the law and they pay for the right to be treated differently than you and me. Or, if not happy, they have the financial means to make life difficult for those that don't wan to treat them differently.

Getting rid of Bolanos was a start. If someone had the courage to run against Wagstaffe and the voters actually put him out of office, I'd have some hope. As long as the highest law enforcement officer in the county is corrupt, things won't change.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 15, 2022 at 11:05 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 15, 2022 at 11:05 am

Taruno:

Corpus isn't sheriff yet.


Menlo 2024
Registered user
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Sep 16, 2022 at 6:02 pm
Menlo 2024, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
Registered user
on Sep 16, 2022 at 6:02 pm

If there is all this corruption maybe you should move out of the county. Bottom line is a judge signed the warrant so there was a reason to investigate. The optics might not be great but it is what it is. I'm more concerned with the 10 million in destroyed PPE gear that they just wrote off. If anyone should be arrested it is County Manager Mike Calegey and the board of supervisors.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 17, 2022 at 8:45 am
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2022 at 8:45 am

Menlo 2024:

yes, a judge signed a warrant, but warrants can be quashed and what was found with that warrant excluded. It happens regularly. No one should have gone to the judge asking for a warrant in the first place. Wagstaffe never should have played along with Bolanos on this BS. It was clearly a civil dispute that an entitled wealthy jerk wanted to use law enforcement for and corrupt Bolanos and Wagstaffe, as is typical for them, went along with it.

I agree the manager and board of supes screwed up on the PPE fiasco, but that was incompetence, misfeasance. What Bolanos and Wagstaffe did was MALFEASANCE. One is not prosecutable, the latter is and should be.

Do you seriously not see the corruption in this county or care? Why don't I leave? That's the old America love it or leave it BS. I love America and I stay to fix it's problems. I don't run away, or like you, bury my head in the sand and pretend there aren't any.


gtspencer
Registered user
Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Sep 17, 2022 at 9:05 am
gtspencer, Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2022 at 9:05 am

Ok besides Batmobile and the PPE where is all this corruption in our county you’re alleging. The sky is not falling.


Dave Boyce
Registered user
Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Sep 17, 2022 at 4:07 pm
Dave Boyce, Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2022 at 4:07 pm

The sky is not falling, it’s true. The county government does not come across as incompetent. The bureaucracy probably works sufficiently well.

The problem is the curtain with the smiley face in front of it all. We pay for what they’re doing back there, but we never get to pull the curtain back. That’s a formula for corruption.

Is it corrupt? Is it squeaky clean? How are we to know if all we get is the equivalent of a pat on the head and a “Don’t you worry your little head about it.”

That is maddening.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 17, 2022 at 4:40 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2022 at 4:40 pm

OH deputy spencer, you're back.

The sky isn't falling, but I know you know there is corruption.


Menlo Voter.
Registered user
Menlo Park: other
on Sep 17, 2022 at 4:44 pm
Menlo Voter., Menlo Park: other
Registered user
on Sep 17, 2022 at 4:44 pm

Dave:

And on the rare occasion we do get to see it, we get to see email from Wagstaffe to Munks when he was caught along with Bolanos in a house of prostitution featuring underage girls. And what did he say? This is no big deal to "those who matter". Those that matter aren't you, me or most of the rest of the people of San Mateo County.


Thoughtful
Registered user
Atherton: other
on Sep 18, 2022 at 12:39 pm
Thoughtful, Atherton: other
Registered user
on Sep 18, 2022 at 12:39 pm

So the defense for Bolanos is going to be a judge signed the warrant, so he did nothing wrong.

Did the judge "rubber stamp" a warrant for someone in INDIANA? If so, let's understand who this judge was so we can vote him or her out for not really doing their job.

Or maybe the judge didn't even know the alleged perp was in INDIANA, in which case it comes down to Carlos Bolanos misusing county resources for trading personal favors.

One or both of these is entirely possible.

Think about it. If Donald Trump had sent the FBI to Indiana to help a campaign donor in a business dispute, to (verbally) rough up his ally's opponent, wouldn't there have been enormous outcry?


MP Father
Registered user
Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Sep 20, 2022 at 1:05 pm
MP Father, Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
Registered user
on Sep 20, 2022 at 1:05 pm

"...the attorney hired to represent outgoing Sheriff Carlos Bolanos is alleging that the County Board of Supervisors has interfered with the legal authority of its district attorney’s and sheriff’s offices."

LOL. Bolanos, just accept that the residents of SMC see you for who you really are and move on. The damage is done.


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