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SLO DA dropped second drug case in wake of AJ Santana scandal 

In the aftermath of the investigation and arrest of a former SLO County District Attorney’s Office investigator, prosecutors were forced to drop a drug case against one local man.

A public information request by New Times revealed that another case was also dismissed following accusations that the investigator, August Justino “AJ” Santana, may have falsified a search warrant that was later used to arrest and prosecute a Grover Beach woman.

click to enlarge CASE CLOSED?:  The SLO County District Attorney’s Office reviewed at least 12 cases in the wake of perjury allegations against one of its own investigators. Two of those cases were dismissed. - FILE PHOTO
  • FILE PHOTO
  • CASE CLOSED?: The SLO County District Attorney’s Office reviewed at least 12 cases in the wake of perjury allegations against one of its own investigators. Two of those cases were dismissed.

Santana was as an investigator for the DA’s office starting in 2007, where he worked on a number of cases. He was placed on administrative leave after accusations surfaced that he provided a SLO County judge with a falsified affidavit in order to search a vehicle of a San Miguel man named Tommy Pappas for drugs. The case against Pappas was eventually dropped, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune

Santana is no longer employed with the DA’s Office, but a civil service appeal in the matter is still pending. Earlier this month, the California Attorney General’s office charged Santana with felony perjury, which carries a jail sentence of up to three years upon conviction. 

Pappas’ wasn’t the only drug case that was dropped in the wake of the scandal. It sparked the review of multiple cases, and eventually the dismissal of a felony drug case against Tamara Toohey of Grover Beach.

Toohey was arrested in April of 2014. According to an incident report filed by Santana, members of the SLO County Sheriff’s Office Narcotics Unit served a drug-related search warrant on Toohey’s residence in Grover Beach. Inside, the officers found 20.5 grams of methamphetamine individually packaged for sale, five packages of marijuana, and three digital scales, the report stated. 

Toohey was charged by the DA’s office with felony counts of possession and sale of a controlled substance, possession and sale of narcotics, possession of marijuana, and a misdemeanor for possession of drug paraphernalia.

In January 2015, Toohey’s attorney filed a motion asking the court to allow disclosure of Santana’s records. SLO-based defense lawyer Linden Mackaoui sought Santana’s personnel file, any complaints filed against him, and materials related to the investigation into his conduct. Mackaoui wrote in the motion that accusations of dishonesty and perjury would be a “likely issue” during Toohey’s trial, and that complaints of such behavior would be relevant to the case.

“The information requested from the officer’s personnel files may indicate a pattern of conduct of engaging in writing false reports, dishonesty, and perjury,” Mackaoui wrote. 

Mackaoui also cast doubt on Santana’s official version of the facts related to Toohey’s case.

“I am informed and believe that the incident did not occur as it is described in the incident report,” the motion stated.

One month later—and 10 months after the raid on Toohey’s apartment—county prosecutors moved to dismiss their case against her; court records stated that the case was dropped “in the interest of justice.”

Both Mackaoui and Toohey didn’t respond to requests for comment on the case. 

Mackaoui wasn’t the only attorney to ask for records related to Santana and the investigation into his conduct. Lawyers for Rodney Jarmin, one of two North County lenders charged in a criminal fraud case, filed a motion to obtain such materials in December 2014. They believed that it might be relevant as Santana conducted much of the investigation into Jarmin on the prosecution’s behalf. Unlike Toohey’s case, the SLO County DA’s Office isn’t seeking to drop the charges, and Jarmin’s case is ongoing, according to court records. 

Santana also worked on the county’s high-profile fraud case against former Grover Beach financial advisor Al Moriarty in 2013. Moriarty was sentenced to five years in prison after he was convicted of bilking unwitting investors out of millions of dollars in a Ponzi scheme. Santana began investigating complaints filed against Moriarty to the DA’s Economic Crime Unit in November 2012, and filed a sworn declaration that Moritary used insurance industry connections to identify his victims, according to previous New Times reports. It does not appear that Santana’s alleged misconduct was ever an issue during Moritary’s trial.

In an email response to questions from New Times, SLO County Assistant District Attorney Lee Cunningham said Santana was listed as a witness in 12 cases during the time period in question. His involvement in those cases varied.

“This would include those in which he may not have been the primary investigator, but played some role as witness,” Cunningham wrote.

Meanwhile, Santana’s criminal case is still in its infancy. He appeared in court with his attorney Aug. 12 but did not enter a plea. Santana was released on his own recognizance and is due back in court Sept. 10. 

Staff Writer Chris McGuinness can be reached at cmcguinness@newtimesslo.com, or on Twitter @CWMcGuinness.

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