Holzworth Defense Motions to Throw Out Evidence

Erik Jorgensen, Staff Writer

The criminal trial against former SRJC campus cop Jeffrey Holzworth, accused of embezzling campus parking meter money, slowed to a standstill by motions defense attorneys filed to dismiss evidence police found when acting on three search warrants due to the “poisoned taint of illegality” behind the search warrants.

Holzworth, who held sole responsibility over collecting cash from campus parking machines, is charged with 11 charges of receiving stolen property over $400 and one charge of embezzlement exceeding $150,000. Prosecutors say Holzworth pilfered $400,000 since 2005 from the SRJC campuses in Santa Rosa, Petaluma and Windsor. Holzworth’s wife Karen received three charges of receiving stolen property over $400 and one count as an accessory to a crime.

In a follow-up hearing on the morning of Oct. 10 in Courtroom 3 of Sonoma County Superior Court, Judge Kenneth Gnoss sustained the defense attorneys’ motions to unseal affidavits leading to three search warrants issued to Santa Rosa Police detectives. Assistant District Attorney Amy Ariyoshi did not oppose the motion to unseal, and Judge Gnoss issued copies of the affidavits to the defense.

In court, defense attorney Joe Passalaqua said he would like the opportunity to examine the newly unsealed documents to see if other issues arise, but was not sure if other motions would be filed later.

Two affidavits issued on Nov. 13, 2012 allowed detectives to place GPS tracking devices on Holzworth’s vehicles and to search his bank accounts and Equifax credit report. A third affidavit granted a warrant allowing SRPD detectives to search Holzworth’s police car, private truck and house on Nov. 28, 2012, where they discovered gambling records, casino players club cards, receipts from ATMs and SRJC parking machines and caches of stashed cash in 19 bags and 5 glass jars full of quarters, $1 and $5 bills totaling $13,487.

Outside the courtroom, Prosecutor Ariyoshi said the motions filed by the defense all challenge the probable cause for issuing the three search warrants. Ariyoshi said the situation now depends entirely on the judge’s ruling, but it is highly unlikely the judge would toss out all evidence obtained.

“I can’t even guess on the number of potential scenarios,” Ariyoshi said.

When asked about witnesses subpoenaed to appear, Ariyoshi said she could not release their names, but said the witness pool derived entirely from those named in the search warrants. “This is a purely legal issue, not dependent on witnesses,” Ariyoshi said.

Outside the courtroom defense attorney Passalaqua said, “I have no comment at this time.”

Judge Gnoss set another hearing for Nov. 21, 2013 to rule on the motions to suppress all three unsealed search warrant affidavits, based on their claim that SRJC Sgt. Potter’s observations of money inside Holzworth’s personal vehicle, which launched the embezzlement investigation by SRPD detectives Azzouni and Lazzarini, constituted an illegal search and invalidated the probable cause supporting the search warrants.

Passalaqua’s motions to suppress are based on the concept of the “fruit of the poisonous tree,” which restricts new warrants growing from prior illegal search warrants and rejects the “fruit” of evidence illegally obtained by them. Passalaqua’s motion said Holzworth “made incriminating statements only after he was confronted with a pile of evidence” by SRPD detectives, but the tainted “illegally acquired evidence” invalidated Holzworth’s confession and “made it appear as if the ‘cat was already out of the bag’ and therefore defendant had nothing to lose – and perhaps something to gain – by confessing his guilt and making incriminating statements.”

Holzworth’s cash collections from campus VenTek International System VI parking machines followed “procedure developed by SRJC and its police department,” the motion said. “Defendant collected money from the machines and delivered money to the SRJC accounting department. In the process, defendant ‘zeroed-out’ the machines with a computer which effectively wiped out the machines’ computer memories,” the motion said, adding there was no direct supervision, secondary checks or any other type of accountability over Holzworth’s cash collections.

The district attorney’s counter motions said enough probable cause exists for issuing the warrants, even after removing Sgt. Potter’s allegedly tainted testimony of discovering money in Holzworth’s duffle bag in 2006 and in his vehicle’s center console in 2012. “The social cost of suppressing the evidence of the embezzlement operation discovered is substantial,” the DA’s counter motion said.

Holzworth’s next court date is scheduled at 1:30 p.m. on Nov. 21, 2013 in Courtroom 3 of Sonoma County Superior Court.