Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva pleaded not guilty Thursday in Amador Superior Court to charges stemming from his alleged participation last summer in a drunken strip poker game with teens at his youth camp in Amador County.
Silva, 41, was arraigned on a felony count of recording confidential communications and three misdemeanor counts: contributing to the delinquency of a minor, providing alcohol to minors and endangering the health of a child.
Evidence includes videos and photos confiscated from Silva’s phone and laptop in November 2015 by federal agents who stopped him as he returned to San Francisco from a trip to China.
Wearing a gray suit and flanked by his two lawyers, Silva addressed the media after Thursday’s arraignment, saying the allegations are unfounded.
“I am innocent of these charges,” said Silva, who is running for re-election in November. “The timing is extremely suspicious.”
In addition to entering a not-guilty plea, Silva’s lawyers, Mark Reichel and Allen Sawyer, filed a motion requesting a new judge handle the case.
They argued the charges brought against the mayor were part of a larger political scheme to “steal an election.” The lawyers would not speculate on who might be behind the effort.
“What they did was the assassination of a particular candidate's reputation,” Sawyer said outside the courthouse. “By doing that, they are removing the right for the residents of Stockton to choose who their mayor is.”
Amador County District Attorney Todd Riebe said Thursday afternoon that the case, which he said was handed to his office on July 26 by federal agents, had been thoroughly evaluated before his office decided to file charges.
“We were satisfied with the case then, and we are satisfied with it now,” he said.
Riebe also denied any allegations that Silva’s prosecution was politically motivated, saying he “could care less about San Joaquin politics.”
A summary of the investigation says agents found 23 photographs and four video clips dating from Aug. 3 to Aug. 9 of last year and related to Silva’s Mayor’s Youth Camp, held at the Stockton Municipal Camp at Silver Lake in Amador County. The camp served roughly 75 children ages 5 to 17 last year and employed young adults as counselors.
In one of the video clips, investigators said, the phone was set down, darkening the lens and only capturing audio.
“That clip contains audio of a conversation between participants involved in a strip poker game that occurred in Silva’s bedroom,” according to a news release by the District Attorney’s Office. “The conversation between the participants indicated that they were naked. One of the participants was a 16-year-old male.”
The clip also suggested that the people in the room, who investigators did not identify in the court documents, did not want to be recorded.
According to transcripts included in the court documents, an unidentified male heard in the video says, “Did you take a picture? Oh, you’re trying to record.”
Another unidentified female then says, “You better not.”
Arrest at Silver Lake camp
The video suggests that those talking did not want to be recorded, according to prosecutors in the case. Prosecutors also said witnesses told investigators that Silva provided alcohol to those on the recording, all of whom were under legal drinking age.
Silva was arrested in relation to the video and photos while at the Silver Lake camp on Aug. 4. He was booked into the Amador County jail, where he made bail the same day. The usually outspoken mayor was silent, refusing to answer questions from a group of reporters as he walked out of the facility.
Both Reichel and Sawyer said they plan to bring forward evidence that they believe shows flaws in the prosecution’s case. They argued that there was no way to tell that Silva was the person recording at the time of the alleged strip poker game and said the victims in the case have since denied allegations that Silva gave them alcohol.
Even before his arrest, Silva had made plenty of headlines since he was elected in an upset victory in 2012, after a summer in which Stockton filed for bankruptcy and suffered a soaring murder rate.
Last month, police said a gun registered to the mayor was used in the unsolved 2015 killing of a 13-year-old boy. Silva said the gun was stolen, but he did not officially report it as missing until a month after Rayshawn Harris was shot, The Stockton Record reported.
Silva promised during the campaign to not take a salary until he balanced the city budget and restored its police presence. But his tenure as mayor was quickly marked by controversy and conflict with other city officials – and by his decision to draw his six-figure salary, including back pay, before he’d accomplished his goals.
By May 2013, a frustrated Silva delivered his state of the city address wearing a gladiator helmet and wielding a mace. He urged residents to “come to war with me and fight so we can change things here in Stockton, California.”
The next month, a widely circulated, anonymous email aired a copy of a 2005 police report involving an accusation that Silva, a former water polo coach, secretly taped girls using his restroom and changing clothes at his home.
The city made public a separate, largely redacted report of an accusation of sexual battery, in which an unidentified woman said Silva insisted that she drink alcohol and touched her buttocks inappropriately in 2011.
Both complaints were investigated and no charges were filed. Silva said at the time that the accusations contained in the older police reports were false and politically motivated.