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 am really disappointed in CAPSLO if the Board approved this letter. I have always given CAPSLO the benefit of doubt, that the documented issues Cliff Anderson experienced were possibly a problem with lower management, and inadequate checks and balances. Things that can happen to an organization, especially in a time of growth. But when problems are discovered, they should be transparently corrected. Instead, the response has been disturbing. Even if Cliff was the only client to experience this situation, and I have a hard time believing he is the only one, there should be care and concern from CAPSLO that the system was failing him. I can understand the Board not wanting to throw their employees under the bus; however, you can show care and concern to Cliff without accusing employees, all the while doing a proper and transparent investigation. CAPSLO backed itself in a corner immediately claiming they investigated, and no wrongdoing was found. Period. Really? It is pretty obvious there are problems. Instead of adressing them, the next step is to approve sending this letter? What are you thinking? The letter says CAPSLO is “investigating”… not how the system failed Cliff Anderson and possibly others, not how cash donations and gift cards are accounted for, but “investigating” anyone who provided information, published information, or aired the information, which the letter calls “defamatory statements”. Then to the fifth paragraph, “If you, or anyone you know has any specific information regarding any alleged wrongdoing…”. Good grief, Mr. Bethel. They have information, CAPSLO dismissed it, and that is why you are writing the first four paragraphs, to shut them up. And CAPSLO Board, you now expect people to talk to you, when your hired gun has threatened them? This is so disappointing. I know there are good people on the Board of CAPSLO. Please, do the right thing. This is not it.

Well stated! I feel the very same way!

The Trib has an article, by Bob Cuddy, about the plight of the homeless children in our area.

TRIBUNE ARTICLE: “There has been no shortage of coverage of homeless issues lately – squabbles about where to locate a shelter, discussions about the behavior of some of the homeless – but there is one segment of the population that is going unnoticed, says homeless advocate Lisa Ray.”

What? Not one mention of the firestorm that is now in progress at CAPSLO relative to the entire picture of the homeless children?

There’re children that meet the disgraceful situations mentioned in the Tribune’s article that have parents, who when the parents are disqualified by Dee Torres in a myriad of insidious ways, their children suffer equally to the Tribune’s article. But, the silence is deafening relative to the story at CAPSLO as if it wasn’t even happening. Shhhhhhhh……

Ya know, the only real use for the Tribune newspaper is for a cat box liner to the readers of Cal Coast News.

Especially to CCN followers and everyone else who values truth in it’s entirety….at least after your done with the sports section.

Anyone interested in picketing CAPSLO fundraisers to help publicize the issues??

Some readers probably already knew this, but I didn’t, so I will share. According to this Web site:

“Defamation, which consists of both libel and slander, is defined by case law and statute in California.”


“As a matter of law, in cases involving public figures or matters of public concern, the burden is on the plaintiff to prove falsity in a defamation action. Nizam-Aldine v. City of Oakland, 47 Cal. App. 4th 364 (Cal. Ct. App. 1996).”

Given that Torres and other CAPSLO staff are in the news a lot, it seems likely that they would be considered public figures; in addition, the activities of employees of an agency receiving public funds and performing a function important to the community would certainly seem to be a matter of public concern.

So, you see where I’m going with this. CAPSLO filed a SLAPP suit, and appears to be contemplating others. Yet, the burden of proof that they have been defamed is on them. That should make things interesting.

My guess: This letter is going to work, as designed, to scare to scare the recipients into silence.

It is going to work because the recipients may not have the financial and legalistic resources to prove that that the letter is a bully job.

Which, to me, is complete B.S.

This is clearly another case of “Might Makes Right,” and doubly shocking because the Mighty Bullies are using our resources to do it.

There are some big, well-respected, names on the CAPSLO board. I can’t believe they are letting this occur. 1) because it is patently shitty, and 2) because public interest lawyers are no doubt slobbering to draw this whole thing out and collect some fees.

The board needs to intercede before the rest of the deal goes over the cliff.

Don’t sell the witnesses short. They had the courage to come forward, AND they know the parties involved and how they operate. So they likely knew what would happen, but spoke up anyway because it was the right thing to do.

If they all join together and seek legal counsel, they should be fine. I can’t imagine any competent SLAPP suit defense attorney turning down – or failing to win – a case like this one.

There is much which has been said about bullying, especially of school students by their peers, but little which has been published about the bullying of the homeless by government agencies, and agencies who work using government funds, and on the behalf of the government, for working with the homeless.

There is no sense mince-stepping around the subject. The behavior of CAPSLO, especially Biz Steinberg and Dee Torres, as well as Adam Hill, is bullying. The fact that they are bullying some of the most powerless populations of people just ups the heinous nature of their bullying.

Torres stands accused by workers of abusing her power over the homeless clients she, as homeless services corrector, to bully the clients, and to steal gift cards meant for homeless people for her own use and the use of her family. Biz Steinberg and the CAPSLO board of directors have either remained silent, or actively supported Torres, despite several expose articles published by CalCoastNews.

Worse, they now abuse their power by attempting to bully CCN and KVEC’s Dave Congleton (who has featured several discussions of the problems with CAPSLO on his radio program) into silence. CAPSLO and its enabling handmaidens (like its own board of directors, Biz Steinberg, and the local media, exclusive of CCN and Congleton) are now attempting to pimp our judicial system to force into silence CCN, Congleton and outspoken ex-CAPSLO-worker witnesses.

They are even attempting to bully investigator Mike Brennler into silence.

Desmond Tutu, known as S. Africa’s moral conscience, is an activist who fought for the rights of all people, including those with AIDS and TB, homosexuals, those who live in poverty, and those who are homeless because of poverty. He also spoke out for the rights of Bradley Manning, and against the inhumane treatment of the U.S. government of Manning. He recognizes that this behavior involves bullying, and is not afraid to speak out about it.

While there are many quotes from famous peoples about bullying, I like Tutu’s quote about bullies the best because it is short, simple and to the point.

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”

— Desmond Tutu

Q: Geeez, racket, stutter much?

A: Seems like more so when I’m apoplectic.

“several law enforcement agencies lauch criminal investigations into the treatment of the homeless by several non-profits” I hope that this is not the full scope of the investigations! How we distribute our tax dollars affects everyone. If mis-appropriation of public funds is not investigated then a hand slap will likely be their only consequene for all of this hoop-la. On the other hand, if it is determined that there are no findings to prosecute, then all get a free pass to kick .

I am astonished that so much can be in question, almost as though funding lawlessness is a viable business model when backed by tax dollars.

There have been many complaints, there are more agencies looking into this than we’re currently aware of. I think that when all is said and done, although it will take some time, you will see charges filed and not just against Lisa Niesen.

wow, what an embarrassing letter–for the writer.

Looks more like something a high school student would write than an attorney.

The truth shall set you free or to prison. The answers in the end all begin with the choices made from the beginning. Character and integrity, need I say more.

Iv’e actually been wondering for a while now, how this Attorney passed the BAR after reading his letter. This guy is “Barney Fife” to legal council if he thinks that slander and libel is against the law! If that were the case, everyone in the whole damn county would be rotting upstate in Folsom by now! There is no reference to any California Penal Code sections to substantiate any legal ability to follow through and the emphasis he put on his personal opinion of CAPSLO (with all the damn adjectives!) makes me wonder if he is an accessory too! That may be a stretch, but this attorney’s ability to articulate a legal threat on paper is a joke! I laugh myself to flatulence by imagining how this guy would sound in court!

I think everyone should relax a little and wait for SLO PD and APS to conclude their investigation. If they opt to file criminal charges, I can almost guarantee that good, solid, untainted and non-verbal evidence was obtained during the course of their investigation. Should this come to be,(and it is very likely) any tort case on behalf of CAPSLO will be a vertical climb. HAPPY EASTER!

CORRECTION: “non-verbal evidence” meaning the statements initially made by witnesses and “whistle-blowers”, and NOT to exclude any “Slips” or “recanting” (for example) in the course of interviewing suspects.

“I think everyone should relax a little and wait for SLO PD and APS to conclude their investigation.”

After the SLO PD’s handling of the psycho SLO City first responder, John Ryan Mason, I really don’t have much faith in the SLO PD’s ability to handle an investigation, especially if it will almost assuredly end up splashing mud on SLO City’s power brokers, like Marx.

Do you really think that with all the local politicians sitting on the board of CAPSLO, Prado Day Care Center, Homeless Coalition, etc. (mayors, council members, Supervisors, etc.) that the local police department, district attorney’s office, etc. can be unbiased in an investigation and reporting and that a honest, concise, thorough investigation could be done? No!. These are the bosses of the the investigators and we have all seem the dangerous behavior of all the folks involved. In my opinion, there is no way you can have an investigation at this point that does not involve a citizen panel possibly lead by Attorneys Jim Deunow and Stewart Jenkins and/or Saro Rizzo and an outside/out of the area investigative team dealing directly with the panel and having full assess to everyone and everything, no hold bars. Short of this, there is no credibility in an investigation.