and Brooke Williams

In early June 2014, inewsource began an examination of Cory Briggs’ lawsuits, real estate transactions and ties to corporations and limited liability companies. inewsource built spreadsheets of Briggs’ lawsuits, his LLCs, nonprofit groups and other entities, as well as real estate transactions he, his family and and his law firm were involved with in Southern California.

inewsource reporters Brad Racino and Brooke Williams also were working on separate projects during this time. As a result, the Briggs investigation did not have their full attention until September, when both reporters could dedicate themselves to it.

After obtaining real estate records filed with county offices, it became apparent that Briggs was listed as “husband and wife” with Sarichia Cacciatore. A Google search produced her LinkedIn profile, which stated she worked for Helix Environmental Planning. (That profile now says “n/a” where it used to list her current and past employment.) Since Helix has contracts to do environmental work for government agencies, inewsource cross checked Briggs’ lawsuits with Helix’s government work.

Below is a brief timeline of the reporting on the story about Helix and Briggs Law Corp.:

On June 24, inewsource identified a government project for which Helix did environmental work and Briggs’ sued over environmental matters. That was the city’s master stormwater management plan. It would be the first of three projects inewsource identified posing a potential conflict of interest.

During the next several months, on an intermittent basis, inewsource reviewed Helix’s contracts and invoices submitted to the city of San Diego and the Port of San Diego. Each record reviewed was in response to a Public Records Act request or downloaded from the agency’s website.

On Oct. 30, inewsource discovered Cacciatore had a Briggs Law Corp. email address, which she had used to register her business and included in two online newsletters.

On Dec. 9, inewsource found the first Helix contract or invoice to list Cacciatore by name. It was an amendment to an as-needed contract between the port and Helix that stated Cacciatore was a “project manager.”

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inewsource only shared these findings with ethics experts in February 2015. Days before publication, the reporters began contacting officials at the city, the port and other government agencies to ask about the potential conflict of interest.

inewsource waited until the last business day before publication to call the San Diego City Attorney’s Office. On Feb. 20, inewsource spoke with City Attorney Jan Goldsmith and his spokesman for the first time since reporting began in June to ask about the potential conflict of interest and any impacts to the city. At the end of that phone interview, inewsource verbally requested city attorney records mentioning Helix.

On Feb. 23, inewsource sent an email amending its request to also include “communication or documents (emails, faxes, papers, memos, etc) involving or mentioning” Briggs, Helix or Cacciatore.

On Feb. 25, Gerry Braun, the city attorney’s spokesman, provided records in response to inewsource’s request: a letter to Helix, an invoice showing Cacciatore reported working on the city’s master stormwater management plan and contracts with Helix.

On Feb. 26, Braun provided two court records in response to the request. Both involved the city attorney’s attempts, in court, to unseal a document he believed was responsive to inewsource’s request.

On March 2, Marco Gonzalez, attorney for Cacciatore, sent inewsource an email and copy of the document that was sealed. Shortly after, Braun sent inewsource the city attorney’s declaration filed in Superior Court earlier that day.

The city attorney’s office has provided no additional records to inewsource as of March 2.


Type of Content

News Article: Article pages that do not meet specifications for other Trust Project Type of Work labels and also do not fit within the general news category.

Brad Racino was the assistant editor and senior investigative reporter at inewsource. He's a big fan of transparency, whistleblowers and government agencies forgetting to redact key information from FOIA requests. Brad received his master’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri in...

7 replies on “Behind the Briggs investigation”

  1. Wait. Brad: Last week you wrote that you had been investigating Briggs for 2 months which is loosely December-Jan ish. Today you write that it has been since June 2014. Jan Goldsmith’s filing with the court yesterday says that you told him you’d been investigating Briggs for 5 months. If you expect the public to believe ANYTHING you write then you’d better have a much better lie established before the crap hits the fan. Non of what you have written adds up.

  2. Racino,
    Investigate whether or not it is true that Mr. Goldsmith, high paid 280,000 a year city employee, does not work on Fridays.
    Refund the City 1/5th of that amount?

  3. Your timeline does not match your interview on mid-day roundtable last Friday. In the interview, you say that the idea for your story came from a phone call from Brooke Williams, on the east coast, who had a list of people to look into in San Diego. (!) And you say that your first look was at real estate, and that your first “problem” was with finding the Briggs home being sold to a corporation. You don’t mention any of that in your timeline. Please correct me if I’m wrong.

  4. And another problem with your timeline: in your interview, you say that you were alerted to the existence of Briggs’s wife when you were doing the real estate research, which you say you started in September and Cacciatore’s name came up, that it was an unusual name, and that you decided to look her up, and found she was with Helix, etc etc. However, in the timeline, you imply that that was the “beginning” of your research in June. Please explain.

  5. Were your requests to Goldsmith informal requests for documents, or official Public Records Act requests? How often do you get your requests fully responded to by anyone within 3 days of an emailed request or 6 days of a verbal request? How often does Goldsmith respond to requests by releasing documents without fighting or having the city retain outside counsel to fight and delay? Astounding! I look forward to the city attorney’s new-found openness and responsiveness the next time he receives a request, even if the request is from Briggs himself. If that doesn’t happen, I might suspect that you got special treatment from Goldsmith on this one, and maybe some privileged information from the deposition.

  6. This is interesting. However, you don’t explain why you elected to focus on this investigation in the first place or what it means to the city of San Diego and the people who live here. Of all those whose practices could be explored, why this attorney’s? If true, what have these things cost the city taxpayers in terms of dollars, opportunity or other potential cost? How do these compare to the upside of someone willing to hold developers’ feet to the fire to make sure that our environment is protected and our dollars are not wasted? You are partnering with an organization whose slogan is “Where News Matters” — but at the core of that must lie the relevance of the news to the audience served. I’m sure it is there but these series does not bring it to the fore.

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