The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office and the Tulare County District Attorney’s office have been accused of giving preferential treatment to two major political donors, Casey and Morris Tharp, owners of EM Tharp Inc.
EM Tharp Inc. is a family owned trucking business operating in Porterville since 1935.
Kevin Rooney, of the Hammerschmidt Law Corporation, represents Donald Clinton who is accused of nine counts of grand theft from his employer, E.M. Tharp Inc., and of filing false income tax returns.
A motion filed in late June requesting discovery documents states, “Mr. Clinton has been subjected to selective and discriminatory investigation and prosecution. The Tulare County Sheriff’s Office undertook and prioritized the investigation, asset seizures, and recommendation for prosecution, because the alleged victim E.M. Tharp and its owners Morris and Casey Tharp, are political supporters of the Sherriff and the District Attorney.”
As evidence to his allegation of preferential treatment Rooney provided the campaign documents showing that Casey and Morris Tharp and their company gave “over $4,000 in campaign donations to the Tulare County Sherriff between 2013-16 and approximately $600 donated to the current District Attorney’s campaign in 2018.”
Tulare County District Attorney Tim Ward’s office filed a response to Rooney’s motion saying that the donations to the Sheriff’s Department and the DA were made mostly before Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux and DA Tim Ward were campaigning for office.
Rooney’s motion added, “Counsel is informed and believes the Sheriff and the District Attorney have also politically benefited from the Tharps’ participation in activities such as the Businessmen’s Lunch in which favored candidates are invited to meet with prominent community members.”
Rooney also alleges that while his client is being prosecuted for filing false tax returns, the DA’s office “ignored” evidence of tax offenses by family associates of EM Tharp.
The DA’s office responded by saying that the alleged tax evasion by the Tharp family was revealed during a contentious divorce and happened many years before either Ward or Boudreaux were elected. It added that it is unlikely the DA’s office was aware of the tax fraud allegations against the Tharp family.
While reviewing the facts of the case against his client, Rooney told the Voice he was shocked how quickly the sheriff’s department responded to a phone call made by the Tharp company alleging embezzlement.
“The sheriff’s department responded with lightening speed,” he said, showing in up in under an hour in one instance just to review documents.
“The sheriff’s office leapfrogged its investigation into Mr. Clinton over numerous other matters and handled the Clinton investigation with much greater urgency than an ‘ordinary’ investigation,” stated the motion.
A quick response is expected for violent crimes, he said, but unheard of in financial matters.
The DA did not address the unusual speed in which the sheriff’s office responded to EM Tharp’s complaint. But their response did established that Rooney needed to demonstrate how his client was discriminated against and not just provide evidence of possible preferential treatment of EM Tharp.
“The United States Constitution mandates discovery in support of a discriminatory prosecution claim only when the defense provides some evidence tending to show the existence of each essential element of the defense-discriminatory effect and discriminatory intent,” sai the DA’s motion.
The DA concluded, “In the present matter, Defendant has done nothing more than levy accusations of misconduct labeled as “some evidence.” Defendant has made no factual showing of misconduct beyond his speculation and conjecture.”
The court agreed.
In a hearing on July 21 at the Tulare County Superior Court in Porterville, Judge Kathryn T. Montejano denied Rooney’s motion without explanation.
Though disappointed in the decision, Rooney said he wasn’t surprised.
A favorable ruling in a case of selective prosecution involving political favoritism is extremely hard to get, he said. Selective and discriminatory investigation and prosecution is a serious allegation and if proven, the entire case is thrown out.
The issue of preferential treatment will not be broached in the trial but could be use it in the event of an appeal.
A preliminary hearing date will be decided when the two sides meet again in court on July 29.