Frank Carson had always had a reputation as somewhat of a wild man.
His temper frequently got the better of him, including a 2005 incident in which the criminal defense attorney showed up at the Stanislaus County Courthouse after it was locked at 5 p.m. and began yelling and kicking the doors.
Carson “was extremely upset, sweating heavily, red-faced and screaming,” one courthouse employee later told an investigator. Another witness described him as “a madman, or on drugs.”
He has been accused of grabbing a client by the collar during trial and lifting him until his feet were off the ground.
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Once in a bid to be released from jury duty, Carson, 61, wrote on a report to the court that he has “behavior control issues” and that “my dog is the devil.”
But is he capable of conspiring with eight others to kill someone who had been sneaking onto his Turlock property to steal metal pipes?
That is a question that may take years to hash out as Stanislaus County prosecutors pursue charges in the March 30, 2012, slaying of Korey Kauffman, a 26-year-old scrap metal thief whose remains were found more than a year later in a remote forest area of Mariposa County.
The bizarre case, outlined in sometimes graphic detail in a meandering, 325-page arrest warrant affidavit released Friday, includes allegations against three current and former California Highway Patrol officers, as well as Carson’s wife and daughter, two brothers who owned the Pop-N-Cork liquor stores in Turlock and an associate of theirs who was arrested last year.
Carson’s attorney said last week that his client is ready to fight the charges, and others implicated told officials during the lengthy and complex probe that they had done nothing wrong. None of them were overheard in wiretaps directly discussing the killing.
The investigation, which involved six law enforcement agencies and included telephone wiretaps, body wires and analysis of cellphone tower records, dragged on so long that some of the prime targets began public campaigns to insist they were being railroaded.
Carson ran for district attorney on a platform that the office was corrupt. He was crushed at the ballot box. The liquor store owners, brothers Daljit Atwal and Baljit Athwal, who spell their last names differently, conducted public protests in Modesto and at the state Capitol.
The brothers are described in the arrest warrant affidavit as key members of a murder conspiracy, men who converted a backroom of one liquor store into a “party room” where CHP and other law enforcement cronies would hang out and drink.
The pair even threw a small birthday party, complete with cake, for Eduardo Quintanar Jr., one of the CHP officers charged in the case, according to the affidavit.
“They seek out persons with ties to law enforcement who can help them and use those relationships in an attempt to circumvent and obstruct the justice system,” Stanislaus County sheriff’s Deputy Cory Brown wrote in the affidavit.
On Monday, CHP Commissioner Joseph Farrow said “you’ll find it common knowledge” that officers hung out at Pop-N-Cork. A man who answered the phone at one of the stores on Monday declined to comment.
The document does not explicitly lay out allegations of who is believed to have killed Kauffman or how he was killed. Instead, it describes a series of events that may have led to his slaying and describes the CHP officers advising Atwal and Athwal on how to avoid surveillance by authorities or what to say when questioned.
Carson had long complained to law enforcement officials about thefts taking place at his property in Turlock, where he kept antique cars and other items of sentimental value, the affidavit states.
At times, when he did not believe authorities were treating his reports with the proper attention, he would take matters into his own hands, confronting the residents of a neighboring property.
In response to the thefts, Carson installed a motion detector and sometimes staked out the area. A visitor at an adjacent property said he was playing horseshoes one night when he realized he was being targeted by a man holding a laser-sighted rifle; he later identified the man as Carson, the document states.
Prosecutors and law enforcement officials would not comment on the case this week and most of the defendants are due to make their first court appearances Tuesday.
The affidavit notes that a fight between Kauffman and Atwal occurred shortly before Kauffman’s disappearance.
One witness told authorities that he walked into the Pop-N-Cork on East Avenue in Turlock weeks earlier and saw a group watching a surveillance video, the document states. In the video, the witness said he saw Kauffman and Atwal arguing and fighting.
“During the argument, Kauffman struck D. Atwal in the face,” the affidavit states. “The argument moved to the front of the store and Kauffman struck Atwal again.
“The people in the store were all laughing and making fun of D. Atwal for getting his ass kicked by a little white guy half his size.”
Another witness told investigators that on March 28, 2012, two days before Kauffman disappeared, the witness saw a black BMW drive up to Kauffman’s home and saw the occupants shout at him, “Your ass is grass,” before racing off.
“This has been determined to be D. Atwal’s BMW and the occupants that day as Baljit Atwal and Robert Woody,” the affidavit states.
Woody is described in the document as a sort of gofer for the brothers and Carson. The affidavit quotes one witness as saying Woody later boasted that “he shot (Kauffman), cut him into pieces, then fed him to the pigs.”
Woody was arrested in March 2014 and later told investigators he “didn’t do nothing” to Kauffman and was not present when he was killed, the affidavit states.
Two days after the BMW incident at Kauffman’s home, the metal scrapper told friends he planned to go to Carson’s property to steal some irrigation pipes stacked there, the affidavit states.
Kauffman was never seen alive again after that night. His bones and clothing were discovered in August 2013 in the Stanislaus National Forest. His hands and foot bones were never recovered.
A bullet was found in the area where investigators discovered his tattered blue jeans, the document states.
The discovery of the body gave investigators a new avenue to investigate, and they began focusing on the whereabouts of key suspects.
Authorities believe Kauffman’s body was taken from Turlock to the forest in Athwal’s truck, a 2007 Chevrolet Silverado that Athwal reported stolen a month after Kauffman’s disappearance.
The truck was later found burned in Merced County.
Locating Kauffman’s body also allowed detectives to start analyzing cellphone records.
The affidavit states that on June 25, 2012 – one day after authorities first contacted the brothers and Woody about Kauffman’s disappearance – Athwal’s cellphone made contact with cellphone towers within eight miles of where Kauffman’s body was found.
By then, authorities also were looking into the association between the brothers and three CHP officers who were spending time with them.
Woody told investigators that Kauffman’s neighbor, CHP Officer Scott McFarlane, was conducting surveillance on Kauffman. McFarlane, who faces a conspiracy charge in the case, is alleged to have told the brothers, Woody and fellow CHP Officer Walter Wells that Kauffman “was a thief, and he had to go,” the affidavit states.
Wells faces charges of murder, lying in wait and conspiracy, and the affidavit states that investigators found that Kauffman’s cellphone was active the night of his disappearance and made contact with a tower that serves Wells’ home.
The affidavit also says that when investigators served a search warrant at Wells’ home, they found a computer onto which Atwal had logged on as a user.
“We believe the computer last logged on by D. Atwal was at Wells’ residence because they never thought a search warrant would be served at an active law enforcement officer’s residence,” Brown wrote in the affidavit.
Quintanar, who faces a conspiracy charge, is accused in the affidavit of suggesting to the brothers how to answer detectives’ questions and how to use a mirror to check under their vehicles for tracking devices.
“This was E. Quintanar giving the Atwals direct information about law enforcement investigative techniques and how to thwart those techniques,” the affidavit states.
Frank Carson – A prominent Modesto defense attorney, Carson for years had accused local authorities of corruption and of tapping his phone without cause. Carson ran and lost in 2014 as a protest candidate against Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager. Since at least 2003, Carson had complained to local police that thieves were breaking into his Turlock property and stealing metal, car parts and antiques. He’s accused of ordering Robert Woody, Daljit Atwal and Baljit Athwal to patrol the property and make an example of anyone who stole from him.
Walter “Wally” Wells – The California Highway Patrol officer is the only one of the three officers formally charged with murder. He’s friends and business partners with Atwal and Athwal, who own Pop-N-Cork liquor stores in Turlock. Wells had loaned the Atwal brothers $10,000 as part of a business deal. Investigators believe Wells played a direct role in Kauffman’s killing due to cellphone tower signals that appear to show Wells in possession of the dead man’s cellphone after he disappeared. Wells’ seven-year employment with the CHP ended in June, a result of conduct unrelated to the murder investigation, the CHP said.
Scott McFarlane – The CHP officer hung out at Pop-N-Cork and was Kauffman’s neighbor. An affidavit says he told his fellow conspirators that Kauffman was a thief and he “had to go.” He also was heard in wiretaps telling one of the brothers not to speak to investigators. McFarlane, a 13-year CHP veteran, has been placed on administrative leave.
Eduardo Quintanar Jr. – Another friend of the Pop-N-Cork owners, Quintanar, a CHP officer of 12 years, was recorded in July 2012 in a wiretap telling Atwal that he needed to perform daily checks under his car with a mirror to make sure it wasn’t bugged with a satellite-tracking device. In a taped phone conversation, Quintanar said he was concerned that one of his guns was found at a Pop-N-Cork when police raided the store looking for evidence. He’s also on leave.
Robert Lee Woody – Woody was arrested last year and charged with murder in Kauffman’s death. Years earlier, Atwal posted bail for Woody in an unrelated case. Woody also is a client of Carson. The day of Kauffman’s slaying, Atwal and Woody checked in at a gym together, though Woody previously told investigators he was out of state when the man disappeared.
Daljit Atwal and Baljit Athwal –The brothers had a close relationship with local law enforcement officers. According to detectives, the pair frequently gave discounted booze to officers and invited them to barbecues and after-hours parties at the store. The brothers came to know Carson when Athwal retained his services in 2008. Detectives say Athwal and the attorney grew so close, he visits Carson at Christmas and brings him a bottle of wine.
Source: Sacramento Bee and Modesto Bee research