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Photograph by Felipe Buitrago

Out of the Loop: Attorney General Bill Lockyer, pictured here with Karen Sinunu, says he'll look into the district attorney's report on Jose Salcido.

C-Gate

Is there anywhere to run in the burgeoning Measure C scandal?

By Dan Pulcrano

IN A BIZARRE twist on the story Metro broke last week, Santa Clara County's county counsel and a well-connected political consultant met last Monday with District Attorney George Kennedy to discuss the Metro article two days before it was published.

Then, County Counsel Ann Ravel and consultant Victor Ajlouny launched a coordinated public attack on a report described in the article—and on the report's author, 30-year law enforcement veteran Joe Brockman, who concluded that top county officials illegally misused public funds to influence an election and that Deputy Sheriffs' Association head Jose Salcido committed felony perjury.

In a memo released by Ravel, she said she was "concerned about some apparently illegal actions taken by the investigator" and "about the lack of professionalism which was obvious in the investigation." She referred to Brockman as "a normally competent investigator" who authored "a very poorly done report" based on "a defective investigation."

Ravel's attack on the office's conflicts of interest is yet another wrinkle in a snowballing saga that has sucked in just about every branch of county government, and in which every major player is wearing multiple hats and has apparent conflicts of interest.

Victor Ajlouny represents both the Deputy Sheriffs' Association as a group and its president, Salcido, when he runs for elected office. The DSA board agreed to pay Ajlouny $2,500 to fly out from his Omaha, Neb., home last week to meet with Kennedy regarding the Salcido investigation report. Ajlouny went a step further than Ravel and said it was wrong for the DA's office to even look into the matter.

"It was inappropriate for the DA to investigate," said Ajlouny.

The district attorney is an Ajlouny client as well, and has used him to produce political mailers in two elections. In an interview, Kennedy said, "I consider Ajlouny a friend" and acknowledged that the political consultant had in the past spoken with him about the Salcido perjury allegation.

"I do remember him calling and advocating on behalf of Jose," said Kennedy. He said he doesn't remember when the calls occurred. "He wasn't acting as the guy's lawyer. He just wanted to make sure I knew his side of it."

Ravel says she met with Kennedy "on my client's behalf," though she will not disclose which client it was. Her clients, she said, include the sheriff, the Board of Supervisors—and the DA.

Two of her clients—County Executive Pete Kutras and his newly named assistant Luke Leung—were targets of the Brockman investigation. In an Aug. 24 deposition, Kutras confirmed that he entered into a "package agreement" with Salcido's DSA to get raises while the association committed in writing to stay out of last November's Measure C election. Brockman's report determined that Kutras and Leung broke the law by swapping public funds for restrictions on union political activities. Kutras testified that Ravel's bosses, the Board of Supervisors, were aware of the deal as well. Salcido's allegedly perjurous declaration appeared on Ravel's letterhead, and Metro reported last week that her attorneys were involved crafting the very paragraphs of the declaration that more than a few members of the law enforcement community believe represent lying under oath.

Ravel strongly denied that there was any conflict in meeting with Kennedy regarding a conflict of interest within his office at the same time that her office was serving as counsel to targets of a criminal investigation into misconduct by public officials.

Surprisingly, Kennedy agreed with Ajlouny's attack on his staff. "He's absolutely right. We were too close to the case. We shouldn't be making the decision," he said. Kennedy said he unsuccessfully shopped the matter to the San Mateo DA and the San Francisco office of the state attorney general, who declined to take it over. "Obviously I'm too close to the case to make a decision. But no one else wanted to take it."

California Attorney General Bill Lockyer, in Santa Clara Monday for a Silicon Valley Leadership Group event, said he was unaware of the matter but agreed to look into it and left with a copy of last week's Metro article under his arm. "If he wants to take this thing over, it's all his," Kennedy says. "We'll deliver the box to him."

The matter is likely to be talked about in the upcoming DA's race and could become a liability for Kennedy and the assistant he has endorsed to become his successor, Karen Sinunu. It also could impact Supervisor Pete McHugh, another Ajlouny client who has gone public with plans to run against Assessor Larry Stone. McHugh was the architect of a failed attempt to grease the skids for Salcido to become the county's top law enforcement officer.

Ajlouny is also involved in the 2006 race for mayor of San Jose as principal strategist to candidate Chuck Reed, who says he is running on a platform "focusing on honesty, fiscal responsibility and open government."

Reed isn't concerned about Ajlouny's intervention on Salcido's behalf or his role as a county power broker because "he's not the one that determines what I think."

Ajluny also reportedly lobbied the Mercury News last week to go easy on Salcido, but went silent when asked whether he and Ravel met with columnist Scott Herhold last week. On Sunday, Herhold penned a column dismissing the scrutiny of top county officials as little more than election year mudslinging.

Herhold refused to discuss whether he met with Ajluny and Ravel. When contacted by Metro, Herhold eloquently responded, "I don't like you, so why am I even going to help you? ... I'm going to hang up."

The Mercury News is still sitting on a journalistic inquiry into alleged prosecutorial misconduct at the district attorney's office begun two years ago by reporter Noam Levy, who's now at the Los Angeles Times.

Brockman was unavailable for comment on the political firestorm ignited by his report, as well as the attacks on his competence. Others concerned by the sidelined investigation say they'll go to the federal prosecutor if the state's attorney general won't take the case.


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From the August 17-23, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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