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

“a letter threatening legal action if they don’t retract the statements they made recently to the news service”

These types of allegedly legal threats cause great fear and anxiety to the average lay person.

The thought of reciprocating initial as well as ongoing legal expense and facing potential consequence from such engagement affects a person’s thoughts daily and when they go to bed every evening.

Not good.

As for CCN or any other media, they have a right to a story (Constitutional right!) Thank Heaven for that!

Joette Sunshine stated she stands behind her statement 100%! Good for you! I find it VERY disturbing that CAPSLO would send out letters that are intended to intimidate potential witnesses! WHY, WHY,WHY, would you do that? Don’t you realize that you just made your whole agency look guilty to most of us? I seriously felt the agency was not aware if Ms Torres’ wrong doings! Now I REALLY question things! How hard would it have been to simply call these people and really launch an internal investigation? This could have satisfied the community, but this.. Wow …., I’m blown away!

Does anyone know if any of these letters were sent to any past or present Capslo clients (homeless people)?

This is very simple. An innocent person should have nothing to hide…Obviously Law Enforcement and Adult Protective Service contact has made this Steinberg and CAPSLO management overtly uncomfortable. Instead of choosing to be open and cooperative with this investigation, they lawyer up and threaten the complainants with lawsuits… They should be tossing any vindicating evidence they can find at SLOPD and APS if not be cooperative at all with anyone. I wonder how this non-profit business plans to pay these attorneys and I shudder to think. And why in the hell would a non-profit care about “Defamatory statements” in the first place? They gonna lose business? The homeless people gonna go anywhere else? If CAPSLO is really concerned for their reputation or credibility, they could do more than sit idly in denial while real innocent people are suffering.

I love CCN!!! You guys tow the line where all the rest of the local media drops it.

The fact that this case is at Adult Protective Service and has been referred to the San Luis Obispo City Police Department tells me it is on its way to the District Attorney.

Even if a person is not entirely, 100% innocent, they should cooperate with these agencies. If they need some immunity they can ask for it. There’s no dishonor in trying to right a wrong and do the right thing while also protecting your legal interests. The DA is interested in the bigger fish to fry. They will want to get to the bigger social problem and not to punish every little wrong that was drawn in along the way.

I agree with everything but your closing sentence. The D.A. and Deputy D.A.’s display an avid interest in fiscal management every time they explain their approach particular matters during criminal court proceedings. I believe for many reasons that the D.A. has more interest in obtaining revenue for this County, than justice and doesn’t concern himself with guilt or innocence. Case in point: The store manager at the Paso Robles Albertsons pressed charges of petty theft against a homeless man for taking a sanwich and he D.A. prosecuted this individual even though the arresting officer offered to pay for the sandwich. If it was anything else but food, I’d have no problem with the course of action the store manager and D.A. took in this matter but a stolen sandwich is really all the D.A. needed, so hopefully these jerks at CAPSLO and family ties get the same from the D.A.

You still got my green thumb though = )

Yet, in other cases, the DA ignored the much larger crimes.

In SLO, I think the homeless are treated quite differently than the CAPSLO folks, when it comes to what is going to be prosecuted.

Sounds like Extortion, or at the very least Witness Intimidation to me. Last time I checked; these are Criminal Felonies.

Did Gary Bethel happen to read this chapter before sending out his letters?

Anyone else have a case of Deja-vu?? Back almost five years ago. About April/May 2008, Dave Congalton show. Kelly Gearhart coming under fire by a new online site called Undercover SLO (later to become CCN). Kelly swearing up and down it was all hearsay. Kelly threating that the lawyers were ready to start going after people for slander. HMMMMMMMMMMM now someone refreash my memory, how did that play out????

Well let CAPSLO, circle the wagons all they want. I’m getting the feeling they’re gonna NEED IT!!!

Oh and one last, Kelly was wanting to go after someone who brought up some unpleantries. His name was…………hmm……………..uh……….OH YEA MIKE B.!!!!

Again DEJA-VU!!!!

Deja-vu is right. I recall that show extremely well. I even remember that I was streaming it because I was down in Temecular at the time. I recall Kelly Gearhart telling Karen that she was lying about the value of the properties that he had 300% investment funds attached to.

He said ; “Lies, Lies all Lies, I’m gonna call my “loiyah” and sue youuuuuuuu.” I recall laughing at his outrage because I knew the accusations were true. I forgot about Mike Brennler. but you’re right, he was after Brennler too, so was the Tribune.

Yup, we all know how that turned out.

The name Gearhart for some reason brings KSBY to my mind…

Kelly Gearhart wasn’t the fiancee of a County Supervisor. The head of homeless services is. There is your difference.

I liked JQ Public’s advice for the whistle blowers: Write a personal Declaration of facts.

A legal declaration looks like this, and states just the FACTS as one would testify in court:

If I were being targeted by CAPSLO’s attorneys I would work on getting a true and correct declaration assembled containing everything I could remember, along with approximate dates, names and other pertinent details. I would include the first two paragraphs from the example (with appropriate changes), and the last part “I declare under penalty of perjury” and date/place/signature is also required.

Tips for writing a declaration:

Then I’d make sure the parties who need it receive a copy after consulting with legal representation.

I actually believe there are some very good, descent people on the CAPSLO Board of Directors. I hope, at this point, if they don’t start asking some very serious questions people are going to start wondering about their involvement in this story. Everyone with any integrity on that Board, and there are many, need to help clean this up. There definitely seems to be a problem with the people managing CAPSLO.

And while all this goes on, the Board of Directors are served a catered dinner at every meeting. I’ll ask again: What is the annual cost of these dinners and where does the money come from?

At least two men who have actually lived with Dee have stated that she pilfered gift cards from the shelter for her own use. Over a dozen current and previous employees have made statements as to her unethical and unprofessional management of the shelter and yet the board has taken Dee’s word that these people are all lying. The board even went so far as to spend money intended for the homeless to silence and intimidate those who have come forward.

Is it possible that the board has used gift cards for their own use, like feeding themselves dinners rather than the homeless? Is it possible that they know about the gift cards? They sure did excuse the lack of accounting as a simple oversight without any semblance of an investigation. I think this is far from over. I suggest that everyone write to the Grand Jury and ask them to get an investigation started and ask the hard questions of CAPSLO officials. We know they (the GJ) don’t have much power but they can investigate without hindrance. Their findings can then be sent to the AG.

Penal Code section 933.6. If a local governmental agency is providing funding or grants to a non-profit not established by it, or operated on its behalf, a grand jury can only investigate whether the agency is getting what it expected from the funding but may not conduct a general investigation into the operation and finances of the nonprofit.

I won’t dissuade writing the G.J., but it probably won’t get far given the limitation. Furthermore, the 2012-13 Grand Jury term is almost up (ends June 30). The jury almost assuredly won’t be looking to take on a new investigation at this time. This is the time of year they are finishing reports and the first report has already been released to the public.

Is it possible that the board has used gift cards for their own use, like feeding themselves dinners rather than the homeless?

Very good question, Cindy.