Thursday, Aug. 30, 2012

Johnny Thomas On the Record

By Lisa Kaiser
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I had a long conversation today with former County Supervisor Johnny Thomas, who was acquitted of two felony charges last week.

I really hate identifying Thomas that way, since he didn't do anything wrong and he shouldn't have been charged and he shouldn't have gone to trial. The DA simply had no evidence of wrongdoing. I know that there were leaks about a number of things in an attempt to make Thomas look guilty, but the smears did not hold up in court. Thomas was innocent when he met with DAS chief Pat Farley last December and he is innocent today.

Unfortunately, Thomas is going to be identified this way for a while at least.

This is the problem. Thomas was an innocent man last December and a jury affirmed his innocence and exonerated him. But he knows that he has to repair his reputation, which will be difficult. But what about Farley, the man who set him up? The one who repeatedly lied to and manipulated Thomas? What about the many falsehoods that appeared in the criminal complaint, which became the basis of the prosecution's case and public perception? Isn't there some remedy?

That is to be determined. But Thomas thinks that Farley should be fired (I agree). He thinks the investigators in the case—Aaron Weiss and Paul Bratonja—along with ADA Kurt Benkley should lose their jobs as well. I'll go into it in more detail in a different post, but the criminal complaint is simply riddled with lies. The DA's office didn't conduct a thorough investigation of the Thomas-Farley interactions or why Thomas seemed to stall on a financial advisor contract. Critical witnesses weren't called prior to filing charges. Evidence that was rumored to implicate Thomas never materialized. And the simplest explanation of Thomas's actions was never considered. Instead, Farley et al. concocted a wild scheme in which Thomas was on the take, even though he was completely innocent.

“I did nothing wrong,” Thomas told me. “There's never been a complaint from a vendor, or an employee or a department head. Yet still, my family and I were dragged through the mud. My reputation was sullied. Based off of Pat Farley's warped sense of reality.”

If this happened to Johnny Thomas, who else has been set up and falsely accused of a crime?

Here's a bit about what Thomas and I discussed today. More to come soon.


Shepherd: How are you doing?

Thomas: I can't even answer that question. I haven't had time to think about it. I've got a young family that I need to provide for. I'll get to that at some point.

Shepherd: Do you feel vindicated?

Thomas: Of course I'm glad that the jury came back with a not guilty verdict. But in this case I think winning and losing are two big deceivers because I won my freedom, which I've always had. It's just that someone tried to take it from me. But I've lost my good name and my reputation. And it's going to take some time for me to build up some relationships that I've established over my whole 43 years. Again, I think it goes back to my emotions. I've never really had an opportunity to just think about the gravity of how I should feel.

Shepherd: Now we know that the jury decided that there was no case against you and they came back with a stunningly swift not guilty verdict. But were you concerned about taking this case to trial and putting it in front of a jury?

Thomas: I wasn't concerned about my innocence. I guess I was concerned about this politically volatile environment we're in, if we'd have jurors who would have just said I'm guilty because I'm a politician. That was a concern. Really, I was anxious. I wanted an opportunity to tell my story. But I guess, with anything there's a win and a loss and you have to take those losses seriously. I have a young family, and I was looking at nine and a half years [of incarceration] for something that I didn't do. I think that was the most troubling thing about it. For the past eight months I've just had to think about the fact that I was being charged with something that I didn't do.

Shepherd: And you couldn't tell your side of the story.

Thomas: Right. And the DA's office had the bully pulpit. They could put out press releases. There would be leaks. They set the story and I had to wait and just listen to it.

Shepherd: I'm sure you've thought a lot about what triggered this. Have you figured it out?

Thomas: All I can say is, somewhere in Farley's mind he had determined that I was guilty. He took that warped sense of reality to the DA's office. Because of his friendship, or professional relationship, maybe that influenced them and they thought I was guilty. And partially maybe they thought that other African Americans on the board were guilty of something, and then they lumped me into that group and said, well, we all must be guilty. I guess it was the lack of the investigation—to verify information—that led to this whole case. Again, there was this perception that I was guilty and that's all that they were concerned about.

Shepherd:
What was your relationship with Pat Farley like?

Thomas: We had a professional relationship at the board. I knew of him. I knew his background and he was essentially Chris Abele's right-hand person. So on any sensitive issue Pat Farley would have most likely been the person to talk to the board. Especially the chairs of committees. If there was an item that would have had to come before the Finance and Audit Committee, he would have come before me.

We were very civil. I'd see him in the hallway and we would chat and talk. When I announced that I was going to run for comptroller, Pat Farley congratulated me and wished me the best of luck. He was on my email distribution list for my campaign. So I would never have imagined that Pat Farley would do something like this.

Shepherd: What do you make of having the head of DAS wear a wire and lie to you?

Thomas: It's disappointing. I guess, knowing my background—if you're coming from an honest position, you assume that everyone else is coming from an honest position. He was the director of DAS. That gave him credibility. I guess automatically you'd think that this was someone you could trust, someone you could have an honest conversation with. And his background as an assistant district attorney, his work with the Doyle administration—all of these things gave him credibility to the point that, again, I would never imagine that he would put me in this situation.

Shepherd: Going forward, how will people on the board and working in county government deal with this?

Thomas:
It's going to be difficult for supervisors to trust him. I think the board's relationship with the executive's office has been strained for quite some time. And then there's my case. And going forward you have to be so skeptical of everything that comes out of the administration's offices. Supervisors will more than likely be skeptical. It's going to be difficult for them to handle county business and that's something that I think is going to impact us as constituents. We're going to get the brunt of it.

Shepherd: I asked Abele's spokesman how the board or others are going to be able to trust Pat and not feel that he's lying to or manipulating them, and he said, if they're not doing anything wrong then they don't have anything to fear.

Thomas: I was doing nothing wrong. And look at what I had to fear. Just the fact that—again, in his mind I was guilty and there was nothing that I could do to change that.

Going back, I even told him when we were talking—the conversation [when Farley was wearing a wire] was very fluid and Pat Farley led it. I got the impression that things [county business and politics] were starting to get commingled. So then I said my intent was not to leverage this. Again, I would never have imagined that Pat Farley would put me in a compromising situation. But I thought it was something that I thought needed to be said. So I said it, I guess, to put Pat Farley's mind at ease. And his reaction was “No worries.” And that reassured me that I didn't really need to say that. It's Pat Farley.

I think supervisors have some concerns. Again, I did nothing wrong. There's never been a complaint from a vendor, or an employee or a department head. Yet still, my family and I were dragged through the mud. My reputation was sullied. Based off of Pat Farley's warped sense of reality.

Shepherd:
I asked if Farley was going to resign or be fired. The spokesman said, no, why should he be?

Thomas: That's just unfortunate. To ask why? He blatantly lied. To put an honest person in a position that damages their career and reputation and to feel as though you were doing your job, or trying to save taxpayer money or you're a whistleblower—I just can't understand how you make that connection.

They didn't even bother to support their own theory. Especially the district attorney. I'm not suggesting that someone, in this case, Pat Farley saying that he had concerns, that they shouldn't verify or say what type of proof do you have to support these allegations? That should happen. But they didn't take that step. They just totally disregarded it and said I must be guilty. At that point, there was nothing I could do. I am an honest person and I was unaware that I was being put in a compromising position.




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