DOJ drops GCOE investigation

Valley Mirror editor convinced agency succumbed to pressure

As far as Tim Crews is concerned, “the fix is in.” The editor and publisher of the Willows-based Sacramento Valley Mirror newspaper was talking—in his usual blunt fashion—about the state Department of Justice and its criminal investigation of Joni Samples, the former superintendent of the Glenn County Office of Education, an outfit on which Crews spent months digging up dirt.

Specifically, he was referring to the DOJ’s announcement last Wednesday (June 18) that, after nearly 18 months of work, it had dropped its investigation.

Indeed, his paper’s first article on the subject following the DOJ’s announcement was a refutation of Chico Enterprise-Record reporter Barbara Arrigoni’s coverage of the event. Her article, published June 19, was headlined, “Accused ex-GCOE official cleared.” Crews’ response, on the front page of the Saturday, June 21, issue of the twice-weekly Mirror, was titled, “Samples was not ‘cleared.’ “

While Samples wouldn’t be prosecuted, he wrote, she “was not exonerated on charges of corruption, either.”

He pointed out that the 2006-07 Glenn County Grand Jury had validated the truth of the Valley Mirror’ charges against Samples and her office, made after the paper had used the California Public Records Act to obtain thousands of pages of internal documents and e-mails from the GCOE.

In its annual report, the jury found that office employees had used county computers, copiers and printers for personal use during business hours, including electioneering (on behalf of Samples’ designated heir to her position, Colleen Parker, who subsequently lost to current Superintendent Arturo Barrera) and the conduct of personal business (Samples’ book-publishing sideline).

In addition, the jury also found, after examining credit-card and other financial records, that the county “was paying expenses related to personal and/or family matters, and for conduct of private self-promotion through credit-card charges.”

The DOJ’s investigation focused on the same allegations. In its June 18 announcement, the agency said it had reviewed more than 4,000 documents and interviewed more than 30 witnesses before determining that the evidence was “insufficient to prove [Samples] committed a criminal offense beyond a reasonable doubt.”

That’s all the department was willing to say about the case. Citing a government code provision that “expressly exempts investigatory and security files of the attorney general … from public disclosure,” the agency stated that “additional detail about the state’s investigation will not be disclosed.”

Needless to say, perhaps, Crews doesn’t buy the DOJ’s contention that evidence of criminality was insufficient. In that same June 21 issue of the Valley Mirror, in fact, he “freshened up and re-ran” a story he’d run before, about how taxpayers paid for three allegedly “bogus airline-ticket charges so that Samples could repay a debt to a friend.”

Crews’ attitude is: If this isn’t illegal, what is?

He’s convinced Attorney General Jerry Brown’s department has caved to pleas from prominent people in Glenn County seeking clemency for Samples. In fact, he’s sued the DOJ for its refusal to give him copies of requested clemency appeals.

“At first they refused because they said the documents were investigatory in nature,” he told the CN&R. When his attorney pointed out that letters seeking clemency are hardly investigatory, the agency then said it didn’t have any. “Well, do they or don’t they?” Crews wanted to know. He said he intends to pursue his lawsuit.

He’s also frustrated that Barrera, who during his campaign promised to do a full audit of the GCOE and determine the extent of the misuse of its travel budget, has not done so.

“What it basically calls into question at this point is whether county offices of education are being governed at all,” Crews said. “Who is controlling them?

“I just want to find out the truth of all this missing money,” he continued.

Samples did not respond to a message left Tuesday on her home telephone, and Barrera could not be reached before press time Wednesday morning.