CAPSLO threatens whistleblowers in homeless inquiry

March 29, 2013
CAPSLO Executive Director Elizabeth Steinberg

CAPSLO CEO Elizabeth Steinberg


Community Action Partnership of San Luis Obispo (CAPSLO) is threatening more than a dozen persons who have come forward with information about wrongdoing at the nonprofit which serves the homeless in San Luis Obispo County.

These threats occurred shortly after several law enforcement agencies launched criminal investigations into treatment of the homeless by two non-profits.

CAPSLO has served a number of persons interviewed by CalCoastNews with a letter threatening legal action if they don’t retract the statements they made recently to the news service.

“They are trying to intimidate us so we will back down, but everything we have said is the truth,” said former CAPSLO employee Joette Sunshine. “I stick by what I have said 100 percent.”

A process server hand delivered the threatening letters over the past three days, amid at least two criminal investigations into financial mistreatment of the homeless.

CalCoastNews interviewed more than a dozen former employees of CAPSLO and others for a series of articles entitled “Keeping Them Homeless,” examining allegations of mistreatment of homeless individuals.

Several articles in the series reported on the case of Cliff Anderson, a formerly homeless man. Anderson lost his income when the Social Security Administration canceled his disability benefits because of alleged financial mismanagement by Family Ties and CAPSLO.

Because of this, Anderson has been without money for food or rent for nearly two months.

An investigation by San Luis Obispo County’s Adult Protective Services led the agency to ask San Luis Obispo police to investigate allegations of financial abuse of a senior, said Officer Jim Fellows. The Office of the Inspector General is probing allegations of Social Security fraud.

CAPSLO officials announced at a board meeting last week that they had fully investigated issues of financial wrongdoing against the homeless — as well as allegations that holiday gift cards were pilfered. They claimed no wrongdoing was found. But none of the sources quoted in the CalCoastNews articles were contacted by CAPSLO’s investigators.

The current ultimatum is based on assertions by CAPSLO’S management that CalCoastNews reporters and Atascadero private investigator Mike Brennler encouraged sources to lie. Both CalCoastNews and Brennler deny the allegation.

“When you look at the history of CalCoastNews, you’ll see that the news site has been targeted by people whose wrongdoing we have reported. The list of penalties imposed and prosecutions makes clear who tells the truth in these stories,” said Bill Loving, editor of CalCoastNews.

CAPSLO’s attorneys wrote in the letter that they were attempting to gather information for taking legal action against those making “defamatory” statements against CAPSLO or its employees. The Fresno office of Littler Mendelson, a law firm representing management in labor and business and boasting 57 branches worldwide, authored the letters.

“What happens next is to some extent up to those who are making the defamatory statements,” the letters read. “If the persons making these statements seek to correct their previous erroneous comments, CAPSLO may choose not to seek to enforce its legal rights against them. If this unlawful crusade of defamatory statements and publications continues those involved will be held legally responsible to the full extent of the law.”

Earlier this week, Dee Torres, who heads CAPSLO’s homeless services division, filed a lawsuit alleging that Brennler slandered her during an investigation into Torres’ alleged actions. The lawsuit claims “Brennler and Does 1-100 knowingly and willfully conspired to defame” Torres.

Over the past six months, individuals including San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Adam Hill, to whom Torres is engaged, have targeted CalCoastNews advertisers with emails and phone calls, encouraging advertisers to cancel contracts.


CAPSLO letter

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Well, I think CCN blinked following Geraldine’s lawsuit, started pulling posts, and in other ways started trying to influence their posters to be less forthright in their opinions.

No wonder CAPSLO’s joined the onslaught.

I’m not saying CAPSLO is right. I’m saying that is how a predatory agency works.

started pulling posts– WHAT? thats not true :( Yes the moderator compliments a new user an exchange, other ways started trying to influence their posters If more folks posted facts or even thoughtful speculation instead of making up deliberate hurtful slag it would be a more enjoyable read, . We are inviting you to create conversational commentary for our stories, seems everyone wants to be a media critic instead, meta derail focusing on CCN .

JQPublic said and I think it is a thing to think about.

“Word to the wise. Be careful about assuming and then writing on a public forum that somebody may have a criminal history or might have lied on an employment application. From what I’ve read here, I wouldn’t assume those things. She might have been outspoken on some political issue. She might have run for office. We don’t know what they are referencing”

consider yourselves influenced. sheesh.

email any questions or exclamations you may have about comment moderation

please and thank you. mailto:moderator@calcoastnews.

I have replied regarding this issue to mod staff, by email.

What a disgusting thing to do. You have just sealed your fate CAPSLO. You are telling these sources to lie or face financial and civil penalties? Shame on Steinberg and he board.

No need to doubt that Biz has been in the loop and that this letter is part of a coordinated effort with Dee and Adam. What a mess! We all have work to do and we have to deal with this. What a poor reflection on the CAPSLO Board, involved employees, and County government. Spoiled brats and bullies.

Yep. Adam Hill is paid by the taxpayers to serve as a county supervisor yet how much of his company time he been spending on Dee’s current situation? Just wondering…

This must be a Pro Bono case as they could not even waste letterhead on this notice. No attorney name, no address, phone, fax, etc. Like maybe this was a courtesy notice but please don’t contact us, just do as we say…

Looks like a desperate act by CAPSLO/Biz. This old granny needs to hit the social security line, obviously Lisa Niesen could help her file.

What a joke!

Sorry, I had expanded the page size to read and did not see the right hand side with the location address. I apologize for my above remark regarding the location. Still think the letter looks and reads funky!

well done, all

CAPSLO apparently could not find local attorneys foolish enough to issue such letters.

One question: Did the Board of Directors of CAPSLO vote to approve this letter going out? If so, it’s a whole new ballgame.

An excellent and obvious question. Too bad it wasn’t asked.

…and the wagons start to circle.

I like how the letter reads “CAPSLO is not afraid of the truth. If you, or anyone you know has any specific information regarding any alleged wrongdoing by their employees please contact Jim Famalette, etc. etc.” – Serious? To whom is this letter addressed?

This thing reads like a 10th grader wrote it (bad punctuation and copy/paste errors). Does not look good for CAPSLO. Was this the only firm willing to leech monies away from homeless and elderly to stall this case ad infinitum?

Threatening the whistle-blowers. Who would have seen THAT one coming. *rolleyes*

I feel like writing to this Gary W. Blowhard attorney and ask him how he feels about being paid with money that was designated to help the most needy in our community (elderly and homeless); how he can take this money to defend these people, for if they were innocent of wrong-doing, things would have been MUCH MORE TRANSPARENT months ago. CAPSLO would have hired an outside/independent auditor/investigator. None of this was done; we’ve seen no evidence (or announcements from CAPSLO) that they did anything remotely above-board in their “investigations” (one internal review). Wow. That makes me confident in the management at CAPSLO and Biz Steinberg in particular.


Instead, we get circled wagons, readying defenses, etc. All paid for with money taken from other people and supposedly redistributed to homeless and elderly. HA! Shame on you, CAPSLO. SHAME.

Yep. Don’t forget the kids. The pilfered Tom’s Toys gift cards still angers me. Homeless children are the most vulnerable victims in all of this mess.

1 2 3 9