Courts & Crime

Mud-slinging sheriff's race draws in FBI

For Sacramento, this may be the most entertaining political race in the last 20 years.

It was already like film noir, and on Thursday the Sacramento County sheriff's race descended into bizarre tales of a secret investigation, shredded documents, suburban motel rooms and lies.

All of it was aimed at tarring sheriff's candidate Scott Jones.

And then the FBI came along late in the day to declare once and for all that Jones had been cleared years ago of any wrongdoing.

Here are the latest developments in the campaign to succeed retiring Sheriff John McGinness:

11 a.m. Thursday

Former Sheriff Lou Blanas emerged from retirement to call a news conference at the Deputy Sheriffs' Association, the law enforcement union that is backing Capt. Jim Cooper and has given $50,000 to his campaign.

Blanas wanted to talk about a 2004 investigation of Cooper's chief rival, Capt. Scott Jones.

The probe started over a stolen $3.8 million Treasury check and was run by the FBI. Jones got tangled up in it because he had a law office inside a building owned by bail bondsmen who were the focus of the investigation.

Jones was suspended for eight days while the FBI investigated him. He passed a polygraph test, volunteered to go before a federal grand jury and was cleared.

He returned to duty as Blanas' legal adviser and shortly afterward was promoted by Blanas to lieutenant.

Blanas had said in a declaration filed in court Wednesday that he "had no knowledge of the investigation into Mr. Jones' conduct."

He had a different story Thursday, explaining that he had learned that McGinness, then Blanas' undersheriff and close friend, ran a secret investigation of Jones through the Sheriff's Department.

That probe, Blanas said, was conducted from a motel on Zinfandel Drive and focused on allegations that Jones used department computers to run criminal history checks for his bail bondsmen acquaintances. After it was completed, Blanas said, McGinness ordered the investigation hushed up and the records of it shredded.

"They were ordered not to come to me with the details because McGinness told them I would overreact," Blanas said.

Blanas claimed he learned of the secret probe and shredding from retired detective Lynn Roloff, who obtained four search warrants in September 2002 as part of her investigation of Jones.

He added that he did not bring Roloff to the news conference Thursday because she is looking for work and really didn't want to be involved. She did not return a phone message from The Bee.

1:15 p.m. Thursday

McGinness called a press conference at sheriff's headquarters to suggest, politely, that Blanas had flipped his lid.

"That's absolutely, positively untrue," McGinness said of Blanas' tale about the secret Zinfandel Drive investigation.

McGinness, who has endorsed Jones, said federal and sheriff's investigators probed the computer allegations against Jones and that the case went to the federal grand jury.

McGinness said there was no secret second probe, no command post in a motel room and no effort to keep the matter a secret from Blanas. He called Blanas' allegations "shameful."

Jones asked to go before the grand jury voluntarily and was put through a grilling McGinness likened to "a living autopsy" before being cleared.

The federal investigation of Jones became a joke around the office, McGinness said, one that even Blanas played into.

While he was sheriff, Blanas was fond of giving people nicknames, such as "Mr. Positive" or "The Evil One." McGinness said that when Jones returned to duty Blanas bestowed a nickname on him: "Sgt. RICO" (as in the federal racketeering statute).

1:45 p.m. Thursday

Jones, who had watched McGinness' news conference pacing back and forth in the rear of the room, met with reporters outside the sheriff's building to say, once again, that he had been cleared and was being smeared by "Jim Cooper's henchmen" for political purposes.

"It's nasty, but it's only nasty one way," Jones said, noting that he has not attacked Cooper.

As for Blanas' claim that he knew nothing about the probe of Jones? "He's absolutely lying," Jones said.

4 p.m. Thursday

Drew Parenti, special agent in charge of the Sacramento FBI office, issued a statement reiterating that Jones had been cleared of all wrongdoing.

"The fact that federal prosecution was declined, and that the FBI case was considered closed, was communicated by letter dated Jan. 27, 2004, from the FBI to former Sacramento County Sheriff Lou Blanas," Parenti added.

5:15 p.m. Thursday

Blanas wasn't giving up. He called The Bee to say he never got the FBI letter.

He said the FBI statement doesn't make sense because the Sheriff's Department was investigating Jones in September 2002. But the FBI says it did not receive the allegation against Jones until December 2003.

"The dates don't jibe," Blanas said, adding that the original investigators contacted him with their concerns.

"I didn't make this up, they came to me," he said.

He added that he had spoken again to Roloff late Thursday and that, in fact, the command post had not been in a motel on Zinfandel.

It was an apartment, Blanas said, that they rented for four months.

Read the full story at the Sacramento Bee.