Three years ago, retired Santa Clara police officers Brian Gilbert and Phil Cooke pled guilty to a criminal harassment campaign against the publishers of an e-business newsletter critical of Gilbert & Cooke’s post-retirement employer, online auction giant eBay.
The two were creative and enthusiastic participants in this loathsome campaign, which featured deliveries of cockroaches and pig fetuses to the publishers, physical stalking and online threats. They were among the campaign’s architects.
With criminal ingenuity worthy of Tony Soprano, they hatched a scheme to direct the FBI and Massachusetts police away from the true culprits. The pair wanted to enlist the help of a “friendly” in the Santa Clara Police Department (SCPD) who would help lead investigators on a merry chase after a fictional “Samoan POI [person of interest] in Santa Clara,” which “might actually help the entire op.”
When apprised of this idea, Cooke’s response to Gilbert was, “Good plan and cover.”
While Gilbert was stage-managing these Mafioso hijinks, he still had time to put his byline to an editorial endorsing Pat Nikolai for police chief and trashing his opponent, Acting Police Chief Dan Winter (now Intel’s Regional Director of Security).
It’s understandable in hindsight. If Winter, a member of the California Bar with advanced law enforcement credentials, became police chief, it might have hindered Gilbert’s plans.
Gilbert and Nikolai were reportedly close friends and Gilbert had donated to Nikolai’s 2016 unsuccessful campaign for police chief.
You might think a plan by criminals to deploy the City police department to cover up a crime would set off alarm bells. You might also think that City officials would be the most vociferous in demanding an investigation. Especially since those criminals are former Santa Clara police officers who, even though currently incarcerated, still collect their City pensions.
You would be wrong.
Then-Santa Clara City Manager Deanna Santana said that the City was issuing an RFP for an investigation. That was the summer of 2020. To all information requests since then, City Hall’s unvarying response is, “there are no responsive records and no nonexempt records for this request.”
The fact is, every City contract and what is paid to every City vendor is public information. If there are no “exempt” contracts or payments, it means the “investigation” stopped there. In other words, the City did nothing. (If someone knows otherwise, we invite them to enlighten us.)
The bottom line is, City Hall has never investigated two former cops, whose stated objective was using police department connections to commit crimes.
Then there’s F**kgate.
Last year, the City quickly launched an investigation into whether one council member said “F**k” to another. The mayor called the police chief on his personal cell phone when the city manager and the city attorney apparently refused to wrestle the alleged malefactor to the floor.
An investigator, paid for by the City, was quickly hired. In fact, less than four months after the hair-raising incident, a report was issued.
The city-paid investigator found that the alleged four-letter Anglo-Saxon obscenity hadn’t been uttered at all.
The investigator also found that the council member to whom the alleged obscenity had been directed at, in fact, started the spat by hurling another barnyard vulgarism at the accused.
Finally, the investigator found there was nothing in this middle school squabble to disquiet anyone in the room to any degree of physical fear. (You can find this report on the city website in PRA request 23-1).
You, the taxpayer, paid $26,000 to determine if someone said the “f” word.
Let that sink in: $26,000 to investigate the “f” word; $0 to investigate whether former Santa Clara Police Department employees attempted to enlist the police department in a federal crime. These priorities defy common sense. They may also cost the City much more than $26,000.
Santa Clara may soon be paying out millions in a settlement to a Samoan former SCPD officer, Jacob Malae, who claimed that racism and retaliation caused him to be passed over for a promotion. (Remember Gilbert’s plan to create a Samoan faux POI.)
Among Malae’s complaints was that Chief Nikolai refused to denounce the felons or remove Gilbert’s photograph from the police department’s Legacy Wall after Gilbert pled guilty. When Malae complained to the union that was supposed to represent him, then-police union president Alex Torke told Malae that he thought the department’s non-response was “satisfactory.”
Let’s hope that new city management and a new city attorney will pay more attention to public integrity and less to naughty words.
Meanwhile, maybe Gilbert & Cooke can star in a jailhouse remake of The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight.