State

Riverbank councilman's attorney: Arrest was a plot

RIVERBANK -- Jesse James White, the city councilman and Republican candidate for state Assembly, still is not talking publicly about his arrest Friday on drug charges.

But his attorney is, and she is raising questions about City Manager Rich Holmer, Police Chief Bill Pooley and Sheriff Adam Christianson.

"They were looking for a way to take out Jesse James White and they found a way to do it," Modesto attorney Mary Lynn Belsher said Monday. "I do believe he was singled out. ... I don't know if I can ever prove it, but I'm highly suspicious."

White, 21, was arrested Friday during a probation search at his home. Christianson said deputies found marijuana and cocaine, and the amount was enough to be considered for personal use.

White is on probation after pleading no contest to "wet and reckless" driving in 2007.

He has been a lightning rod in Riverbank politics since his election in November 2008. A grand jury last year recommended that he resign from office because he was not yet registered to vote when he applied to run for his council seat. That report preceded a failed effort to recall him and his grandfather and fellow councilman, Dave White.

Jesse James White has accused Holmer and other top city managers of being overpaid, and also has questioned city spending. Recent council meetings have been marked by verbal sparring between the Whites and Holmer.

Holmer said Belsher's suspicions are not true.

"Here we go with the old conspiracy theory," he said. "It sounds like he broke the law. It's the old story that the best defense is a good offense."

Holmer said City Attorney Tom Hallinan is researching what action the council can take regarding White's arrest. At this point, Holmer said, it appears the council cannot force him to resign.

Holmer said if White is convicted of a felony, he would be removed from office because state law bars felons from running for or holding public office. White was arrested on suspicion of a misdemeanor and a felony.

White is one of six Republicans on the June 8 ballot seeking the party's nomination in the 25th Assembly District.

He has not returned several phone calls since his arrest. He posted bail Friday evening. His mother said White would not comment about his arrest or his political future until after a news conference scheduled for this week. But Ida White did say, "As of right now, his campaign is still in full swing."

Belsher said it was odd that a probation search would be conducted against her client. She said in her 15 years as a defense lawyer she could not recall one probation search against a low-level probationer such as White.

"I don't know how they decided to do this, but I'm highly suspicious," she said.

Authorities said they had a reason to look at White after his 19-year-old brother was arrested Jan. 25 on suspicion of misdemeanor possession of marijuana and suspicion of felony possession of a controlled substance.

Patrick White was the passenger in a vehicle accident in Riverbank. Deputies said there was a strong odor of marijuana coming from the vehicle.

Patrick White told a deputy that he thought the driver had smoked marijuana at Jesse James White's house, according to authorities.

"Absent the crash and the credible information, he (Jesse James White) probably would not have been searched," Christianson said. "But based on our investigation, we knew there was credible information to conduct a search.

"The reason it's not a conspiracy is that the people of Stanislaus County elected me to uphold the Constitution and enforce the laws of the state. It would not be appropriate for us to ignore criminal activity in the city of Riverbank simply because Mr. White is a councilman and is running for state Assembly."

Christianson also addressed why several months elapsed between Patrick White's arrest and Friday's probation search.

"Given the fact that we developed information that a Riverbank council member was involved in illegal criminal narcotics activity," he said, "it was important that we complete our initial investigation before conducting any probation search. Our team took the time they needed to make sure we got it right."

The district attorney's office has not filed charges against Jesse James White. Pooley said he expects his department to turn over its investigation to the district attorney's office this week.

After a Modesto traffic stop on April 6, 2007, White was charged with misdemeanor driving while under the influence of alcohol, misdemeanor possession of less than an ounce of marijuana and having a blood-alcohol level of 0.05 percent while under the age of 21.

He was placed on three years' informal misdemeanor probation June 4, 2007, after his no contest plea.

The terms of White's probation include that he abstain from having or using alcohol and that he, his vehicle and his home are subject to searches for alcohol and controlled substances, according to court records.

Bee staff writer Kevin Valine can be reached at kvaline@modbee.com or 578-2316.

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