Crime

Prominent Modesto defense attorney Frank Carson arrested on suspicion of murder; 3 CHP officers also arrested in connection with case

Kauffman Murder Press Conference

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson address arrests in the murder Korey Kauffman at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department in Ceres California on August 14, 2015. (John Westberg/jwestberg.com)
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Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson address arrests in the murder Korey Kauffman at the Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department in Ceres California on August 14, 2015. (John Westberg/jwestberg.com)

Prominent Modesto criminal defense attorney Frank Carson and eight others, including three California Highway Patrol officers, were arrested Friday for their suspected involvement in the 2012 death of Korey Kauffman. The 26-year-old Turlock man’s body was found in Mariposa County a year and a half after he went missing.

A 326-page arrest affidavit details an alleged conspiracy with Carson as its ringleader. The defense attorney, who last year ran for district attorney, is described as a vengeful property owner trying to send a message to people allegedly stealing scrap metal and antiques from his property in Turlock.

Authorities say Kauffman was known for “scrapping,” street slang for stealing metals to sell to recyclers. On the night of his disappearance, Kauffman left a friend’s home to steal irrigation pipes from Carson’s property, according to the affidavit.

“The whole scrapper life, I didn’t approve of it,” said Tony Kauffman, the victim’s father. “You know how fathers are with their sons, we tend to be harder on them. But he chose his own path. He was a good kid with a good heart and he didn’t deserve what he got.”

The Stanislaus County Sheriff’s Department has released the arrest affidavit, which lists nine people arrested, including Carson’s wife, two Turlock business owners and the three CHP officers.

Along with the murder charge, Carson faces charges of criminal conspiracy, false imprisonment and two counts of soliciting a crime. Those in the affidavit charged with murder also face an enhancement for the use of a gun in the homicide and a special circumstance allegation of lying in wait.

Carson has said that any suggestion he’s involved in Kauffman’s death is absurd. Until Friday, officials involved in the investigation had refused to say whether Carson is a suspect in the murder, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on the pending case.

As part of the Kauffman investigation, authorities searched Carson’s property not long after Kauffman went missing. Authorities believe Kauffman was killed on March 30, 2012, somewhere in the Turlock area and his body was secretly transported to Mariposa County where hunters discovered it in August 2013.

Percy Martinez, Carson’s attorney, told The Modesto Bee on Friday that he and his client have been waiting more than a year for authorities to make their allegations public, instead of investigators frequently bringing up Carson’s name while questioning witnesses and suspects in the Kauffman case. Martinez said they look forward to fighting the allegations in court and clearing Carson’s name.

Carson’s wife, Georgia Geanette DeFilippo, faces charges of first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy and false imprisonment. Her daughter, Cristina Anne DeFilippo, was arrested on suspicion of criminal conspiracy and being an accessory.

Baljit Athwal and his brother, Daljit Atwal, who spell their last names differently, have been arrested on suspicion of first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy and false imprisonment.

The brothers, who own the Pop-N-Cork Liquor stores in Turlock, have claimed repeated harassment by law enforcement officials involved in the Kauffman murder investigation and organized protests outside the District Attorney’s Office in downtown Modesto. They also have filed a federal lawsuit against members of a local investigative task force looking into the murder.

Robert Lee Woody is listed as an arrestee in the affidavit, charged with first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy and false imprisonment. But Woody has been in custody since last year and was the only person charged with murder in Kauffman’s death until this week. Authorities had not publicly identified Woody’s alleged co-conspirators.

During Woody’s arraignment last year, Kauffman’s father said the suspect was just a “small fry” in the extensive investigation, which took years and was investigated by a task force of detectives from the Sheriff’s Department, District Attorney’s Office and Modesto Police Department.

“I didn’t know the quantity but I knew there was going to be a few more (people arrested) than just Woody,” Tony Kauffman said Friday. “It feels pretty good. We’ve come a long way, and it’s only just beginning. ... We have a long road ahead of us.”

CHP officers Walter Wesley Wells, Scott J. McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar Jr. also have been arrested in connection with the Turlock man’s murder. Wells is charged with first-degree murder, criminal conspiracy and false imprisonment. McFarlane and Quintanar are charged with criminal conspiracy and being an accessory.

At a Friday afternoon news conference, CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said Wells no longer works for the agency. Wells had been with the CHP for seven years until June when his employment ended as a result of conduct unrelated to the murder investigation, according to Farrow, who said all three officers knew each other.

According to the affidavit, “the CHP officers involved in this investigation have all attempted to use the office of the California Highway Patrol to thwart the investigators’ attempts to interview them.”

McFarlane and Quintanar were placed on administrative leave as soon as the task force concluded the Kauffman murder investigation. Farrow said their peace officer powers have been revoked pending the result of an internal investigation. McFarlane had been with the CHP for 13 years and Quintanar for 12 years. Wells and McFarlane most recently worked in the Merced area, and Quintanar most recently worked in the Modesto area.

“I am here saddened by this news,” Farrow said during the news conference. “The California Highway Patrol is a very proud organization that values integrity … to hear news like this is devastating.”

He said news of officers involved in an alleged criminal conspiracy affects all law enforcement agencies, and it “rips at the soul of an organization.”

Carson challenged Fladager for office last year

Carson has been an outspoken critic of Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager and her office while making arguments in court and during his unsuccessful bid for district attorney last year.

He has challenged the District Attorney’s Office on several fronts in recent years, including filing a civil lawsuit against the county and a prosecution investigator accused of harassing Carson in a courthouse hallway. The civil trial was scheduled to start this week, but it was suddenly postponed and hasn’t been rescheduled. Carson said Tuesday that he had no idea why it was delayed.

Martinez said he’s not surprised by the timing of the arrests, considering the civil trial that was supposed to start this week. “Whenever Mr. Carson shakes their tree, they (law enforcement officials) turn around and shake his tree.”

Carson also has pushed for contempt charges against the prosecution investigator and a chief prosecutor who also was handling the murder case against Woody.

Investigator Steve Jacobson is accused of questioning an alternate juror while the jury deliberated in the trial of one of Carson’s clients. Chief Deputy District Attorney Dave Harris is accused of failing to promptly notify the court that Jacobson had improper contact with an alternate juror. The contempt case was put on hold pending an appellate court decision on whether Carson is allowed to participate in that court proceeding.

Carson’s attorney suggested that authorities arrested his client on a Friday so he would have to wait all weekend in the county jail before making his first court appearance early next week. Authorities have 72 hours to bring a defendant before a judge for his arraignment, where the defendant can ask for his bail amount to be set. On Friday afternoon, Carson and others charged with murder were being held without bail.

“We anticipated it would go down like this,” Martinez said.

Sheriff, D.A. would not answer questions

Local investigators on Friday declined to answer any questions about the murder investigation, directing news reporters to the lengthy arrest affidavit that details the 3-year investigation.

“It took a lot of work, it took a lot of time ... and it has finally come together,” Fladager said about the multiagency task force.

She said prosecutors are expected to file formal charges early next week, and the defendants are expected to make their first court appearance.

Stanislaus County Sheriff Adam Christianson said the investigation would not have been possible without the diligent work of Mariposa County sheriff’s Detective Sherre Hendricks. “We hope to serve justice to the Kauffman family,” Christianson said.

Kauffman’s father was reading the arrest affidavit chronicling the evidence gathered in his son’s slaying. He said he’d only just begun Friday morning but was surprised by some of the information, such as the arrest of McFarlane.

The CHP officer lived next door to Korey Kauffman, so Tony Kauffman sought him for guidance about the intricacies of missing persons investigations. “I am old school, I look up to police officers,” he said. “You don’t expect them to be involved in the murder of your child, that’s for damn sure.”

Farrow offered his condolences to the victim’s family, saying, “I can’t even imagine what news like this does to family and friends.”

Rosalio Ahumada: 209-578-2394, @ModBeeCourts

Kaufmann investigation timeline

  • January 2012: Carson represents Robert Lee Woody when he is accused of receiving stolen property. The charge eventually is dropped.
  • March 2012: Korey Kauffman leaves a friend’s house on Lander Avenue in Turlock and goes missing.
  • Oct. 16, 2013: A body found by hunters in August 2013 in the Stanislaus National Forest is determined to be Korey Kauffman. Detectives term his death “suspicious” and appeal for help from the public to determine what happened.
  • Dec. 3, 2013: Praveen Singh (aka Prajeer Singh), a Modesto bail agent accused of using his position to solicit gang members to commit violent crimes, is named as a person of interest in the case. Singh also has been employed by criminal defense attorney and district attorney candidate Frank Carson. Carson, Singh’s attorney, says Singh “has done work for us” as a private investigator.
  • March 6, 2014: After a seven-month, five-agency investigation, Robert Lee Woody, 38, is arrested on charges of murder, conspiracy and a special enhancement for lying in wait. The criminal complaint against Woody also shows the conspiracy charge is supported by four allegations of involvement with three co-conspirators, who are listed only as B, C and D.
  • March 15, 2014: Woody pleads not guilty on charges of murder and conspiracy and denies a special enhancement for lying in wait.
  • March 19, 2014: Superior Court Judge Ricardo Córdova doesn’t reveal why he would recuse himself from Woody’s case, but he does say the rest of the judges in the courthouse likely would recuse themselves if the three other people are charged – a possible indication that the three people have some connection to the courthouse.
  • March 22, 2014: Carson speaks to a group of licensed private investigators about his run to become the next Stanislaus County district attorney. He emphatically denies any involvement in an alleged criminal conspiracy linked to the death of Kauffman.
  • April 11, 2014: Woody makes a brief appearance for a pretrial hearing. The hearing is continued to later in the month and prosecutor Dave Harris tells the judge that the District Attorney’s Office has not made a decision about the penalty that will be pursued against the defendant.
  • July 18, 2014: Woody returns to court for a pretrial hearing. Harris tells the judge the District Attorney’s Office will not seek the death penalty against Woody.
  • Aug. 2, 2014: Praveen Singh, the Modesto bail agent facing criminal charges, files a claim against Stanislaus County seeking $20 million in damages, asserting he has been harassed repeatedly by investigators from the District Attorney’s Office. He alleges the investigators abused their power, trying to pressure him into providing information that links Carson to Kauffman’s death.
  • Aug. 30. 2014: Brothers Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal, who spell their last name differently, owners of the Pop-N-Cork Liquor stores in Turlock, file a claim against the cities of Modesto, Turlock and Ceres and Stanislaus County saying they have been repeatedly harassed by law enforcement involved in the Kauffman murder investigation. They later file a federal lawsuit against local authorities.
  • June 3, 2014: Carson is defeated by incumbent Birgit Fladager in the race for Stanislaus County district attorney.
  • June 27, 2015: Praveen Singh, 36, and his girlfriend, Jyoteshna Karan, 43, are arrested. Singh, who filed a civil rights lawsuit against local law enforcement officials, also faces local criminal charges for allegedly asking inmates to commit crimes for him. Singh says he has been, since early 2013, the subject of an erroneous and malicious investigation into Kauffman’s murder, according to a federal lawsuit filed by Singh’s Southern California-based attorney, Alex Herrera. The lawsuit alleges that investigators have abused their power, arresting Singh three times, and none of the charges are linked to the murder investigation.
  • Aug. 13, 2015: Frank Clifford Carson, Georgia Geanette DeFilippo, Daljit Singh Atwal, Baljit Singh Athwal, Walter Wesley Wells and Robert Lee Woody are arrested; the charges include first-degree murder, lying in wait, firearm enhancement, conspiracy to commit a crime and false imprisonment. Christina Anne DeFilippo, Scott J. McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar Jr. are arrested on charges of conspiracy to commit a crime and accessory.

Compiled by Karen Aiello

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