A day after his arrest on misdemeanor drug allegations, Merced County criminal defense attorney Dominic Falasco denied telling police that methamphetamine found in his car belonged to him and is prepared to fight any potential criminal charges.
In an interview with the Merced Sun-Star, Falasco said he was stopped by police early Sunday while trying to help a friend.
“I was not under the influence, I was not even suspected of being under the influence,” Falasco said. “I absolutely do not believe I am guilty of any of the things I was arrested for.”
Falasco, a trustee of the Los Banos Unified School District, was arrested Sunday on suspicion of misdemeanor possession of methamphetamine and marijuana. The 48-year-old Falasco has been a criminal defense attorney in Merced County for more than 20 years.
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Merced police stopped Falasco’s black Ford F-150 pickup truck around 1:18 a.m. Sunday around M Street and Yosemite Avenue. Falasco was a passenger in the truck, which was being driven by a 27-year-old Dos Palos woman, Raylynn L. Wineland.
Officers said that during the traffic stop, Falasco admitted to possessing methamphetamine, according to the Merced Police Department. But that’s not quite true, Falasco said Monday.
“I said to the officers ‘It’s my car, I’ll take responsibility for it,’ and their body (cameras) should show all of that,” Falasco said.
He said taking “responsibility” for the drugs is not the same as claiming ownership.
Falasco said he was trying to help Wineland, who “was in a bad situation, a dangerous situation.”
The Sun-Star could not find a public phone number for Wineland on Monday. Falasco, who said Monday afternoon he would ask Wineland to call the Sun-Star, said she’s told him she plans to make a statement accepting responsibility for the alleged narcotics. He said she had given him permission to discuss the circumstances surrounding the arrest.
In describing the events, Falasco said he received a call from Wineland late that night. “She said she was in danger. She sounded terrified, so I picked her up in Dos Palos and asked her if she had any safe place to go,” Falasco said.
“I talked to her about making better choices to find solutions for getting herself away from her problems in the future,” Falasco said. He was tired, so he told Wineland to drive. They drove to Merced, where they were stopped by police.
Wineland, who has a record of a drug- and theft-related arrest, is on probation and obligated to allow police to search her. Officers found a pipe and some suspected methamphetamine in the vehicle, police said.
That’s when Falasco said he told police he’d take “responsibility” for the alleged narcotics.
“But they were hers, they were not mine,” Falasco said.
While Falasco acknowledged “it may not have been the best judgment,” he said he was trying to help a friend and a client.
He said he took possession of the drugs because he was going to destroy them for Wineland. “I wasn’t going to throw them out on the side of the road where anybody could find them. I was going to flush them at the first safe opportunity, but then we got stopped,” he said.
Falasco said he doesn’t believe he was lying to police and he doesn’t believe he was trying to conceal any evidence of a crime by not telling police the drugs were Wineland’s.
“I don’t believe I committed any crime,” Falasco said. “I don’t think I did the wrong thing.”
Falasco acknowledged previous struggles with methamphetamine but said he’s been clean for nearly a year. He said he tries to help other addicts out, providing comfort, advice and, at times, legal counsel.
“I do regret the pain that this has caused my family, but I really don’t think I committed any crime,” Falasco said.
Falasco also said he was surprised he was booked into jail, noting that since Proposition 47 passed in late 2014, people suspected of misdemeanor drug violations typically are cited and released and not booked into jail.
He said he hopes prosecutors will look at the statements and any body-camera footage that may exist and determine that he didn’t break any laws.
“I do hope they choose not to file any charges, but, if they do, I’m prepared to vigorously defend this case,” he said.
Whether the case goes to court remains to be seen, but if it does, it won’t be held in Merced County.
The Merced County District Attorney’s Office has asked its counterpart in Mariposa County to review the case in order to avoid a potential conflict of interest.
“We decided that because of the great many cases that Mr. Falasco handles as a defense attorney, it could create some potential conflict,” District Attorney Larry Morse II said.
Mariposa County District Attorney Tom Cooke said he had yet to see the case file. “I don’t know when the case will be sent over. I’ve asked for it as soon as possible,” Cooke told the Sun-Star.
It also remained unclear what, if any, effect the arrest may have on the cases being handled by Falasco. Merced County Superior Court does not take any position on potential disciplinary matters involving attorneys, according to court CEO Linda Romero-Soles. “That’s up to the state bar,” she said.
An arrest does not automatically trigger any immediate action from the State Bar of California, spokeswoman Laura Ernde said.
Falasco has no record of any discipline from the state bar, according to records.
For his part, Falasco said he has no intention of stepping away from any cases or stepping down from his position on the school board.
Los Banos Unified School District officials said they did not believe the arrest was a matter of district business.
Trustee Anthony Parreira said there was no plans to discuss the arrest at any upcoming board meetings. “We have no reason to take any action,” Parreira said. “This is a private matter, not district business.”
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482