Part Four of Peter Lance’s 2011 News-Press DUI series

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Officer credibility key in DUI case

By PETER LANCE SPECIAL TO THE NEWS-PRESS

Before becoming a Santa Barbara police officer, accountant Kasi Beutel filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy protection listing total liabilities of $336,196.85 including seven credit cards totaling $33,450.41 debt. Documents also show she was living in a house that had been exempted by her onetime husband in a bankruptcy and then in her own bankruptcy claimed another house as a “homestead” while still living in the original house. Such disclosures could have made her ineligible to serve on the force because the application, a portion shown here, states potential reasons for rejection include “lack of well-balanced credit” and “falsification of any required application or report.”
The district attorney in Sacramento County filed perjury charges against Brandon Mullock, a former Sacramento police officer, after discovering discrepancies between his sworn statements and the actual evidence that led to the arrest of dozens of drivers. A total of 79 Mullock cases were dismissed, most of them alleged driving under the influence.
COURTESY PHOTO

June 25, 2011 6:58 AM

On April 15, when Americans were scrambling to send in their taxes, the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office sent out a notice to all lawyers with pending driving under the influence cases warning that the Alco-Sensor V, a breath testing device used to convict or indict hundreds of drivers in Ventura County, had been “pulled from service” over “erratic test results.”

Suddenly hundreds of drunken driving convictions could be tossed out.

The Alco-Sensor V has put nearly 900 drunken driving cases in jeopardy in San Jose. At the same time, dozens more were in question as far away as Burlington, Vt., over accuracy issues raised last month about the DataMaster DMT machine used there to test the breath of drivers in DUI stops.

In recent weeks, on opposite coasts, two additional scandals involving the credibility of DUI officers have put hundreds of other pending cases and prior convictions in doubt.

On May 5, a judge in Charlotte, NC, found Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer Barry Grimes guilty of contempt and sentenced him to 30 days in jail after it was discovered that the officer lied on the stand about performing field sobriety tests on a 24-year-old woman he’d arrested on suspicion of drunken driving. As a result of that single case, the Mecklenburg County District Attorney’s Office announced a review of up to 100 of the disgraced officer’s prior cases for the crime of DWI, driving while intoxicated, as it’s known in North Carolina.

Two weeks later, the district attorney in Sacramento County filed perjury charges against Brandon Mullock, a former Sacramento police officer, after discovering discrepancies between his sworn statements and the actual evidence that led to the arrest of dozens of drivers. A total of 79 former Mullock cases were dismissed, most of them alleged DUIs.

“The district attorney should only prosecute cases where the evidence is trustworthy and legally obtained,” says Jan Scully, Sacramento County district attorney. “Even though most of the defendants have already been convicted and sentenced, we have taken extraordinary steps to dismiss these cases in the interest of justice.”

In both the Grimes and Mullock cases, the officers were caught on tape, their sworn statements in court conflicting with the onboard video in their patrol units.

But, as I’ll detail in tomorrow’s story, the Santa Barbara Police Department is the only major law enforcement agency in Santa Barbara County without such video units, so the credibility of arresting DUI officers is more important here than ever.

“You’ve had these scandals,” says Felix D’Amico, retired San Bernardino County sheriff’s sergeant, “because particularly in a DUI case, the officer’s word can make or break the case. This is the only area of criminal law where an officer in the field can make three assertions and arrest you on the spot in the absence of any other independent proof: first, ‘I smelled the odor of alcohol;’ second, ‘The driver’s speech was slurred or deliberate;’ and third, ‘Their eyes were bloodshot and watery.’ ”

“It’s a driver’s constitutional right to refuse to take a field sobriety or a breath test,” says local DUI defense attorney Darryl Genis. “But if they do, the officer can literally take them to jail and virtually every judge or jury will support that action. Why? Because in these cases in which DUI is considered such a terrible crime, it’s the officer’s word against the accused. And if an innocent person below (California’s legal limit of) .08 gets pushed over the line by an overzealous cop, there’s little they can do. The presumption of innocence has no practical meaning.”

In few areas the credibility of a single law enforcement officer has taken on more weight than in Santa Barbara, where Kasi Beutel, who led the Santa Barbara Police Department’s Drinking Driver Team from 2009 to 2010 has been celebrated for an unparalleled DUI arrest record with a purported total of 680 collars for both years. As such, she won back-to-back awards from Mothers Against Drunk Driving and Avoid the 12, an association of a dozen law enforcement agencies countywide dedicated to reducing the number of drunken drivers.

But after a five-month investigation, I’ve uncovered significant evidence that appears to impeach Officer Beutel’s credibility, from the official arrest statistics provided by her department that conflict with her award-winning DUI totals, to a series of material misstatements of fact in a number of her DUI police reports, to evidence that in two cases she withheld key evidence from the files of convicted drivers that might have helped their defense.

Most troubling, I’ve found evidence that blood-test waivers which she witnessed as having been signed by arrestees, were, upon examination by a handwriting expert, said to be forged. That’s significant because the blood test is the most accurate measurement of the blood alcohol content in a DUI suspect and as I’ve demonstrated, the results of tests on the Alcotest 7410 Plus breathalyzer used by the Santa Barbara Police Department can be manipulated to enhance BAC levels above the .08 legal limit.

“And that brings us back to the credibility issue,” says Mr. Genis, who is representing me in a DUI case in which Kasi Beutel was the arresting officer.

Evidence of perjury

in federal and state litigation

Apart from her conduct on the job, another measure of Officer Beutel’s apparent willingness to lie comes from an analysis of a series of civil actions she was involved in before joining the Santa Barbara Police Department in 2005: her 2000 Chapter 7 bankruptcy in federal court and her 2005 divorce from Todd Beutel, a certified public accountant, in Ventura County Superior Court.

According to a sworn declaration in their divorce proceedings which Kasi Beutel commenced April 27, 2005, she and Todd were married May 31, 1997. “We have been married,” she declared, under oath, “for approximately 7 years and 11 months.”

Indeed an August 2003 newspaper report on the expensive Renaissance makeover of the couple’s bedroom also fixed their marriage date as 1997. A photo taken inside the couple’s bedroom showed Kasi in her wedding dress, kissing Todd in the medieval themed nuptials.

But the final divorce stipulation that Kasi signed asserted that “Kasi Beutel (“Petitioner”) and Todd Beutel (“Respondent”) were married on Jan. 15, 1999,” some 20 months later. This time, when Kasi Beutel signed the stipulation she asserted that “The length of the marriage was 6 years and 3 months.”

The reason for her acquiescence to a change in her own marriage date may have had something to do with the Chapter 7 bankruptcy that Todd Beutel filed Oct. 1, 1998. In that petition, in which he listed total liabilities of $251,066.64, Todd filed as an individual claiming as his sole property under the Homestead Exemption a townhouse on Lake Lindero Drive in Agoura Hills which he valued at $75,000.

“That exemption allows a bankrupt debtor to keep the house that they live in,” says veteran Los Angeles-based bankruptcy attorney Douglas Neistat. “It protects what it implies, the ‘homestead’ and doesn’t apply to separate rental property which should be scheduled in the petition as an asset that creditors might seek to collect against.”

It’s clear from his Chapter 7 filing that CPA Todd Beutel had many creditors. Schedule F of his petition lists debts to 18 separate credit card companies totaling $161,306.64, including two separate cards issued by Chase totaling $26,405.46 and other major credit cards from America Express, Discover, Bank of America and Wells Fargo.

A single card from Merchants Bank North America had an outstanding balance of $18,275.40.

“The fact that a certified public accountant would rack up that kind of unsecured credit card debt is extraordinary,” said a CPA interviewed for this series, who asked not to be identified. “It suggests an intent to blow out these cards, knowing that a Chapter 7 filing was in the offing.”

But Kasi Beutel, Todd’s wife with whom he was living at the time, somehow piled up an even greater mountain of debt. In her own separate Chapter 7 filing on May 12, 2000, just 16 months after Todd’s bankruptcy was discharged, she submitted a petition listing total liabilities of $336,196.85 including seven credit cards of her own totaling $33,450.41.

In that 2003 news report, Kasi Beutel identified herself and Todd as “accountants,” and in her 2000 bankruptcy filing she described her occupation as “accountant.”

“So she was clearly familiar with a ledger book,” says the CPA I interviewed. “To have two purported accountants file one bankruptcy after another in the space of two years with combined unsecured debt of $194,707.55 with 24 cards between them is mind blowing.”

Allegations by Kasi that Todd misused

business expenses

Todd Beutel’s run-up of credit card debt takes on new meaning when you consider that in his Chapter 7 filing, he listed his annual disposable income as only $40,047.12. And in her divorce declaration, under oath, Kasi Beutel estimated the monthly expenses for the couple and their three minor children at $12,000.

Kasi also alleged that her husband used his accounting business to pay for personal expenses: “We took extravagant vacations,” she wrote in a declaration under penalty of perjury, “and we live in a home valued at no less than $1.5 million. These expenses were always paid by and through the company, Beutel Accountancy Corp. . . During the course of our marriage, Respondent never traveled for work and never took an airline flight for work purposes. All his work was done within a 2-mile radius of our home or his office. In addition, Respondent never took a client out for a meal. 100% of the roughly $14,000 in travel and entertainment expenses was for our family’s personal use.”

On Aug. 22, 2000, Kasi Beutel’s Chapter 7 petition was discharged, three months after filing. But a closer look at her petition brings her flip flop, under oath, on the date of her marriage into new focus. While Todd, filing as an “individual” was able to keep his Agoura Hills townhouse worth $75,000 under the Homestead Exemption, Kasi, filing as married was also able to hold onto a house, just a few blocks away on Passageway Place which she valued at $270,000.

Evidence of possible

bankruptcy fraud

“As a general principle, you can’t be living in one house that’s been exempted by your husband in a bankruptcy,” says lawyer Mr. Neistat, “and then claim another house as your homestead in a subsequent bankruptcy while you’re still living in that original house.”

In Kasi Beutel’s divorce petition in 2005, she swore under penalty of perjury that she and Todd had lived together in his townhouse on Lake Lindero Drive in Agoura Hills from August 1995 to October 2002 when they moved into the house which she claimed as exempt in her bankruptcy filing on Passageway Place. Because she claimed that $270,000 single family home as her residence under the Homestead Exemption, she, too, got to hold onto it. But in the subsequent divorce, Todd, once again, listed the Lake Lindero Drive townhouse as his separate property.

And in a series of real estate swaps and transactions in the years following Kasi’s Beutel’s bankruptcy, they made considerable income on both properties.

Flipping the townhouse prior

to a final sale

On Oct. 19, 2004, Todd Beutel sold the townhouse on Lake Lindero Drive, valued at $75,000 in his bankruptcy to three separate entities: Kasi Beutel (trustee), the Beutel Family Trust and to himself, Todd W. Beutel.

Eleven months later, those three entities flipped the townhouse back to Todd and he sold it the same day to Dave and Michele Ruggiero for $382,000, a profit of $307,000.

Meanwhile, on Dec. 6, 2002, Kasi sold the Passageway Place house, valued in her bankruptcy at $270,000 to Jinsong Gu for $419,000, a profit of $149,000.

Now the significance of the change in marriage dates comes into play. In the course of the divorce, Todd Beutel produced a marriage certificate from Los Angeles County dated Jan. 15, 1999, two days after his Chapter 7 discharge when he’d filed as an individual. It lists Passageway Place, the property Kasi claimed as exempt as their residence.

“By shifting the marriage dates to 48 hours after his discharge,” says the CPA I interviewed, “Todd was able to potentially cure any fraud in his bankruptcy in which he claimed as exempt the townhouse on Lake Lindero Drive that Kasi swore in her divorce petition they were living in. But that raises other questions about whether Kasi committed fraud by claiming the $270,000 home as exempt, when she swore in her divorce petition that she and Todd had lived in his townhouse since 1995, five years before her bankruptcy and continuing through it.”

Meanwhile, in her bankruptcy petition sworn to under penalty of perjury, Kasi valued the Passageway Place home at $270,000 at a time it was being taxed by Los Angeles County at $285,600.

“None of these claims may put either Beutel in legal jeopardy with the feds,” says bankruptcy lawyer Mr. Neistat, “because the statute of limitations in both filings has long since run. But they certainly raise ethical questions.”

Another hint that the Beutels may not have been entirely candid with bankruptcy trustees in their respective filings came in their final divorce settlement. Rather than listing the Lake Lindero townhouse as community property and dividing its value 50/50, Todd claimed it as his own and agreed to pay Kasi an equalization payment of $286,000 — $257,000 of which he was obligated to pay within five days of the divorce decree becoming final on Feb. 23, 2006.

Was Kasi Beutel honest with sbpd about her credit problems?

Whether she is legally liable under the bankruptcy fraud statutes, one unanswered question at this time is how forthcoming was Kasi Beutel when she applied to become an officer with the Santa Barbara Police Department? The current application for prospective officers lists among potential reasons for rejection, “lack of well-balanced credit” and “falsification of any required application or report.”

In the course of her bankruptcy, Kasi Beutel admitted that under her maiden name “Kasi M Moore,” she was the subject of a default judgment in Van Nuys Municipal Court from Citi Financial Inc. Her Chapter 7 petition doesn’t list the amount of the judgment against her, but in her Schedule of Unsecured Debts she lists three separate Citi-related credit cards, with outstanding balances of $2,847.00; $9,645.54; and $4,069.46.

“When it came to her application to the Police Department, we don’t know whether Kasi Beutel lied by omission or commission,” says defense attorney Darryl Genis, “because when we filed a motion to get a look at her application, the City Attorney’s Office fought us tooth and nail and based upon their misrepresentation of a Pitchess-related case, the judge was snookered into ruling against full disclosure.”

The so-called “Pitchess motion,” which I filed in early March asked for any of Kasi Beutel’s “employment records including records documenting the base pay and any overtime pay, any internal affairs file; professional standards unit file, divisional file; training file; academy file; human resources file; risk management file; captain’s file, any other files herein not listed but that may be maintained by the Santa Barbara Police Department or custodian of records.”

The city attorney fights disclosure

In a May 16 response to our March request, Assistant City Attorney Michelle Montez argued that “discovery is limited to the names, addresses and telephone numbers of citizen complaints within the last five years.”

At a hearing before Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge George C. Eskin on April 8, Tava Ostrenger, an attorney for the city, argued that only the complaint files on an officer were eligible for Pitchess Motion review and Judge Eskin agreed, reviewing a limited file “in camera” — in his chambers — that revealed nothing about whether Kasi Beutel lied or omitted key information from her Santa Barbara Police Department application regarding her bankruptcy or credit card debt.

Tracking complaints against officers in the department can be problematic. Michael Kenny, the 42-year-old commercial fisherman (profiled in Part Two of this series on Thursday) who got shot by a stun gun by Kasi Beutel after a routine stop in 2009, said he had trouble filing a complaint against her.

“They told me when I called at the time that I couldn’t file a complaint until the case I had pending was resolved,” Mr. Kenny said. “By the time that happened, months later, I’d forgotten. So you have to wonder how many other complaints like mine go unfiled.”

On June 1, I referred a series of questions regarding Kasi Beutel to Lt. Donald Paul McCaffrey, the public information officer for the Santa Barbara Police Department. In an email response he wrote, “I am concerned that this list of questions extends beyond public information and delves into personnel file material protected by law. This E-Mail has been referred to the Santa Barbara City Attorney’s Office for review.”

SEC charges for Todd for marriage-term accounting

It is unknown precisely how involved Kasi Beutel was with husband Todd’s activities as an accountant, or what she knew about the details, but in September 2007, 20 months after their divorce, Todd and his Westlake Village company Beutel Accountancy Corp., were issued a cease and desist order by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for violations that occurred during the marriage term. The firm was one of only 69 nationwide cited for violating the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, a 2002 antifraud law passed in the wake of the Enron scandal.

The charges stemmed from Todd Beutel’s auditing of Vital Health Technologies, aka Caribbean American Health Resorts, a Barbados-based company with offices in Beverly Hills. The audit period was for 2003 and 2004 during the time he and Kasi were married and living together.

According to the SEC filing, at the time Todd audited the company, “Vital Health reported revenues of $10,500 and total assets of $1 million.”

Repeated attempts to get a comment from Todd Beutel for this article were unanswered.

In the final part of this series on Sunday, I examine why the Santa Barbara Police Department is the only major member of Avoid the 12 without video recorders in its patrol units and the implications of that for DUI suspects.

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