A judge on Wednesday denied a defense motion to remove the Stanislaus County District Attorney’s Office from a case against a Modesto bail bonds business owner accused of extortion.
Frank Carson, Aleo John Pontillo’s attorney, claimed that prosecutors focused an investigation on his client to divert attention from wrongdoing within the District Attorney’s Office.
Carson alleged that District Attorney Birgit Fladager was afraid of negative publicity and persuaded federal authorities to halt their probe of a high-ranking investigator in her office.
Prosecutors said Carson’s allegations had no supporting evidence and were an attempt to influence the June 3 election. When Carson filed his recusal motion, he was running for district attorney against Fladager, who was re-elected to a third term last week.
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The defense attorney argued that Pontillo, owner of AJ’s Bail Bonds, can’t receive a fair trial because prosecutors redirected their focus to conceal Fladager intervening in a federal investigation of one of her investigators.
The FBI and the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department conducted a probe into Aaron Gallagher, who was then an investigator for the District Attorney’s Office.
Investigators were trying to determine whether Gallagher tipped off David Nelson, who was the subject of drug raid in a methamphetamine sales investigation. Nelson was a longtime informant for Gallagher and worked at AJ’s Bail Bonds.
After federal and state prosecutors refused to prosecute Gallagher, Fladager fired the investigator.
In a filed response to the defense motion, Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris wrote that the simplest way to keep the Nelson and Gallagher connection a secret would have been to not prosecute Pontillo. Harris and Fladager denied there was a cover-up in the court documents.
Superior Court Judge Scott Steffen said in court Wednesday that there were some “intriguing ties” between the District Attorney’s Office and some of the witnesses in Pontillo’s case. But he didn’t find any grounds to remove Fladager’s office from the case. The judge agreed with the prosecutors, saying the District Attorney’s Office could have chosen not to prosecute Pontillo if it wanted to cover up the Gallagher investigation.
Pontillo’s trial is scheduled to start July 14. The defendant has been charged with conspiracy to kidnap for the purpose of extortion, conspiracy to commit grand theft and violating state insurance regulations.
His co-defendants, Janelle Marie Llorens and Mark David Davis, are scheduled to return to court June 30 for a pretrial hearing.