- Mendocino County
- Anderson Valley
by Bruce McEwen, May 7, 2014
The 21st Century has been characterized by really bad news that keeps getting really, really worse.
— Robert Jensen, “Apocalyptic Journalism”
Jesus Christ has made a rare appearance in the Mendocino County Courthouse. He’d been living a fairly unremarkable life in Ukiah, especially considering who He is, disguised as John Francis Sullivan Jr., until He realized He was the son of God Himself. Well, you say, we're all God's children, aren't we? Yes, but there's only one Jesus, the child God dispatched in a vain attempt to straighten us out.
On April 19th, Christ, aka Francis Sullivan Jr., got into a theological debate with His secular and apparently skeptical co-habitant, Angela Kelly, and somehow — perhaps putting His foot down more demonstrably than figuratively — stepped hard on Ms. Kelly's toes, after which she called the police. He was arrested for corporal injury to a spouse, spent Easter Sunday in the Low Gap jail, and was subsequently resurrected for an arraignment before Judge David Nelson, who released Him on His own recognizance with a limited protective order, naming Ms. Kelly and the couple's two children as the protected parties.
The transplanted Nazarene again appeared in Superior Court last Friday with attorney Keith Faulder. The two of them looked more like defendant and attorney than Savior and Disciple, and Judge Ann Moorman as Mary Magdalene would have been a stretch.
Faulder asked the court for more time to prepare and Judge Moorman was willing to grant the continuance. But Deputy DA Heidi Larson, assuming the role of Pontius Pilate, demanded that He be remanded into custody in the meantime.
Faulder argued passionately for his client’s freedom, saying that nothing had changed, that Ms. Kelly had not been injured, that his client had obeyed all the terms of His release, as ordered by Judge Nelson.
Ms. Larson countered that the Defendant, whatever His claims, had not reported to Mental Health, as ordered.
“Yes He has, your honor," Faulder insisted. "He reported to mental health and has been scheduled for an evaluation. Nothing has changed, here.”
“Oh yes, there has,” Larson insisted. “He has progressed into a delusional state.”
Which is exactly what the Romans claimed about You Know Who!
The protective order allowed for some limited telephone contact with Ms. Kelly whom He'd called and said something to the effect that He was in Ukiah and on Earth to do battle with “dark forces.” At six-foot-three and over 210 pounds, He certainly looked capable of smiting the wicked with or without the jawbone of an ass. And God knows the wicked need smiting.
“At this time,” Larson said, “the People are amending the complaint to include criminal threats against Ms. Kelly and the children.”
Ms. Kelly was present. She was accompanied by an officer from the DA’s Victim Witness Office. She seemed to be trembling under the impression that she was among the dark forces He had been ordained to vanquish. Her feet, though dainty, didn’t appear to be injured. You had to feel for the poor woman. Two children with a man she loved and suddenly the guy goes completely sideways on her.
John Sullivan, Sr., identifying himself as a minister and a resident of Chicago, said he was the defendant’s father. Sullivan Sr. told the court that his son had written “outlandish letters to the Pope, the President, and other world leaders.”
Sullivan Sr. said his son had also threatened him and that he was afraid for his life, and for the safety of Ms. Kelly and the children.
“Are you the father?” Moorman asked.
“Yes. I was leaving the church one day when I got a call from him. He said he’d been reincarnated as Jesus to kill evil-doers. You can’t reason with him. I didn’t know if I should come out to California; I was afraid he would hunt me down and kill me.”
Faulder demanded that Judge Moorman “please” tell his client what he was being charged with.
“Corporal injury to a spouse,” Moorman said.
“There was no injury,” Faulder interjected.
“And criminal threats to Angela Kelly. Both felonies.”
“Judge not, lest ye be judged,” someone murmured in the gallery. One man was overheard to remark that — “just to be on the safe side — this might be a good time to repent.” Another man, seated nearby, nodded in agreement. There was plenty of what this reporter would characterize as “gnashing of teeth” going on as Judge Moorman ordered the defendant remanded into custody, and Deputy Bobbie Moore cuffed the strayed lamb and took him away.
Bail was set at $45,000 and further proceedings were calendared for Monday morning. The preacher from Chicago and Ms. Kelly were ushered out by the Victim Witness officer. Mr. Faulder, looking indignant as all heck, ushered himself out of the room.
* * *
Connubial felicities seem to be deteriorating all over Mendoland these days. So much so that at least one entrepreneurial fellow, Bret A. Bengston, has started up a kind of cottage industry, or service, to help get people’s cars back when a disgruntled spouse or co-habitant takes off with the family wheels. Bengston can also appear on short notice with his kit of master keys and burglary tools when your parents decline to let you borrow the family car to go out cruising on a dull Sunday.
Bengston's services have resulted in his arrest for car theft. The son of the distinguished former County Ag Commissioner, David Bengston, young Bengston is no stranger to courtrooms. The influence of drugs, maybe? The picture usually comes together in court, a little at a time, as witnesses are called to put in pieces of the puzzle.
“Call your first witness,” Judge Ann Moorman instructed Deputy DA Jessica Washington.
“The People call Officer Robert Simas of the California Highway Patrol.”
Officer Simas appeared to have visited a barbershop since he attended the Emerald Cup under cover last year, although he was still out of uniform. He looked a-jay and squared away, as we used to say in the Marines.
Ms. Washington put a series of framework questions to Officer Simas which established that on February 5th he got a call from a Mrs. Bengston reporting that her 1990 Jeep Cherokee had been stolen. Not long afterwards, Simas went to investigate a collision on Comptche Road involving a 1990 Jeep Cherokee — the vehicle had been towed into Fort Bragg. The tow truck driver told Simas that the driver had been Bret Bengston.
“Did you contact Bret Bengston?”
“I did, yes. He explained to me that an unnamed friend of his had been in his parent’s vehicle when it was involved in an accident; he said he was not the one who’d been driving.”
“Did you tell him the vehicle had been reported stolen?”
“I did. He explained that it belonged to his parents and he didn’t know how his friend had obtained it. He said there was an issue with getting it started. But the friend got it started, and came and picked him up. They then got into the accident, and eventually flagged down a motorist, who sent the tow truck out from Fort Bragg.”
Defense attorney Andrew Higgins of the Office of the Public Defender had no questions for the witness, and Deputy Orell Massey was called. Deputy Massey stated that he went to Waugh Lane on April 13th to conduct a probation search and look for a wanted felon, Joshua Moseua.
“Do you see him in court today?”
“Yes, he’s right there, seated next to Mr. Higgins.”
The mysterious friend who had been driving the stolen Jeep Cherokee, the clever guy who had the magical touch for getting cars with ignition problems started — he and Bengston were one and the same.
“Did he show any signs of being intoxicated?”
“Yes he did. His pupils were dilated and his pulse was about double what is considered normal.”
“Did you ask him if he’d been using methamphetamine?”
“Yes I did. He said he had about eight hours earlier.”
“Did you place him under arrest?”
“Yes I did.”
“Did he comply?”
“He did not. He said you’re not gonna arrest me and started to run. I grabbed his arm, forced him to the ground and placed him under arrest.”
“Did you search him?”
“Yes I did. I found a glass pipe and a small amount of methamphetamine.”
When Deputy Massey took "Moseau" to jail, "Moseau" was instantly recognized as Bengston, a familiar face to everyone at Low Gap and a frequent guest at the facility.
Again, defense declined to cross-examine the witness.
Officer Joseph Fields of the Ukiah PD was called to the stand. He said he was dispatched to the Safeway parking lot on March 30th, about 9:30 in the evening to investigate two people sleeping in a car. They turned out to be Bret Bengston and Elizabeth McAllister. Officer Fields said it took quite a bit of knocking on the window to finally wake Bengston and McAllister. A search of Bengston’s pockets turned up a meth pipe. Bengston, who had been asked to sit on the curb, made a break for it across the parking lot, but only went a little ways before he tripped and fell and taken into custody.
A search of the vehicle turned up more meth, a bag of assorted burglary tools with filed-down master keys with logos for Ford, Dodge and Chevrolet, and a gold key with no logo.
“Did you ask him what the tools and keys were for?”
“Yes. He said he used the keys and tools to get his friends’ cars back when their girlfriends broke up with ‘em and stole their cars.”
It must have taken an incalculable amount of testing and filing to fashion those master keys. Only a tweeker would have had the patience for it.
Higgins for the defense had no questions. Higgins said he would submit on the various parole and probation violations and appeared to have no defense for his client whatsoever, not that there seemed to be a defense possible. The arraignment was put out a couple of weeks. It won’t hurt Mr. Bengston to sit in jail a while longer, give him time to consider going into treatment, finding honest work, turning it all around, the usual half-hearted optimism and calculated remorse of a career criminal.
Close to a hundred similar cases go through the Ukiah courts every week. The only time they become remarkable is when an ingenious guy like Bengston comes along. We can lock our doors, lock our cars, but it won’t do any good. Bret Bengston can get into your car or your house quicker than you can!
* * *
All along the hypotenuse of the Emerald Triangle, say from Garberville to Lakeport, the most common occupation listed on people’s tax files is Building Contractor. Considering the amount of money these “contractors” bring in annually, the accountants at the IRS must think that the area between Garberville and Lakeport is one of the largest concentrations of suburban sprawl in the world, with tract houses and strip malls stretching to the horizon in all directions.
But locals know that the building contractor business is just a bunch of malarkey, so when David Jeffreys of Bell Springs Road, a sparsely settled area with more contractors per capita than Vegas before the crash of 2008, tried to convince Judge John Behnke that he was a building contractor, not a pot farmer, it went off poorly, to say the least. Mr. Jefferies took the stand and DA David Eyster commenced asking him some questions about his contracting business.
“Do you have a contractor’s license?”
“No. I’m self-employed.”
“A couple of Mexican guys, one named Bajourquez, and the other Paco. I have no idea where they are or how to get hold of them.”
“Do you have a calendar that keeps track of your work?”
“Do you have any shop notes or other record keeping notebooks?”
“Don’t you have some records for filing your taxes?”
“No, I haven’t filed my taxes since 2010.”
“How many jobs have you had this year?”
“Just two. A bathroom remodel and a porch overhang.”
“How big was the bathroom?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Did Bajourquez and Paco help you with the bathroom?”
“What efforts have you made to locate these individuals?”
“I haven’t made any.”
“You stated under peril of perjury that you paid them. Did you take any taxes or other deductions out?”
“Where were they living?”
“How much were you paid?”
“I don’t remember.”
“Was it over $800?”
“Was it over $1000?”
“I’m not sure.”
“Do you know you need a license for any thing over $1000?”
“No, I didn’t know that.”
“Did Paco and Bajourquez help you with the porch overhang?”
“No, it was just some Hispanic guy.”
“Let me show you this photograph. Is that the overhang?”
“And you built it in 2013?”
DA Eyster then called Deputy Jim Wells — who had caught Mr. Jefferies with over 500 plants in 2013 and with over 600 plants in 2012 at the same Bell Springs location where he claimed to have built the overhang on the porch for somebody else. The DA showed Wells the picture, and Wells said it looked the same as it did the year before.
“When you went there in 2013, when Mr. Jefferies was supposedly there to build the overhand, did you see any building materials or tools laying around — any sign that construction work was underway, or recently completed?”
“No. It looked the same as it did the year before.”
“Thank you, nothing further.”
Judge Behnke ruled that Mr. Jefferies had not done due diligence in showing that he was a building contractor. Jefferies is also accused of tax evasion, so his problems are just getting started, but he didn’t seem overly concerned. He seems like a guy who is used to nuisances like heavy court costs and fines, lawyer’s fees, trouble with the IRS — the cost of doing business in the billion-dollar pot industry. He was no different that JP Morgan bankster Jamie Dimon in that respect.
While listening to the John Sullivan aka Jesus case, I kept thinking that if Sullivan was really Jesus, and really was out to smite the evil-doers, He should be in some place like The Hamptons or Wall Street, not Mendoland. But now I’m not so sure He didn’t come to the right place after all. This would be as good a place to start as any.