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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What is incredibly sad is that CAPSLO, rather than do a proper investigation into allegations against Dee and Lisa, instead do an investigation into the “Who said that?” scenarios. Instead of cleaning house and realizing there are REAL problems, they will do all they can to cover up the accused wrongdoing by making threats! Who is Dee and Lisa to Liz? Are they related? Does Liz think CAPSLO gets more $$ because of the HILL/Torres affair? What makes Dee and Lisa more credible that several employees and others making complaints? This could have all been blown over by now. Don’t they realize? A simple apology and change in procedure would have ended this long ago! I seriously doubt we would be now looking at criminal charges against these 2 if CAPSLO would have been transparent (as they should be) in the first place. Reprimanded the wrongdoing and get on with it serving the people!

So my BIG question remains who is DEE and Lisa to LIZ? Why all the hiding and protection? Why to the point of threats and lawsuits? Seems ALL of CAPSLO really needs to be dismantled and re-established by new leaders.

The letter is a joke! So “AS long as you are telling the Truth” nothing can be done! BUT retract anything you might have said, and you just set yourself up to be sued! To me this letter just proves they have nothing to go on!

Thank you.. Amen.. Yhid isn’t the first threat, Dee threatened her staff for years verbally and emotionally..

Regarding the role of Lisa Niesen, MA (Chief Deputy Public Guardian) of San Luis Obispo County.

To review, Lisa is the primary focus on this entire investigation, having lied on her Family Ties organization’s 2010 tax form and victimizing homeless Social Security recipients by failing to account for funds accumulated from at least one, Cliff Anderson. Cliff reportedly has given as much as $40,000 to her Family Ties organization since 2009 and now reportedly is having great

difficulty in receiving it all back as he was promised.

I found this live interview of Lisa Niesen on November 6 of 2010 and would like to share it, entitled, “Office of the Public Guardian: SLO’s Unsung Heroes”. Given the current events, it certainly raises at lot of questions. For instance, why is the location of Family Ties kept private and undisclosed?

Following the 25:00 minute mark, Lisa Niesen identifies her contact information, and her staff of deputies as:

1. Frank M.., Conservatorship Investigator

2. Cathy Viera, Benefits Specialist (Legal Clerk, Deputy Public Guardian)

3. Michelle (C.) Branch (M.A., LMFT), part time Social Worker

4. Diane Doherty, “Money Handler” in the Representative Payee Program

5. Joseph Scotti, accountant (Accountant I/ Deputy Public Guardian at District Attorney San Luis Obispo County)

Very interesting. She probably got all these deputies in trouble and they will all be investigated. She purchased (most of) her court conserved clients burial plots just like she tried to do to Cliff Anderson. It isn’t legal to do that without the consent of the client as one needs to know that clients internment wishes and those of the family. One has to wonder about what is going on with all these burial plot purchases?

Also, it looks like the CAPSLO clients were all telling the truth when they said that they had no contact with Niesen and had to go through their case managers for all requests surrounding their funds. CAPSLO set up a trustee that the clients had no access to, CAPSLO was fully in charge and then they try to distance themselves when they knew full well that there was a big problem in fact it’s obvious that they foisted the trustee program and intentionally separated the homeless from their own and only source of personal monies.

Cliff Anderson’s is only one of the many, many “clients” of Lisa Niesen and Family Ties, and $40,000 is a big chunk of money, especially when Niesen won’t give it back.

How many “clients” has Niesen treated similarly over the last 10 years? For her other clients, Niesen probably collected, in some cases, less than the $40,000 she collected from Cliff….but I also think it is probable that, in some cases, she collected more.

And she refuses to provide an accounting for the funds she has taken from these clients.

Why is she not on, at least, administrative leave from the county? Does the county, including our county board of supervisors, approve of this type of behavior? Are they in on it?

Something just does not add up here.

“A government that robs Peter to pay Paul can always depend upon the support of Paul” !!

It hasn’t been difficult to find this information about her office staff. I resisted posting a link to it several weeks ago because it’s irrelevant to the Family Ties issue and posting it implies that her county staff is somehow complicit in the incompetency of Ms. Niesen in the running of her private company. It is guilt by association and demonstrates lack of restraint.

Hodin, I accidentally gave you a thumbs up . Considering that Niesen is incompetent or worse in her personal business (Family Ties) why would anyone expect that she would be competent in her county position which is almost identical? As I mentioned earlier, she is also under investigation for her actions as the county public guardian. I don’t know all the details but I do know one detail. It would appear that she made it a habit of buying the majority of her conserved clients burial plots.

As you might recall, she wrote a check to purchase Cliff Anderson a burial plot on the day that CCN wrote the first story about his missing funds. She then voided the check and it appeared on Cliff’s accounting records. Cliff Anderson was flabbergasted as he has arrangements to be cremated and have his ashes spread.

What is going on with all these burial plots? What happens to these plots when they go unused and in some cases aren’t even known about by the families of the conserved? She is doing this without permission, why? This only appears to be the tip of the ice burg.

My question is what is happening with the case managed people whom are made to give money to the program? Is this still happening? Have they gotten their money back? Are they still making them give a percentage of their income for priority beds? What’s happening or have things changed?

I was referring to the employees (“staff”) in the Public Guardian’s office who are working under Niesen. Help me out here, could I have made that more clear? Niesen isn’t staff, she’s management; leadership, actually, and directly under Health Agency director Jeff Hamm. If you want to follow the feeding chain, try going up before you go down.

Just because they have a super who has been alleged to be incompetent shouldn’t by itself impugn the qualifications or professionalism of the staff. I haven’t seen anything presented by the reporting which involves Niesen’s county staff. Those with over-active imaginations may believe otherwise.

I agree that Lisa Niesen is the person who needs to focused on. The question I have not seen answered is how is it determined who has the Office of Public Guardian as a payee if it is needed and who is sent off to Family Ties.

On the County Office of Public Guardian it states that in addition to conservatorship they act as a payee

Public Representative Payee Program

Individuals who have difficulty managing money or their financial affairs may qualify to have the Office of the Public Guardian serve as their Representative Payee. On behalf of the individual, the Public Guardian’s office receives their monthly income, makes payments to cover their monthly expenses, and manages their financial resources.

This program is limited to individuals who receive a steady income through public entitlements, public benefits programs or other stable, ongoing benefits programs. All applicants must have a case manager affiliated with a public agency or non-profit organization. The case manager must be willing and able to prepare a monthly budget and monitor the activities of the applicant.

This program is for individuals whose needs can be met without the formality of a conservatorship

Now isn’t that exactly the same thing as Family Ties is supposed to do. Why isn’t CAPSLO sending people in need of this service to the County where at least there are several people involved and presumably some oversight?

How can Lisa Niesen have her own private business in competition with the work she is supposed to be doing full time for the County?

Bluesky, If an individual has money but is unable to manage their everyday affairs, such as, arranging to be bathed, paying bills, taking medication or arranging for a caregiver etc because they’re mentally diminished and incompetent, then the court will conserve them with the recommendation of a physician and the county public guardian takes control.

If a person goes to the shelter because they’re homeless but qualifies for some sort of gov paid benefits like Social Security or disability, then CAPSLO foists them into case management and sends them to family ties, where they are (somehow) declared mentally incompetent and Lisa puts on her other hat and still takes control, but not of the persons well being, just their money.

That is the difference- Money vs very little or no money.

This is more for the CCN people than a response on CAPSLO”s shenanigans.

Why is it that after over 4 months of commentors saying they can not reply to comments on page 2, has CCN refused to take corrective action or to at least admit publically that they have no idea what

needs to be done.? Can this problem be that difficult??

By the way, my comment was going to be to Ted Slanders’ comment about the only good use of the Tribune is to line cat litter boxes. Ted, please ask the cats before you draw this conclusion. My cat chose to have a severe case of constipation, rather than ‘honor’ the Trib with her deposit.

You should send an e-mail to the CCN administration whenever that happens with page2. (address on the right under “Site Issues”) It seems to happen periodically but as soon as someone tells CCN, their IT guy fixes it. I guess they don’t know how to make it stop permanently yet.

Whenever you want to reply on a page other than page 1 just press the F5 button your keyboard. It works.

The Apple IIe doesn’t have F5. Any other ideas?

command R or cloverleaf R

We already know that all of our comments are public and everything we say is being monitored very carefully by not only myself, but by the people who have much to lose and much to hide. These kinds of people should never be underestimated for that reason. Highly educated software engineers are a dime a dozen and you are onto something because there is also a pattern in the red thumbs, times they appear and the particular comments they appear on.


i think that it is mportant to note that the tribune, with its reduced paper dimensions is now perfectly shaped to line bird cages. Dont know about cat boxes but its perfect for birdcages. always have the editorial page face up….birds like a target

A reminder: The KVEC Dave Congleton Show is available for streaming on the internet..

The shows are recorded and can be heard the following business day sometime after 10:00 AM, relatively commercial free, and are 2-1/2 hours in length..

Thank you KVEC for hosting CALCOASTNEWS another great segment with Karen and Bill Loving. I liked the clarification from CalCoastNews,specifically that this was NOT political (liberal or conservation) but rather it is about facts, denial, employee statements, lies and abuse of the homeless (Cliff). People may not like the messenger but you have to appreciate the story on its merit and lack of cooperation, transparency and handling by CAPSLO by it leadership which really appears to be the big problem here. Under proper leadership this whole issue would never of have gotten this far, especially if there was no wrong doing or guilt involved. This is a $60 million corporation and obviously has serious management issues. .Adam Hill has crossed the line in protecting his fiancee and is no longer objective in helping to resolve this mess which he has helped to create. In fact, he has now helped to create a war zone and as a native Native SLOian I have never seen such an issue divide our community and spill anger, hatred and distrust everywhere. Very sad for CAPSLO, the employees, the homeless, supporters, volunteers, and everyone involved. Shame on all of you, and I seriously believe new leadership and professionalism needs to be installed in this corporation.

Observing our county (and country) through the tiny pinhole that mainstream media provides, I see all checks and no balance, which is why the powers that be look a bunch of monkeys trying to $#%& a football!

Arrogant, entitled, self serving powers that be will not start serving the purpose for which they are employed until they become humbled. In the meantime, the rate in which progress occurs is left in the dust by evolution.

I have question…Why is no one coming to the defense of CAPSLO except Torres, Hill and lawyers? Oh, wait…I think I know the answer.


Defamation lawsuits are not easy to win because the plaintiff must both prove the difficult elements of his or her case and avoid the many defenses to defamation.

Truth, or [even] substantial truth, is a complete defense to a claim of defamation.

The [U.S. Supreme Court has] said that, where a statement by a media defendant involved a matter of “public concern,” the plaintiff had to bear the burden of proving that the statement was false. Therefore, a media defendant cannot be required to prove the truth of a statement involving a matter of public concern.

There is a qualified privilege for statements published in a reasonable manner for which there is a public interest (e.g., the news). […] In essence, the news media can inaccurately report newsworthy events, especially live events and breaking news, as long as it does so without actual malice.




GARY BETHAL QUOTE: “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.”

Gary Bethal has allegedly placed all of the whistle blowers in a Catch-22 situation by his statement shown above. WRONG! When you’re telling the truth with your statements, then you’re not legally responsible in any way and unlawful. This is an insidious fishing exhibition enacted by CAPSLO to take the heat off of them. Let Gary Bethal eat cake with his comical no deal, deal!

In the words of Howard Beale of the movie, Network, tell this “valley ambulance chaser,” Gary Bethal, that you’re “mad as hell and you’re not going to take it anymore!” Why? Read his statement above with a discerning eye. With specificity, he is calling all of you liars at the onset, otherwise, why would he give an option of correction, which has ramifications as JQ Public has addressed? Gary Bethal hasn’t even talked to you about the facts, nor has he seen all of the discovery now and into the future, but he wants you to sign off nonetheless? Are you kidding?! Yes, you’re making defamatory statements by definition, but when said statements are true, then you have nothing to worry about!

LOGIC 101; You’ve made statements that are obviously true. Statements are not defaming if said statements can’t be proven to be false, but moreover, they become true though discovery and irrefutable facts that lead towards justification evidence. Gary Bethal has to prove your statements made as being false, which can be very difficult in many ways, or outright impossible, and that’s why he is making a plea to scare you in to signing off to make his job easier! Stay put and keep the status quo!

If the weak whistle blower that knows the truth swallows the legalese scripted letter in question, and signs off, then they have repaired the sinking ship that was already damaged and was going down with an array of CAPSLO’s unscrupulous passengers within. The boat needs to sink to be arisen in a more ethical and moral manner, and in part, it’s up to you for this action to take place!

You know damn well that if anyone signs off in this respect, their names will be heralded by CAPSLO’s quarterback as trophies to encourage others to be wrongfully scared and intimated as well. Do you want to be on that list as giving up to big money and political threats at the expense of justice and the fair treatment of the homeless?

Screw Gary Bethel and the horse he rode in on! If you swallow his insidious intimidation and acquiesce to sign off, you’ll have to live with your pathetic selves for the rest of your lives. If you do, then I suggest that you get a prescription for Ambien so you’ll be able to sleep at night since you were the impetus of not allowing justice to prevail against the wrongdoings at CAPSLO.

Remember, the only ones defaming CAPSLO, is in fact, themselves, because of their actions of record to date, and you’re the supporting cast proving this fact and you’re to be held in high esteem for doing so!

My favorite Ted Slanders statement of the year (so far):

“Screw Gary Bethel and the horse he rode in on!”


Did everybody see the post on page 5?

CCN will be on ******Dave Congalton******* today at 5:00 . I bet it’s gonna be another good one.

Thanks Dave, keep the lights shinning on the central coast, we need you.

Thanks Karen, Dan, Josh and everyone helping to pull the covers on dirty gov agencies and politicians.