Restraining order protects Riverbank candidate from ex-mayor

Virginia Madueno, president of Imagen Public Relations & Marketing.
Virginia Madueno, president of Imagen Public Relations & Marketing. Modesto Bee

RIVERBANK -- City Councilwoman Virginia Madueño has been issued a temporary restraining order against former mayor Charles Neal after she claimed he harassed and stalked her and her family.

The order, issued Oct. 8, says Neal must stay 100 yards from Madueño, her car and her house. In a court filing, she claims Neal has harassed her and it's escalated in recent months.

"We no longer feel safe in our home. ... I am truly in fear for my safety and the safety of my family," she wrote in a statement accompanying her request for the order.

Neal said Wednesday he couldn't comment without consulting his attorney. He said that wasn't possible because he was leaving that day for an extended trip to Israel.

Madueño, 42, said she's clashed with Neal for about two years, mostly in public settings such as council meetings. But she said Neal's attention recently has shifted to her private life. She said she's seen him driving slowly in front of her house three or four times in the past few months.

Madueño said as an elected official she expects to take criticism but said Neal's recent actions have felt threatening to her and her family.

She said she decided to ask for the restraining order after three witnesses, including former Riverbank police chief Tim Beck, said they saw Neal give Madueño "the Hitler salute" outside the City Council chamber in September.

"The attitude from my fam- ily was, if he can do this in front of a chief of police, we don't know what he's capable of," Madueño said in an interview.

Beck said he couldn't comment on Madueño's case because it's an ongoing civil matter.

Judges can issue temporary restraining orders without hearing testimony from the alleged harasser. The temporary order against Neal will stay in effect until Oct. 28, when a hearing is scheduled. At the hearing, the judge will review evidence from both sides, then decide whether the temporary order should become permanent.

Neal, 67, served on Riverbank's City Council for several years in the 1980s and early 1990s. He left city politics after losing an election by five votes, according to a 1992 Bee story.

But he remains a prominent local figure, frequently attending council meetings and speaking during public comment sessions. He is a vocal critic of city spending, policies and staff. In recent months, he's raised concerns the city is misusing developer fees.

Neal is supporting Madueño's opponent in the mayor's race, incumbent Chris Crifasi. Neal donated $100 to Crifasi's campaign, wrote a letter to the editor supporting Crifasi and signed a statement endorsing Crifasi along with seven former Riverbank mayors. Crifasi declined to comment for this story.

Madueño was appointed to the council in 2005. Soon afterward, Neal began calling her with complaints about city issues, she said. Madueño said such calls a normal part of being on the city council.

Madueño said she and Neal started to butt heads in April 2006, during the controversy about immigration reform. Neal, she said, faxed several pages of anti-illegal-immigrant rhetoric to her house. Madueño, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, was born in Modesto.

Since then, Madueño said she's been a frequent target of Neal's. He criticized her for requesting city funds to attend a national conference for Latino leaders. She paid to attend the conference with her own money.

Earlier this year, Neal raised concerns that Madueño was violating conflict-of-interest laws by voting on matters related to Riverbank's redevelopment area. Madueño owns property inside the redevelopment area. She alerted the Fair Political Practices Commission about the situation; she now recuses herself from redevelopment-related votes.

Madueño said her decision to seek the restraining order wasn't based on Neal's public criticism. She said she sought the order after the Sept. 22 City Council meeting, when, according to court documents, witnesses told Madueño that Neal clicked his heels twice and performed "the Hitler salute" as Madueño walked past him outside the council chamber.

"This last incident that happened is really what set this off," Madueño said.

Neal was elected to the Riverbank City Council in 1981, according to Bee stories. After he lost a 1992 bid for a fourth term, he told The Bee he and his wife were going to Bible college. Neal now calls himself a minister with the Spirit of the Eagle Ministry.

Bee staff writer Leslie Albrecht can be reached at lalbrecht@modbee.com or 578-2378.