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Mayor of Modesto Charged With 10 Criminal Counts

August 02, 2003|Monte Morin and Jose Cardenas | Times Staff Writers

Prosecutors filed 10 criminal charges against Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino Friday, accusing him of perjury, misappropriating public funds and a conflict of interest.

Sabatino, 65, was not taken into custody, but was informed of the charges in a telephone call from the Stanislaus County district attorney's office. He must appear in court to answer to the charges on Aug. 15, according to the district attorney's office.

The filing of the criminal complaint comes more than five months after investigators executed several local search warrants. Among other things, authorities have accused Sabatino of failing to report certain income while mayor and of receiving free cable television service at his home while voting on a city contract involving the same cable company.

"The crimes charged are all felonies under California law," Chief Deputy Dist. Atty. John Goold said in a prepared statement. "A conviction on any one count is punishable by a wide range of sanctions including felony probation with no jail time up to and including the possibility of state prison time."

Sabatino could not be reached for comment Friday, but he did tell the Modesto Bee that he had done nothing wrong and said the charges were based on misinformation provided to the district attorney by political enemies.

"I just think this is interesting that this is released just before the election," Sabatino told the newspaper. "It ain't gonna work and they ought to know that justice is coming."

According to the criminal complaint, Sabatino falsely reported in 2000 and 2001 that he did not receive income from gifts. Prosecutors also charge that Sabatino falsely reported in 2001 and 2002 that $30,000 he received from Kim Sorrano, the daughter of a local developer, was income other than a loan, gift or travel payment.

The misappropriation charges stem from the mayor's alleged use of city employees to perform duties for his private restaurants and businesses: Modesto Joe's, Mediterranean Market & Grill and La Dolce Vita.

The conflict-of-interest charge stems from Sabatino's alleged arrangement with the cable TV company.

Following news of the criminal charges Friday, Modesto City Councilwoman Janice Keating said she hoped the mayor would step down from his office to concentrate on resolving his legal problems.

"It's an extremely serious matter," she said. "I'm concerned that under present circumstances it will become difficult to focus on the business of the people."

Another city official, Councilman Will O'Bryant said he believes Sabatino is innocent until proven otherwise, but said he is concerned that the mayor's troubles could damage the reputation of Modesto government. The city has already been the focus of much negative publicity as a result of the Laci Peterson murder case and the Gary Condit scandal.

"It's definitely a black eye to the system," O'Bryant said.

The mayor campaigned four years ago against special interests that he believed were controlling City Hall and that he fought to make council meetings more open. The meetings are now broadcast on local television.

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