February 12, 2014

New details released in Merced County sexual bribery case

A Merced County employee arrested earlier this week in a sexual bribery case was recently investigated for harassment, and one employee said county officials brushed off previous complaints involving the same department.

A Merced County employee arrested earlier this week in a sexual bribery case was recently investigated for harassment, and one employee said county officials brushed off previous complaints involving the same department.

Anthony J. Thompson, a collections supervisor for the Department of Revenue and Reimbursement, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of bribery after a three-week investigation by the Merced County Sheriff’s Department.

On Wednesday, Treasurer-Tax Collector Karen Adams, Thompson’s supervisor, denied knowing anything about the case and suggested the incident was being “sensationalized.”

Deputy Delray Shelton on Wednesday said investigators believe Thompson promised to manipulate the amount of money one woman’s son owed the county in exchange for “sexual favors” and “dates.”

“He offered to reduce the amount of money or to make the woman’s son’s account go away entirely,” Shelton said.

Thompson, 53, posted a $10,000 bail bond and was released from jail at 10:52 p.m. Tuesday, authorities confirmed. He was contacted by telephone Wednesday at his Fresno home, but refused to comment before hanging up the phone.

Deputies began investigating Thompson after the woman complained he’d offered to doctor financial records for sexual favors, investigators said.

Shelton said the woman refused the deal and contacted law enforcement.

Wednesday, deputies had the woman arrange to meet Thompson at a pharmacy in Merced, Shelton said. After that arranged meeting, he was detained and questioned.

Deputies said there could be others who’ve been in similar situations involving Thompson, but none have come forward. The investigation remains open.

Internal investigation

Thompson’s arrest comes on the heels of an internal investigation launched late last year by Merced County into complaints of harassment and discrimination, according to a human resources letter obtained by the Merced Sun-Star.

The county hired Susan Hatmaker of Fresno-based Sutton Hatmaker Law Corp. to conduct the investigation. Hatmaker recently made headlines for her investigation of Merced County Public Defender Eric Dumars, who later resigned his position.

Hatmaker did not return calls for comment Wednesday.

A public records request submitted by the Sun-Star for the Thompson investigation was denied by county counsel Jan. 31, citing “personnel, medical, or similar files,” saying the disclosure would “constitute an unwarranted invasion of personal privacy.”

Assistant County Counsel Richard Flores said in an email that Adams was named in the Thompson investigation, but it was related to a matter that “had already been addressed in (a) 2011 report” that included claims of sexual harassment, inappropriate language and behavior in the workplace by Adams.

Hatmaker’s investigation of Thompson closed Nov. 13, and the county issued a letter Dec. 3, saying there was “insufficient evidence” that Thompson engaged in discrimination or harassment, based on race or any other protected characteristic.

Complaints made

A county employee who worked with Thompson for years spoke out Wednesday about the working conditions at the office and how employees tried to get help from the county. The employee requested anonymity for fear of losing his or her job.

“The county knew this stuff was going on. All of the employees in that department had complaints about his behavior and they kept sweeping it under the carpet,” the employee said. “We really felt that if they heard what was going on, they would care, but we feel like that didn’t happen.”

The employee said they’d witnessed Thompson accepting gifts from defendants, having whispered conversations with clients at his desk and taking them into unused offices for hours on end.

The employee said they brought their concerns to Adams, Thompson’s supervisor, but she turned a “blind eye” to the issues.

Adams on Wednesday said she was “surprised” by the news of Thompson’s arrest and hadn’t heard anything beyond what was printed in the Sun-Star. “I have not been contacted (by authorities) or told a thing,” Adams said. “I’m still not sure what this is about. I think we might be creating stuff for a sensational story.”

Adams also denied being interviewed by Hatmaker for the internal investigation last year.

Thompson was still employed by Merced County as of late Wednesday, according to County Management Analyst Mike North. “We are aware of the allegations and we’re addressing it internally,” North said. “But since this is a personnel matter, I’m not at liberty to discuss any specifics.”

District 4 Supervisor Deidre Kelsey said Wednesday she had seen Thompson around the office for many years and was surprised by his arrest. “Over the years, I have heard there were some issues in Revenue and Reimbursement, but they were handled by the department head,” Kelsey said. “It did surprise me and it’s disappointing, because people need to be able to trust in their government and the employees are a big part of that.”

Thompson is scheduled to appear in Merced County Superior Court on March 11 for his arraignment hearing.

Deputies are asking anyone with information about the case to contact Detective Aaron Rosenberg at the Merced County Sheriff’s Department at (209) 385-7444.

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