The felony conflict of interest case against former South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District administrator John Wallace is moving to Santa Maria following the appointment of a controversial attorney to the SLO County bench.
Wallace is facing four felony and four misdemeanor conflict of interest charges for allegedly funneling money from the sanitation district to his private engineering company. Previously a sanitation district board member, new San Luis Obispo Judge Matt Guerrero may be called as a witness in Wallace’s case and could also face criticism for enabling the alleged criminal activity.
While a board member for the sanitation district, Guerrero voted in support of many of Wallace’s questionable actions and verbally condemned several people who asked the district attorney to investigate him. As a defense in the criminal case, Wallace’s attorney may argue that sanitation district board members knew Wallace had a criminal conflict of interest, but continued to allow Wallace to funnel government contracts to his private firm, The Wallace Group.
For years, the sanitation district board was bitterly divided between those who wanted Wallace investigated and those who supported his administration. In addition to receiving backing from Guerrero, Wallace received support from former Arroyo Grande Mayor Tony Ferrara and Grover Beach Mayor John Shoals, who each served as sanitation district board members.
But in 2105, following pushes made by Grover Beach Mayor Debbie Peterson and Arroyo Grande Mayor Jim Hill, the sanitation district board hired Carl Knudson, of Knudson & Associates, who conducted an investigation into Wallace and then asked the board to send his report to criminal investigators. Then, following a 10-month investigation of its own, the San Luis Obispo County District Attorney’s Office filed charges against Wallace.
On Tuesday, just weeks following Guerrero’s appointment to a judgeship, the entire SLO County bench ordered that Wallace’s case be moved to the Santa Maria branch of Santa Barbara Superior Court. The order did not contain any individual judge’s signature, nor did it make any mention of Guerrero’s involvement in the case.
Neither the prosecution, nor the defense, contested the ordered change in venue.
Now, Santa Barbara County Judge James Voysey is expected to preside over Wallace’s conflict of interest case. The next hearing in the case is scheduled for Jan. 22 at the Santa Maria courthouse.