The Bill Wattenburg Show: The Womack Case - Womack gets $1.25 million, Gastankgate comes to a close
Robert Womack wins over one million dollars from county and state agencies that brutally attacked him with false charges of felonies for removing an underground gas tank with a permit from the city of Jackson. This case is bizarre beyond belief, The full history and court transcripts are posted on the www.pushback.com website.
The Womack Case
Bill Wattenburg first turned the spotlight on this outrageous assault on a citizen on his west coast radio show “The Open Line to the West Coast.” Almost every week for three years he updated his radio audience on the latest events. He encouraged Robert Womack to not give in to the bullies on the public payroll. Womack has finally found the justice he deserved.
Womack gets $1.25 million, Gastankgate comes to a close
Friday, August 07, 2009
By Scott Thomas Anderson
Robert Womack feels vindicated.
Eleven years of legally battling Amador County and the state of California have left the 72-year-old man exhausted, though triumphant, in criminal court and now $1.25 million richer, thanks to civil court.
Womack claims that county and state officials could have avoided paying him the money with a public apology for - as he personally characterizes it - being consistently unfair and unwilling to back down from a legal mistake. Now he says he'll take the settlement in lieu of the apology he never got.
Womack's legal ordeal began in May 1998 when he purchased the old, dormant Jackson Exxon Station at 505 Sutter St. with the intention of turning it into a parking lot. Amador County's Land Use Agency Director at the time, Gary Clark, told Womack to go to the city of Jackson for his demolition permits - a conversation Clark later admitted under oath. Womack followed the order and was granted a permit by Jackson officials for a cost of $80. During the work on the property, an antiquated gas tank was removed from the site.
Despite Womack's permit, then-Amador County District Attorney Steve Cilenti and other officials launched an investigation into whether Womack and his business partners, Dave Mason and Mark Sherrill, had conspired to illegally remove the tank. Cilenti brought in a special roving prosecutor named David Irey from Stockton and an environmental crimes investigator, Russell Moore, who worked for the Stockton Unit of the California Highway Patrol.
Womack alleges that Cilenti, Irey and Moore were soon trying to force him into paying a $125,000 fine under the threat of prosecution. When Todd Riebe replaced Cilenti as district attorney, Womack says he was hopeful that the matter would finally be dropped.
"I told Todd Riebe in the beginning, 'just look into this and you'll see this is stuff that doesn't even exist,'" Womack recalled. "And he ended up going along with charging me with 21 felonies."
Moore brought a number of heavily armed CHP officers from Stockton to execute search and seizure at Womack's home in October 1998. Womack says his computer, business files, pink slips, firearms, family pictures and genealogies were all taken by the officers. "They just went way over the line in every way possible," Womack recalled. Moore and his officers launched a second surprise raid on Womack's home in January 1999. During the raid, Moore fell under suspicion of illegally searching Womack's mailbox.
In February 1999, the prosecution raided another of Womack's properties, the Bosse Ranch, under suspicion of new environmental violations. Womack claims officers frightened his family members and tore huge holes in his property that they then refused to fix.
The criminal charges against Womack didn't last in court. In 1999, Judge John F. Cruikshank of Stockton ruled prosecutors and the CHP had violated Womack's rights under the Fourth Amendment of the United States Constitution, eventually resulting in the charges being dropped. Cruikshank also dismissed a number of perjury charges Riebe attempted to bring against Womack. The California Attorney General's Office did file a civil suit against Womack, which was settled out of court with Womack paying a fine.
Infuriated over public comments Riebe had made about the case, angry about his damaged and confiscated pieces of property and shocked that county employees were allegedly spreading rumors he was everything from a criminal to a member of the Mafia, Womack claims he gave officials one last chance to set things right in his eyes. "In 2000, I told them that if they paid my legal expenses and publicly apologized I would let the whole matter go," Womack said. "But they wouldn't do that."
Riebe and current Amador County Counsel Martha Shaver both told the Ledger Dispatch that they were not sure if such an offer had been made.
Womack followed through with his promise and mustered a lawsuit against Amador County, the Environmental Protection Agency and the CHP. Several weeks ago, that suit was finally settled to the tune of $1.25 million in favor of Womack, with Amador County paying 25 percent and the EPA and CHP splitting the remainder.
Contacted for comment on the settlement, Riebe said he feels that much of what the public's heard about the Womack case is based on rumors. He also feels his own role in what transpired has been overblown, since the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal cleared him from wrongdoing in the case.
"I think it is important to remember that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal, who reviewed all the known facts, held that my approval of the search warrant was reasonable and as a result, I was later dismissed from the lawsuits," Riebe observed. "I'm focused on the prosecution of current cases and protecting the people of Amador County, not something that happened 10 years ago. I have moved on a long time ago and I would encourage others to do the same." Riebe's supporters have been quick to point out that his office has successfully prosecuted a number of high-risk sex offenders, particularly in the last year.
Womack's opinion is that Riebe is highly culpable for what transpired. "He said in the press at the time that he was 'micro-managing' my case," Womack asserted. "The fact is, he could have walked away from this at any time."
Riebe maintains he did not run for office to walk away from cases where he feels there is "probable cause."
Looking back, Womack feels his 11-year battle is a story about county and state officials recklessly overexerting their power and refusing to admit they'd made a mistake, even as it cost taxpayers more and more money.
"I still don't know how much Amador County has spent on trying to put me in jail over an empty gas tank, and then fighting my lawsuit," Womack said. "It has to be in the millions. The sad thing is, I truly believe that if I wasn't someone who had the money to fight this and to hire good attorneys and stand up to them, then I'd be in prison right now."
Scott Thomas Anderson