By KAREN VELIE
San Luis Obispo County District Attorney Dan Dow has hired an investigator to look into whether an expert witness used by his office committed perjury. But the investigator he chose has had his work criticized by the San Luis Obispo County civil grand jury.
Dow’s choice, Richard Thomas, a private investigator with an office in Ojai, was hired by the South San Luis Obispo County Sanitation District in 2010 to investigate the district’s administrator over questions about payments made to his private engineering firm. John Wallace, who was the administrator, faced questions about conflicts of interest in awarding work to his company the Wallace Group.
Thomas was to look into several questionable transactions including a charge of $16,921 the Wallace Group billed the district to hire a painter to repaint the roof of the sanitation district’s maintenance building.
Thomas concluded from his investigation that the charges were for structural review, contract management and bidding tasks and appeared justified. In his report, Thomas talked about Wallace’s “great reputation,” and disputed the allegations of overcharging and impropriety.
But, in 2011, the San Luis Obispo County Grand Jury found Thomas’ investigation into Wallace inadequate and faulty, a determination it appears the DA’s office shared at the time. The DA’s office charged Wallace in 2017 with two felony and two misdemeanor counts of conflicts of interest in his work for the sanitation district despite Thomas’ report that cleared Wallace of wrongdoing. In March, Wallace plead no contest to the two misdemeanor counts.
The expert witness Tracy Nix, an 18-year DA’s office staffer, has testified in court and written in her resume that she holds a bachelors degree from Cal Poly. But Nix does not have a college degree.
On March 14, a judge ordered Tracy Nix’ transcript released to attorney Ilan Funke-Bilu, who planned to refute her testimony on the stand. After the transcript was released, the district attorney’s office decided against having Nix testify.
Responding to questions about Nix’s credentials, Dow said that because Nix “walked” by participating in a Cal Poly commencement she believed that she had graduated and earned her degree.
“If she believed she had a degree, then she did not commit perjury” Dow said. “It is common at Cal Poly for people to believe they have graduated when they have not.”
Following a Cal Coast Times article that included allegations that Nix made multiple false claims in her resume and on the stand, Dow hired Thomas.