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

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I note that this information from the resource cited in my prior post:

“If you are the target of a SLAPP, you may receive a demand letter from the lawyer representing the SLAPP filer which lists a series of “options” you must meet to resolve the matter before a lawsuit is actually filed. Often, the letter will demand a sum of money, an apology (generally public), your agreement to refrain from speaking out or participating in the future, your agreement not to bring a lawsuit against the SLAPP filer, or a combination of these and other things.”

Seems to match up quite well with this wording from the above letter written to the whistle blowers:

“What happens next is to some extent up to those who are making these defamatory statements. 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.”

So, it appears to be classic SLAPP suit strategy.

Please note that the resource previously cited contains a list of organizations that can help victims of this kind of strategy. Here is one of those listed – an organization that I have always found to be outstanding in its defense of our rights to free speech:

First Amendment Project (FAP). 1736 Franklin Street, Ninth Floor, Oakland, California 94612 [510/208-7744]. FAP is a non-profit public interest law firm active in two main areas of First Amendment law: anti-SLAPP and open government. FAP provides legal representation to individuals and organizations to defend against SLAPPs.

Maybe the Tribune or KSBY will run THIS story, of innocent CAPSLO coming under fire and being forced to sue…

…nah, probably not. Best not to ask questions, right?

For those who fear they will be subject to SLAPP suits like that filed against Mr. Brennler, here is an excellent source of helpful information:

How much public money intended for the homeless is going to be expended on this “crusade” to protect CAPSLO’s “excellent” (dubious) reputation by victimizing and intimidating those courageous enough to speak up for those without means? Attorneys getting paid while the needy go unserved and hungry. No tracking of donations. No transparency. Lack of concern from the Board. Instead of investigating, call in the lawyers. Travesty. IMHO.

Dear CAPSLO & Hired guns: If you want to repair your reputation, post your books openly on your web site. Line item details! Then start working diligently to address concerns, documenting and sharing your investigation with the public.

“If you, or anyone you know has any specific information regarding any alleged wrongdoing by their employees please contact Jim Famalette.”

THEN WHAT? Will he treat it with the same due diligence he treated the recent allegations brought to his attention by the Cal Coast News series?

I think the “bring it to our attention” boat has sailed — left the dock long ago, if you believe the assertions made by former staff and documented in this series.

If that is the extent of his inquiry, then I want my money back.

Well, well, well. The Empire Strikes Back. Hunker down and deny all, while hiding under the color of law and lawyers’ threats.

That is the worst thing they could have done.

Now the spotlight is really on them and it ain’t going anywhere any time soon.

What they should have done was issue a letter to the people of SLO and county reassuring them that they, too, find these allegations disturbing and that they are doing everything humanly possible to investigate and clear up these matters.

Instead, they throw up barriers of legalisms and threaten legal action. This really looks suspicious.

I don’t know who the hell these people think they are, but we are about to find out.

If CAPSLO put as much energy into investigating wrongdoing on the part of Homeless Services (or elsewhere) as it did in lawyering up and issuing menacing letters to John Does, it might clean up its dirty laundry and earn some respect.

But this………..this reads like a declaration of war against the people. Declarations of war do not put matters to rest.

The letter is intimidative, mystifying, evasive, distracting, pompous, threatening, ominous, menacing, arrogant, sniveling, insolent, disrespectful to the public interest, and in no way does it reassure the people of SLO and county that wrongdoing in these matters is being honestly investigated and brought to light. Far from it.

What CAPSLO is threatening is nothing compared to what is going to happen to some scalawags who work for them, should allegations about them turn out to be true.

Sounds to me as if some of these folks will be going to prison over this. Maybe that is right where they belong.

This entire “affair” is now getting really ugly and will only get worse as time goes on or until a criminal indictment is initiated against the specific individuals directly and indirectly involved with this unfortunate series of events.

I’m physically ill reading that letter from the CAPSLO attorney. This latest effort at intimidation and bullying is inexcusible.

An organization with nothing to hide would not be afraid of these whistle blowers.

Looks like the organization is rotten from the top to bottom and from the inside out. So sad when an organization decides it must intimidate those not able to fend for themselves. Hard not to believe the previous allegations of intimidation when CAPSLO so publically engages in intimidation of people they have labled as “disgruntled, terminated employees”.

This is symptomatic of government in general. I like Washington’s “fire” analogy, (paraphrasing): government is like fire, when it’s small and controlled, it serves you well, but let it grow and it gets out of hand and consumes everything.

If this is how a CHARITY, set up for those of us MOST IN NEED is handled, what do you think might be happening at the City, County, or State level?

So they’re pathetically claiming CCN and Mike Brennler encouraged sources to lie. LOL Yeah right!

So I guess all the whistleblower cops in the Chittygate saga were forced to lie, too? Lisa Solomon Chitty never came forward to deny the allegations. Sound familiar? Where’s Dee Torres and Biz Steinberg’s public statements? If they’re innocent and CCN/Brennler truly forced others to make all this up (an absurd assertion) then WHY aren’t we hearing from Dee, Biz, and co?

That’s because where there’s smoke….well, you know the rest.