Sanger attorney Sheldon Feigel, arrested Wednesday on suspicion of perjury and falsifying documents in a statewide housing scheme, was just doing his job and should not be a suspect, say his lawyer and family.
They also criticized the conduct of the officers who arrested him at gunpoint in front of his wife and teenage children and, they say, denied his constitutional right to speak to his attorney after arrest.
The charges against Feigel "are completely unfounded and the government conduct in this case was reprehensible," Mark Coleman, Feigel's attorney, said during a news conference Friday.
Feigel was one of five people from Fresno arrested by the state Department of Justice. They were accused of running a scam between 2006 and 2013 that led to the fraudulent seizure of 23 houses in nine counties, including Fresno, Madera, Merced and Tulare.
The others arrested are Sandra Elaine Barton, 30, Christopher Spencer Barton, 31, Daniel Paul Vedenoff, 29, and Craig Merrill Mortensen, 60, a Fresno lawyer. Another suspect, Cambria Lisa Barton, 21, remains at large.
The Barton family, with Vedenoff, Sandra Barton's boyfriend, worked with Feigel and Mortensen to identify abandoned houses and file for adverse possession to obtain the title to the properties, according to the complaint in Fresno County Superior Court.
Under state law, an individual can claim adverse possession of property if he or she has occupied or claimed it and paid property taxes continuously for at least five years.
The allegations claim Feigel worked with Sandra Barton to file documents on three properties, Coleman said. Feigel did not know the other suspects.
Feigel "never knew if these representations were false," Coleman said. "He was doing what he was legally required to do — representing his clients' interest."
At the news conference, Feigel's wife, Stacey, said armed agents stormed into their Sanger house around 6:30 a.m. Wednesday and pointed a gun at a teenage son, she said. Three of the couple's five children — ages 14, 15 and 17 — were home."It was a very intimidating, violating experience," she said.
The agents searched the home and took Feigel to his office to search computers and documents, she said.
Feigel was later held at the Department of Justice office and then booked into the Fresno County Jail at 5 a.m. Thursday. Coleman was able to speak to Feigel 18 hours after the arrest.
Coleman is planning to file a lawsuit on behalf of the family for the violation of Feigel's constitutional rights to representation.
The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6495, email@example.com or @bonhialee on Twitter.