FAIR GAME: Signs like these are only allowed during active political campaigns. Photo: Frank Barragan

The San Benito County District Attorney’s Office is not pursuing criminal charges against former Supervisor Anthony Botelho in relation to the removal of political signage opposing the Strada Verde Innovation Park (SVIP) project. The signs were removed from various locations throughout the county on Nov. 14 and Botelho has admitted to taking them down.

This is the latest development in an ongoing dispute between Botelho and members of the group Citizens Against Strada Verde, whose signs Botelho removed and stashed at his home in San Juan Bautista. The signs have since been recovered, after they were tracked down at Botelho’s residence by individuals affiliated with the group.

Botelho is a spokesperson for the SVIP project and works for the development company that proposed the project.

The San Benito County Sheriff’s Office was contacted twice on Nov. 14 by an unidentified individual reporting the missing signs. The first call came at 2:45pm and it is not clear whether officers responded to a specific location. Another call came hours later at 6:10pm and was related to the initial complaint, according to Sheriff Eric Taylor.

Later that evening, Botelho’s wife called 911 after individuals seeking to recuperate the signs arrived at the home and demanded they be returned, Botelho said, speaking to the Free Lance. Sheriff’s deputies responded to the home, but no arrests were made.

Both parties agreed to an exchange; Botelho returned the signs to the group and in return they deleted a social media post doxxing Botelho. A total of 18 signs were recovered, according to Frank Barragan, a spokesperson for Citizens Against Strada Verde.

The sheriff’s office initially opened a criminal investigation against Botelho for property theft, but after conferring with DA Joel Buckingham’s office, the nature of the charges has changed, Taylor said in a statement to the Free Lance.

“There are different levels of burden for a criminal case to be written by police, and criminal charges to be pursued by the DA,” Taylor said. “The DA educated us on his belief this was non-criminal in nature.”

In an interview with KSBW, Buckingham likened the alleged sign thefts and Botelho’s actions as “someone picking up litter,” and not a criminal action.

The Free Lance reached out to Buckingham to clarify his comments and his reasoning for not pursuing the charges against Botelho. He said that after reviewing the county’s sign ordinance, Buckingham’s office determined that the signs were put up without a permit and outside of the appropriate time window for allowable political signage.

“If citizens see signs that are outside of those (time frames) and they clean up the community, then no, I don’t see us getting involved in that,” Buckingham said.

According to state law, political signs are only allowed to be displayed 90 days prior to and 10 days after an election. Otherwise, temporary permits must be obtained through a local municipality. In San Benito County, the sign ordinance requires a permit that allows the use of a temporary sign for a specified 100-day period. 

None of the anti-Strada Verde signs in question had been granted a temporary sign permit, Buckingham said. 

The county ordinance also prohibits advertising signs that include the words “stop,” “look” or “listen.” Buckingham said that citizens are not barred from removing signs that violate county and state ordinances.

Botelho has previously stated that he was committing an “act of community service” by taking the signs down from a public right-of-way.

Barragan questions why Botelho took it upon himself to enforce a county ordinance and argues that his motivation was to stifle political debate.

“Who made him the county enforcer of ordinances? I have never heard of a more ridiculous excuse—it is just one more attempt made up after the fact to cover up his and Strada Verde’s illegal activities,” Barragan said in an email.

Barragan previously stated that each sign cost his group around $350. By this estimate the value of the recovered signs would run up to $6,300. Under California law, any stolen property valued at more than $950.00 is considered grand theft. 

Buckingham said that even if Botelho had not returned the signs, he would not have been charged.

“Due to the fact that the signs were not permitted, outside the time period for ‘political signs,’ and of a prohibited form, there is not a cognizable property interest in the sign,” Buckingham said. “Much like if one were to distribute leaflets or flyers, individuals picking them up or throwing them away would not be prosecuted.”

However, Buckingham said that if he were in Botelho’s position, he would have thought twice about taking the signs.

“I guess the only thing I would say is that, from a position of wisdom, I would probably not do this myself,” Buckingham said.

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  1. Unfortunately this pattern is far too common. It seems like in the eyes of our sheriff and district attorney the activities of powerful people do not qualify as crimes. Anatole Frances called it over a hundred years ago, “The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, to beg in the streets, and to steal their bread.” Former supervisor Botelho is therefore disqualified from being charged with theft, because that is only something poor people do.

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  2. Actually in rereading my comment I realized the people charged with enforcing laws in San Benito upstage Anatole France. Anthony did something that a poor person would face consequences but in our county the powerful act with impunity. They are confident that they will not be held accountable.

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    • Agreed its the “good ole boy ” network , you or I would probably still be in jail Hollister corruption,
      as usual

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  3. If you do the crime, which stealing other’s signs is, it should be prosecuted. He had no right to take the signs and should be charged with a crime.

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  4. Mr. Bothelo’s actions represent a symptom of a larger problem within the county. It would appear that some politicians or ex-politicians, in this case, believe they have some form of immunity as a result of their positions and connections. Their egregious behavior demonstrates this. The saving grace here is that thieves are are not the brightest stars in the sky and, ultimately, do themselves in as a result of their foolishness. It’s my belief that there are some good people in local government – not a lot, but some and the rest are real “stinkers”. I would like to proudly un-congratulate Mr. Bothelo for falling in to the latter group!

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  5. Anthony
    Hero or Hypocrite
    Having seen the KSBW news article and Board of Supervisors meeting Nov. 2023 I was amazed to see the Anthony Botello story play out.
    Having known Anthony for many years I have always found him decent to talk to even if we did not always agree. This issue has shown me a different side.
    His blatantly admitting on T.V. and to our Supervisors as to the theft and his following excuses were appalling.
    Apparently working for a large corporation the message was hard to see. In this county signs have been allowed (overlooked) for years.
    Anthony has allowed numerous people and groups to display signs on his property located on Highway 156 for years. In fact there is one there now advertising an out of county holiday event. It seems now that due to a difference of views he feels it is his duty to remove the “garbage” signs he does not agree with from the roads.
    For disclosure, I do not know Mr. Barragan or really understand what he is doing or trying to do, but apparently it is something some people, including Anthony, disagree with.
    Even if the signs were taken down and given to Cal Trans or San Benito County Works it could be said it was due to the “Stop Sign” logo as a safety issue. But they were not given to an agency, it was pure theft of other people’s views. There appears that there was no intention of returning these signs until he was caught.
    Even Cal Trans returns people’s personal property. It is not a citizen’s right to remove someone’s property they do not agree with, you do not take a bike home because it is left in the street, but you can report it, or turn it in, if it is a violation.
    I hate to think that this one poorly executed theft places the county resident’s first amendment rights at risk. Or that we must all file for a permit to voice an opinion or advertise our Scouts Clubs, 4-H, Fair, Fund Raisers or Church events or risk now becoming the criminals.
    This disservice by a previous supervisor deserves some better attention from our county officials than to be swept under the rug.
    I’m Sorry Anthony, it was wrong.

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  6. If you play stupid games, you win stupid prizes. The stupid prize for Anthony Bothelo is humiliation. What a joke! He was “picking up garbage”…really??, yeah, sure… Maybe he should adopt a highway, go out there with a stick and pick-up real garbage! Maybe his wife should have called 911 on him…because it looks like someone stole his integrity!

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  7. The real question here is who is paying for these sign? Who is the money behind these signs and why? Someone is paying big money for the signs, mailers and internet ads. Who does Mr. Barragan work for. Maybe the Freelance should follow the money.

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