Slain dad’s estate generously enriches his convicted killer

January 14, 2008

By DANIEL BLACKBURN

1/8/2008

A repeat felon who executed his own father was the recipient of at least $150,000 from the Paso Robles man’s estate, according to a relative who witnessed the financial transactions

California law prohibits criminals from profiting from their crimes.

Martin Mendoza is serving a 23-year sentence in a California prison for shooting his father, Benjamin “Benji” Mendoza Sr., 68, between the eyes with a small-caliber pistol. The senior Mendoza’s body was found in a shallow grave in a popular Big Sur Monterey coastal campground more than two years after his December 2000 disappearance. A tipster led police to the burial site.

Martin Mendoza was considered a suspect, but had not yet been arrested, in the north Paso Robles slaying when his mother, Ruby, reportedly placed the money in an interest-bearing trust fund, in his name, with an Atascadero financial institution.

Numerous attempts by UncoveredSLO.com to contact Ruby Mendoza have gone unanswered. [Editor’s note: Should Ruby Mendoza contact UncoveredSlo.com after this posting, her comments will be reported without delay.]

Ruby and her husband were estranged at the time of the slaying, living in homes he owned on opposite ends of the 1800 block of Pine Street in Paso Robles. The elder Mendoza, a popular Templeton custom meat-cutter, vanished shortly after neighbors reported seeing a violent altercation the man had with Martin, one of his five sons.

A close relative of Ruby’s, now living out of state, said in an interview last week that she spent “lots of time hanging out” with Ruby in the months after Benji Mendoza’s body was discovered March 12, 2003. Family suspicions by then had long since focused on Martin, and even Ruby was being questioned by police. The relative said “no one else in the family would hang out with her [Ruby] after that. It [Martin’s possible culpability] was all out by then.”

Fear of reprisal prompted the relative to ask for anonymity just prior to this posting. Her version of events was confirmed by one of Benji’s sons, David Mendoza of Paso Robles. Because of raw family feelings and rampant suspicions during the slaying’s immediate aftermath, the relative was regularly reporting Ruby’s financial activities to David. His copiou handwritten notes were provided to UncoveredSLO.com.

The relative said she would often help Ruby with errands, many of which involved banking activities. Ruby was suddenly busy handling a lot of money, proceeds from sales of Benji’s property, several life insurance policies, and the contents of Benji’s bedroom safe, reportedly as much as $300,000. The dead man had not trusted banks, said David, and was known by many to carry a lot of cash with him.

The relative said that in mid-2003, about five months after Benji’s’ body was unearthed, Ruby showed her several documents that “appeared to be cashier’s checks” from an Atascadero Realtor’s office. She said the name printed on the checks “was really big and prominent. Ruby said she had gotten checks for all the boys… but Martin’s was the only name on these. [Ruby] said Martin’s cash share was bigger because the other boys were all getting something else, too, like property.”

Shortly after seeing the checks, the woman accompanied Ruby to the Morro Road financial institution, she said, and was asked by Ruby to read “a pile” of technical document’s details to her. The relative said she did so: the transaction created a trust account in Martin’s name. (Such an account would gain $6,000 or $7,000 or more annually in interest.)

California law expressly forbids criminals from profiting from their crimes. Complying with a U.S. Supreme Court ruling, state lawmakers revised in 2002 a so-called “Son of Sam” statute permitting lawsuits seeking damages against defendants convicted of certain serious felonies. That includes the crimes for which Martin is now imprisoned.

An assortment of odd occurrences

There was good reason for family members and police to suspect Martin in the shooting and disappearance of his father; Martin’s criminal record, replete with convictions for violent offenses, was even then extensive. There also was good reason for Martin’s siblings to question why he had not been incarcerated at the time of Benji’s slaying. Martin was several felony arrests beyond being eligible for life imprisonment as a three-time offender long before he shot Benji to death.

Martin had been ducking the three-time designation for years with a little help from San Luis Obispo County-area law enforcement officials, who maintained him as a fountain of facts — an informant.

But even with his occasional assist from law enforcement, Martin eventually arrived at the point in his criminal career where one more felonious slip-up would place him in jeopardy of life without parole. So in 1999, when he found himself facing charges in San Jose, for drug peddling, and in Kern County, for reportedly raping a mentally disabled teenage girl, Martin had to come up with a plan, fast.

To fend off the life sentence possibility, Martin first offered to provide San Luis Obispo County officials with information on drug dealing in this county. When this proposal was rejected because of Martin’s “unreliability,” according to court documents, he dangled before Santa Clara County prosecutors a tantalizing story: He knew who had committed a 20-year-old unsolved murder in San Jose. (Martin eventually would finger a Paso Robles man named Tim Fletcher, and would be the prosecution’s key witness. Fletcher now serves a life sentence in a California prison for the murder.)

According to a brief filed by Fletcher’s public defender in a Santa Clara County courtroom, Martin had skated by entering into “a formal, written confidential agreement ‘to assist the San Jose Police Department.’ Pursuant to this agreement, Mendoza pled guilty to the drug charges and admitted his prior prison experience. The third-strike count was stricken and he was released from jail. Why the [sexual assault] charges were dismissed is uncertain.”

During this time, phone calls were flying back and forth between Santa Clara and San Luis Obispo county law enforcement officials, and then Martin, miraculously, arrived back in Paso Robles… not in custody, not on the streets, but at Benji’s house.

It wasn’t long before Benji had enough of the arrangement, though, because Martin became abusive and had invited one of his buddies to sleep on Benji’s couch.

The situation at Benji’s house deteriorated rapidly, according to David Mendoza. Police documents confirm that two days before he disappeared, Benji was dragged into a loud, violent and one-sided fist fight with Martin that spilled out onto the front lawn and was reported by neighbors.

Less than 48 hours later, on a chilly Sunday evening, Benji said he was going to the grocery store and drove off in his battered pickup truck. The truck was found a week later abandoned on a little-used dirt road in Creston.

Shortly after he disappeared, Benji’s empty wallet was found in the crawl space under his house. Also during his absence, while investigators treated the case as a search for a missing person, Benji’s home safe, located in his bedroom closet, was opened by a locksmith, probably in the presence of a Paso Robles police officer, and the contents removed. More than one of Benji’s sons attest to the family belief that the safe generally contained six-figure cash.

During the two years that Benji remained on the missing-person list, son David Mendoza prodded what he thought was a lackadaisical police investigation and pointed cops toward his younger brother as the probable killer. David also publicly criticized law enforcement agencies from two counties for collaborating in actions that resulted in Martin’s freedom… during which time Benji was killed.

Martin, during the time he was an active suspect, counseled his siblings to keep their thoughts to themselves, as he now had the money to take care of their needs. He was “in charge now,” he told several brothers, and made a display of newfound financial comfort.

After two years of investigation, police arrested Martin, saying he had shot his father in the aftermath of the fist fight. In April, 2004, Martin was permitted to enter a plea of no contest to the slaying. He was sentenced to 23 years for voluntary manslaughter with a firearm; prosecutors said at the time that he will spend at least 19 ½ years in state prison. That plea was the equivalent of a conviction, but with no admission of guilt. Mendoza family members expressed disappointment that Martin did not have to own up to his father’s slaying. A trial would not be held, and Martin once more avoided the life sentence mandated by a third strike conviction.

Last week, David Mendoza was returning from Carmel when he drove past Andrew Molera State Park for the first time since his dad’s body was found buried in the pine needle-covered grave there.

“I couldn’t stop,” said David. “I couldn’t even look.”


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2 Comments

  1. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 1/19/08
    where do you begin??? I guess you could start and square one, why was he ever released from prison in the first place? Then who is responsible for that (all persons involved). I know for a fact that Butch ” Count The Loop Holes” and Dennis “Kiss My Ass-Idy” both took the stand in a San Jose courtroom in Martins behalf and testified to his creditability as an “good citizen” in order to get him out. oh by the way…wouldnt Pat Hedges have to approve of this at some point in the investigation, didnt anyone pick up on the fact that Cassidy took a very nice quiet retirement….looks like local law inforcement is now having to do the work that Martin was doing all along. Then you have every dirty rotten SOB that handled this case, or lack there of. I read a comment saying that somebody “worked” this case. what work did u do?? HMMMMM answer me this, at some point in time you read ALL the documents, ALL the information (mostly coming from my dad since you “police” officers and “investigators” can’t do your job) but none the less you saw the facts, the information, at what point in time did you ever say to yourself, this guy had help, this guy should not have ever been given the chance to do this, what point in time do you step back, pick up the phone and call Sacramento and say look we need outside help!!! All the Paso police did was cover up their tracks in their involvement with Martin. My gradfather was “missing” for two years four months and five days plenty enough time for all parties envolved to go back, tell a few lies, turn family members against one another to help them out, and go back to cover their tracks. i have a whole lot more to say, but all i can say for now is this, my grandfather is DEAD my uncles DO NOT talk to one another, and it is the hardest thing in the world to step foot into the house that my grandfather raised his family in….thank you for serving and protecting me Paso Police. I now know that when sh*t hits the fan around here you guys will never be able to step up to the plate for general fear that you cant hit the ball….this one was an underhand skirtball pitch… pu**ies
    By: Anonymous on 1/16/08
    Dan,

    Butch Cantalupo is the one to talk to. Having worked this case, I can tell you mom was not bothered by the death of her husband.
    By: Anonymous on 1/16/08
    damn…it’s good to have you guys doing this kind of work, thank you. I will become an everyday reader.

    (4) 6 Total Votes - 5 up - 1 down
  2. ccn_debate says:

    By: Anonymous on 1/15/08
    Excellent article. Keep us posted. I want to know what comes of all this. I don’t want it to die here with nothing being done about this. The public deserves better from it’s servants. This isn’t OK. We deserve answers. This also needs more investigation because the widow’s behavior has been rather peculiar.
    By: Anonymous on 1/14/08
    There is more than one victem in all of this,and that is mainly David Mendoza, who for years could not get any action from local law enforcement.
    David was admonished by Paso Robles police not to talk to the media, that it would jeopardize their case.
    What case! The lead investigator seemed to be tied to martin at the hip, as martin was acting as this offices C.I. (confidential informant).
    To this day the San luis Obispo District Attorneys office, along with San Jose’s D.A. office are circling the wagons so that their brick wall cannot be penetrated. The reason being is because they know they are culpable in the manor in which they cleaned Martin up so that they could use his testimony during Tim Fletches trial. If Martin had remained behind bars where he rightly belonged, Bengie would be alive today.
    Because David was so out spoken, other members of the family shunned David, and told him that because he was going to the media, the case was being set back.
    No media in the San Luis Obispo area would listen to David,mainly because officials were telling members of the press that David didn’t know what he was talking about, that is until Dan Blackburn was contacted at the NewTimes, and they ran the story.In those days the NewTimes did alot of investigation stories that other media wouldn’t.
    Stay tuned, for I’m confident that Dan and Karen will have much more to report on the Mendoza story as time goe’s on.
    It’s good to know that we have real watch dogs, looking out for the people, instead of a bunch of puppies working as lap dogs, kissing up to the powers to be, all for the purpose of gaining social status within the community,and collecting all the purks that comes along with being apart of the end crowd.
    Seems like if you want the real story, it’s the internet that’s putting it out there.Nice to see Dan Blackburn back in the saddle ridding into town with pen in hand.
    By: Anonymous on 1/14/08
    So did he ever get charged with this crime? “California law prohibits criminals from profiting from their crimes.”
    By: Anonymous on 1/14/08
    It’s about time that we get all the facts. Now what I want to see is a change in the way law enforcement handles violent criminals. Was finding out about a 20 year old murder worth benji being murdered and dumped? I think not. When do they plan to clean out this guys bank account and take another look at mommy?
    By: Anonymous on 1/14/08
    Oh yet another example of why we can’t get the real story out of “sound bites”. There is so much more to the headlines than what readers get from newspapers. Thank you for providing the whole story.
    By: Anonymous on 1/14/08
    This site certainly has some incredible stories so far. I can see why people are so excited about you guy’s. You do print real news that the other papers won’t write about. We all need you. keep us informed. I’m sold on uncoveredslo.com . Right On.

    Thank You

    (5) 5 Total Votes - 5 up - 0 down

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