Modesto defense attorney talks about run for DA, denies involvement in alleged conspiracy

03/21/2014 7:01 PM

03/21/2014 7:55 PM

Modesto defense attorney Frank Carson spoke to a group of licensed private investigators Friday about his run to become the next Stanislaus County district attorney. He also emphatically denied any involvement in an alleged criminal conspiracy linked to a Turlock man’s death.

“That notion is absurd,” Carson said in a meeting of the local chapter of the California Association of Licensed Investigators.

He told the investigators he would like to speak more openly to dispel any rumors and prove he is not involved in the death of Korey Kauffman but is bound by attorney-client privilege not to discuss any details he might have learned while representing defendants in criminal cases.

Since speaking briefly with The Modesto Bee about the Kauffman case Monday, Carson has been advised by his attorney, Percy Martinez, not to discuss the matter with the news media.

“Mr. Carson does want to talk, but the problem is that Mr. Carson represents a lot of people that are peripherally involved in this,” Martinez said. “A lot of the things he knows, he has come by through a professional contact, and that is privileged information.”

Carson in 2012 represented Robert Lee Woody, the only person who has been charged in Kauffman’s homicide. Kauffman’s body was found in an isolated area of Mariposa County in August, more than a year after he went missing.

Charged with murder and conspiracy, Woody’s criminal complaint notes three co-conspirators, identified only as B, C and D.

Woody and co-conspirator B allegedly threatened a witness on behalf of co-conspirator C, who told Woody he would provide legal representation and, with the help of other co-conspirators, bail Woody out of jail in the event of his arrest, according to the complaint. It goes on to state that co-conspirators B and D also paid for the defendant to leave the area to avoid becoming a witness or suspect in Kauffman’s death.

Martinez criticized the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office for implicating unnamed co-conspirators without following through with an arrest.

“I know that the DA has already run to the judge and said Mr. Carson is involved,” Martinez said. “But they never come out and say anything straight out.”

District Attorney Birgit Fladager declined to respond to Martinez’s claims, saying her office is bound by prosecutorial rules that restrict her from commenting publicly on any aspect of an ongoing investigation or pending criminal case.

Judge Ricardo Cordova on Tuesday said in court he would have to recuse himself from Woody’s case in the event the three co-conspirators are charged, but he did not give a reason. A recusal could indicate that any or all of the three have some connection to the courthouse or people who work there.

“If (investigators) have all this evidence ... why don’t they move on it?” Martinez asked rhetorically.

A task force of investigators from the Modesto, Turlock and Ceres police departments, the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department, the California Department of Corrections and the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office was assembled to investigate the case.

“They have sort of slandered his name for the last six or seven months,” Martinez said. “(Investigators) will pick up three or four people on the street and say things about Frank Carson and then they let those people go.”

Baljit Athwal, who co-owns Pop-N-Cork Liquors in Turlock with his brother, said they both have been questioned by law enforcement about the Kauffman case. He said not only has Carson’s name come up, but “they were blaming us all.”

Athwal echoes Martinez’s assertion that if the evidence was there, more arrests already would have been made.

The brothers, along with family and friends, have staged several protests highlighting their treatment by law enforcement during the investigation, including one Friday in Sacramento in front of the state Capitol. They say they have been subjected to multiple searches and claim investigators’ questioning has amounted to harassment.

Meanwhile in Ripon, Carson spoke to the group of private investigators that invited him to present his campaign platform.

Although it does not endorse a candidate as a group, it has been visited by both candidates for Stanislaus County sheriff this year, and says it plans to invite Fladager to speak at one of its meetings before the June election.

Many private investigators throughout the state work for defense attorneys in criminal cases, but they also work on civil cases, educational law and job safety cases.

Carson told the investigators that there’s an extensive failure in management at the District Attorney’s Office. He said Fladager’s number of investigators has ballooned, while the number of prosecutors has dwindled, creating delays at the courthouse.

“It can be changed, and it should be changed,” said Carson, who said he has been a vocal critic of the District Attorney’s Office for the past 25 years that he’s practiced law in Stanislaus County. “We need to change, and there is an alternative.”

Fladager, a two-term district attorney, has said that her challenger’s allegations of mismanagement are false. She says she has a supportive staff that works hard every day to seek justice despite, for example, challenges such as staff shortages, pay cuts and the unexpected deaths of three prosecutors.

There were 40 prosecutors and six supervising prosecutors in 2006. That same year, the District Attorney’s Office had 15 criminal investigators and two supervising investigators, Fladager said Friday.

This year, Fladager has 39 prosecutors, five supervising prosecutors, 11 criminal investigators and two supervising investigators. She also said the District Attorney’s Office has had up to 50 attorneys and more than 20 investigators at its highest staffing levels.

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