I am writing to respond to Marty Richman’s recent opinion
Justice fails with plea deals in tow case.
Mr. Richman wrote,
Santa Clara County prosecutors failed in their duty this week
when they allowed Paul Greer, his sister Rosemary Ball and husband
Michael Ball to plead no contest to a raft of felony charges in
exchange for relatively light sentences in their long-running
car-towing scam case.
By Greg Adler
I am writing to respond to Marty Richman’s recent opinion piece, “Justice fails with plea deals in tow case.” Mr. Richman wrote, “Santa Clara County prosecutors failed in their duty this week when they allowed Paul Greer, his sister Rosemary Ball and husband Michael Ball to plead no contest to a raft of felony charges in exchange for relatively light sentences in their long-running car-towing scam case.”
I disagree. The deal struck with Mr. Greer and the other defendants was between them and the court, not them and the District Attorney’s Office. Greer pleaded no contest to every single crime he was charged with. That cannot reasonably be viewed as a failure on the part of the District Attorney’s Office, and such a suggestion is unfair and factually inaccurate.
I was first introduced to Mr. Greer and his antics in November 2005 when I had been practicing law for less than a year. For the past four and a half years I have been reluctant to take any credit for all the work I did to bring the illegal activities of Greer and Cardinalli to light, but it is time for you all to know the whole truth – not because I want a pat on the back, but because I’m tired of people who have no clue how much effort it took to bring Greer and Cardinalli to justice criticizing the DA’s Office.
My involvement in the case started when my job duties required me to help defend several of Greer’s bogus lawsuits. I began noticing patterns of fraud in Greer’s (and later, Cardinalli’s) small claims cases. Basically, they created a fraudulent assembly line where they set up innocent people one by one and, with the courts’ help, knocked them down and picked their pockets. Similar to the way in which a crook might hijack the justice system by planting drugs or a murder weapon in order to frame an innocent person, Greer and Cardinalli hijacked the system by lying, altering documents, and fabricating evidence in order to obtain fraudulent money judgments against innocent people.
In the summer and fall of 2006 I began taking time off of work and made several trips from Vacaville down to San Martin and Hollister to make copies of Greer and Cardinalli’s case files and observe the court sessions. It is a 260-mile round trip. I brought my own copy machine, paper, toner, and supplies. I would begin the journey around 5:30 a.m. so I could make it through Bay Area traffic and be at the courthouses when they opened. I had to work as quickly as I could in order to copy as many files as possible before the courthouses closed. This was a tiresome and expensive process. At the end of the day, I would box up all of the documents I collected, get in my car, and then make the 130-mile trip back home. Think “Erin Brockovich.” Later, I would spend entire weekends sorting through the thousands of pages of documents I collected. Some weekends, I never even left my house.
The information in the case files verified that there was an ongoing, widespread abuse of the courts and the public, the particulars of which are set forth in the scores of crimes for which Greer pleaded no contest and Cardinalli is set to stand trial.
In order to stop the scam to whatever extent I could, I began pursuing motions to have Greer and Cardinalli declared vexatious litigants – people who repeatedly file frivolous lawsuits and are barred from filing new ones without prior court permission. I eventually succeeded, only to later have the presiding judges in both San Benito and Santa Clara Counties begin granting Greer and Cardinalli permission to file more frivolous lawsuits, which effectively rendered useless the vexatious litigant orders I worked so hard to get. I slowed down Greer and Cardinalli and beat them handily in cases they already had on file, but there was little more I could do to stop them from filing new cases, and it wasn’t practical for me to continue fighting them on a case-by-case basis. We needed a permanent solution, and we weren’t going to find one through the civil courts.
At first, no law enforcement agency would touch the case. It was such a complicated, paper-intensive matter involving fraudulent civil cases that most criminal investigators and attorneys didn’t know where to begin due to lack of familiarity. But once the DA’s Office saw who the victims were, and saw what was happening to them, the criminal case gained traction. The victims were single moms struggling to make ends meet; farm laborers and immigrants; elderly couples on limited incomes who hadn’t driven in years – ordinary folks who didn’t do anything wrong. Some of them were unwittingly put on payment plans with interest so high (and illegal) that their balances went up each month. Having been a student most of my life up to that point in time it was still fresh in my mind how losing even a small amount of money – a couple hundred dollars – means a lot to someone who doesn’t have much. A loss of a few thousand dollars would be devastating. These people were yoked with judgments they didn’t deserve and couldn’t afford, but no one in a position to help the victims seemed to care enough to do anything. But I cared, and finally at the District Attorney’s Office I found several people who cared too. Because of the evidence I gathered and shared with them, they started an eight-month investigation of their own, which ultimately led to the filing of criminal charges.
In the meantime, throughout most of 2006 and 2007 I helped dozens of Greer and Cardinalli’s victims by writing letters, preparing motions and pleadings, and appearing in court for them, all at no charge. Like a couple of bullies stealing kids’ lunch money on the playground, Greer and Cardinalli had been pushing people around for years, but finally they were messing with someone their own size – someone who messed back. They didn’t like that, nor did they like the fact that I was exposing their fraud whenever I had the opportunity, so they hired law firms that threatened to sue me civilly and ruin me financially in an effort to intimidate and discourage me from telling the truth about their scheme. Their lawyers even stooped so low as to send the letters to my employer in an effort to generate pressure for me to stop. Obviously, the threats did not have the desired effect. Nevertheless, I placed myself in harm’s way so justice could be done.
Nobody asked me to do any of this. I was never compensated for the time I spent and never expected to be. My employer did not pay me a higher salary; there was no overtime. There were no awards or accolades. I did something no one else was willing to do because it needed to be done. And even after all of that – after sacrificing over 1,100 hours of my life that I will never get back – I never once asked anyone for anything in return.
Although I do feel some satisfaction with how far things have come, there is still a part of me that laments all the time out of my life that I will never get back. Given the demands of my regular job, I had to work on the tow-scam case mainly during evenings and weekends. For a period of about three months in 2006 I had one day off. I gave up hobbies and time with my friends and family. My free time was spent combing through the thousands of pages of documents I collected and assisting victims who contacted me and sought my help, most of whom, to this day, I have never even met in person. I missed out on little things that make life enjoyable, like shopping with my wife on the weekends or walking my dogs after work, as well as some of the bigger things, like visiting my grandfather more often before he died and taking a more active role in helping my wife plan our wedding. There are no do-overs for these things. Those opportunities are gone for me. If I had to do it all over again, I would. It was the right thing to do. But I will probably always be resentful that I had to give up so much to help clean up a huge mess that was caused, or at least aided, by weaknesses in the system and other people’s laziness and incompetence.
My point is this: No one connected to this case has sacrificed more than me. If there is anyone who wants to see the defendants punished harshly, it is me. If there is anyone who should be upset over the sentences the defendants will receive, it should be me. But I am not upset. To the contrary, I am very pleased with how the case has been handled by the DA’s Office. I would have preferred the defendants taken the matter to trial so they could have met their inevitable convictions and received much longer prison sentences, and that opportunity may still present itself with Mr. Cardinalli, but with the remaining defendants Judge Brown did a fine job in striking a balance between vindicating the victims’ rights by punishing the defendants, sparing the victims and witnesses the burden of having to testify at trial, and sparing the taxpayers the cost of a lengthy trial.
More than anything though, the community should be commending the prosecutors for getting involved in the first place and seeing this case through to the end, not condemning them for obtaining what is an objectively reasonable result. The only people who took the time to listen to me and cared enough to invest the resources to do something to stop Greer and Cardinalli’s scam once and for all were the good people at the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office. If not for me, there never would have been an investigation. If not for them, there never would have been a prosecution, and Greer and Cardinalli would probably still be at it.
So please, give the good people at the DA’s Office some credit. They deserve it.
Greg Adler is an attorney based in Fairfield.