After he was shot and paralyzed, John Alfonzo Smiley's co-workers banded together to support him, donating vacation and sick time to help him.
State corrections workers donated $30,000 to the 44-year-old correctional officer after hearing he had been shot by a parolee while leaving a San Francisco restaurant in April 2008.
Golf tournaments organized in North Carolina and Stockton raised thousands more, and a Web site was set up to accept donations and keep supporters apprised of his medical progress.
But authorities say they may have been duped about how Smiley ended up paralyzed below his waist, and Wednesday he and his wife, Cynthia Ann Biasi-Smiley, appeared in Sacramento Superior Court to answer to felony fraud charges filed against them. ourt records say Smiley was shot in the predawn hours of April 27, 2008, after going to a swingers club with his 36-year-old wife, where they engaged in sex with strangers. A dispute arose after Smiley's condom broke while he was having sex with a woman he had just met, and her companion later confronted Smiley outside and shot him, court records indicate. The gunman was never caught.
Eleven months later, Smiley filed a workers' compensation claim saying he was gunned down by a parolee, and the state began processing a claim that could have paid him $2.5 million.
Instead, the 6-foot-8-inch former college basketball star and his wife each face five felony counts and began their odyssey through the court system Wednesday morning surrounded by reporters, cameras and gawkers.
They arrived without attorneys and sat first in the second-floor hallway while media members pointed microphones into their faces and asked them to talk.
Neither would speak to reporters, and finally they sought refuge inside Judge Gary E. Ransom's courtroom and waited for him to call the case.
Smiley maneuvered his wheelchair into the aisle. His wife sat beside him, nervously fingering the hem of her skirt with her left hand as cameras were aimed at them from the jury box, where half a dozen media members waited.
At one point she left court briefly and returned, her eyes noticeably red.
Ransom read the list of felony charges the couple face and appointed attorneys for them after they indicated they could not afford their own. Then, Smiley tried to say something to the judge.
"Can I let you know that I believe that … ," he said before a public defender turned toward him, shaking her head "no" and holding up her index finger indicating he should say nothing.
The couple then left without speaking to reporters. In his wheelchair, Smiley had difficulty heading down the hall as cameras surrounded him, and bystanders grabbed reporters to ask, "Who is that?"
Some people who e-mailed or posted comments online to The Bee after the Smiley story was first reported Tuesday indicated they had donated to his cause but knew nothing about the sex-club allegations. The Web site, www.jsmiley.org, contains updates about his medical costs, provides information on how to donate money and indicates that the second annual John Smiley Golf Tournament at The Reserve at Spanos Park in Stockton raised $11,000.
It was held Nov. 6, about two weeks before the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation opened a criminal investigation into his claims. Before that, the state had been working to reach a settlement of his claim, records indicate.
The Web site describes how "as a decorated Corrections officer in California his size helped him safely transport dangerous inmates, quell large riots, and prevent escapes."
In a section titled "John's story, in his own words," Smiley recounts spending April 26, 2008, in San Francisco at the zoo with his wife and two children and his in-laws.
"This wonderful afternoon was followed by a great dinner and an announcement that the grandparents would watch the kids so Cindy and I could have a long overdue night out together," he wrote. "Of course, I had no idea that our lives would change forever on that day."
The site does not mention the alleged visit to Twist, sex club that Smiley later told investigators he had found out about on the Internet, court records indicate.
Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.