Modesto bail agent seeks $20 million from county, claiming harassment by investigators

08/01/2014 5:26 PM

08/02/2014 9:11 AM

A Modesto bail agent facing criminal charges has filed a claim against Stanislaus County seeking $20 million in damages, asserting he has been harassed repeatedly by investigators from the District Attorney’s Office.

Praveen Singh alleges that investigators have abused their power, trying to pressure him into providing information that links well-known Modesto defense attorney Frank Carson to the death of Korey Kauffman.

The claim, filed with the county Board of Supervisors on Monday, indicates that investigators have discovered no evidence that links Singh or Carson to the 26-year-old man’s death.

“The District Attorney’s Office and its gang of investigators have engaged in an all-out bully campaign against Mr. Singh ... under the color of law, and they don’t appear to have any intention of stopping,” Alex Herrera wrote in the claim. The Beverly Hills-based attorney filed the claim on behalf of Singh and his girlfriend, Joyteshna Karan.

In the claim, investigator Kirk Bunch and Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris are named as two people who tried to pressure Singh into providing information about Carson in connection with the Kauffman murder investigation.

District Attorney Birgit Fladager, Bunch and Harris declined to respond to the allegations made in the civil claim. “We obviously don’t comment on open, pending criminal cases or on civil claims and complaints,” Fladager said Friday.

County Counsel John Doering said Friday that Singh’s claim has been received by the Board of Supervisors and will be placed on the board’s Aug. 11 meeting agenda. He said the board will likely send the claim to the county’s risk management department, which has 45 days from the filing date to review the claim. If rejected, the claim is a likely precursor to a civil lawsuit.

Only one charged in death

Kauffman went missing in late March 2012 and his body was discovered by hunters a year ago in an isolated area of Mariposa County. Robert Lee Woody, however, remains the only person charged or identified as a suspect in Kauffman’s death.

In a criminal complaint filed against Woody on March 4, prosecutors listed three other people as co-conspirators B, C and D but have not revealed their names. Last month, prosecutors decided not to seek the death penalty against Woody, who remains in custody at the Stanislaus County jail.

Carson says any suggestion he is involved in a homicide is absurd. Carson’s attorney has advised him not to speak about specific details with news media. His attorney says Carson wants to clear his name, which frequently has been brought up by investigators questioning witnesses and suspects in the Kauffman case.

Singh, an agent of Singh’s Bail Bonds, is charged with attempted shooting of an occupied home, soliciting the commission of a shooting at an inhabited home and soliciting the commission of a robbery. He has pleaded not guilty to the charges.

Singh is accused of asking gang members to carry out a drive-by shooting and a home-invasion robbery where marijuana was being grown. Carson initially represented Singh in his criminal case, but he later withdrew from the case after Harris claimed there would be a conflict of interest.

The defendant remains free on $220,000 bail. Singh is scheduled to return to court Aug. 11 for a pretrial hearing.

Herrera wrote in the claim that prosecutors have filed two other criminal cases against Singh, alleging his client violated state insurance regulations and committed welfare fraud.

Singh was driving away from his girlfriend’s realty office when he was taken into custody on the welfare charge. His attorney said investigators asked for the keys to the realty office, and Singh cooperated even though the welfare fraud charges had nothing to do with the realty office.

“Nevertheless, investigators spent the entire day searching the office, its files, computers, and ended up seizing the majority of the company’s files, computers and printers,” Herrera wrote in the claim.

After the welfare fraud arrest, Bunch pressured Singh again to give investigators information about Carson. The investigator from the District Attorney’s Office told Singh, “I can go to bat for you if you help with the homicide investigation, and I can get a lot of this dismissed, and you can go on with your life ... give us ‘Big Daddy,’ ” according to Singh’s claim.

Abuse of power claims

Herrera claims that Singh and his girlfriend, who is the mother of his two children, lost a business deal after investigators visited a title company used by Karan’s real estate brokerage. The title company then stopped doing business with Karan and Singh.

The attorney says investigators have not provided any information that the real estate deal had anything to do with the investigation.

“It appears more and more obvious that the investigators are abusing their power and seeking to harm Mr. Singh’s financial interests,” Herrera wrote in the claim. “This was particularly harmful to the business, especially since the transaction was in the escrow stage and ready to close soon thereafter. The buyer of the property dropped out, escrow dropped out and the price of the property dropped down.”

As part of the Kauffman investigation, investigators searched Carson’s property not long after Kauffman went missing in 2012.

More than a year later, Carson announced he was running for district attorney against Fladager. She was re-elected to a third term in June.

After hearing from friends that Bunch was stepping up his investigation into Kauffman’s death, Singh called Bunch and asked the investigator, “What do you want from me?”

Bunch replied: “If you bring me the murder weapon, I won’t arrest you,” according to Singh’s claim.

Investigators became more aggressive toward him as the June election neared, Singh’s attorney says. Investigators were pressuring Singh more and more to “turn over Carson” or give them “something on Carson,” according to the claim.

Since September, Singh has been arrested three times on charges unrelated to the Kauffman death. After his third arrest, Singh asked his criminal defense attorney to inquire about the charges and the “seemingly never-ending murder investigation,” Herrera wrote in the claim.

Harris told Singh’s defense attorney that the only way something can happen with Singh’s charges is if he gives investigators information about Carson. According to Herrera, the prosecutor said, “If information against Mr. Carson is provided, then this would all stop.”

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