and Brooke Williams, inewsource
On Feb. 25, the San Diego City Attorney launched an inquiry in response to an inewsource investigation that found a close relationship among Helix Environmental Planning, which is a city contractor, Cory Briggs, an attorney known for repeatedly suing the city, and Sarichia Cacciatore, who was for many years both a vice president of Briggs’ law firm and a Helix employee.
City Attorney Jan Goldsmith was interested because Cacciatore worked for Helix as an environmental biologist at the same time Briggs was suing the city, alleging environmental violations. Briggs has sued the city over at least one project Cacciatore worked on directly.
Briggs and Cacciatore are listed as husband and wife on at least five land documents recorded in San Diego since 2009. Briggs and Cacciatore signed four of them, and the fifth listed Dale Briggs as “attorney in fact” for the couple.
Yet in a 2014 deposition, Cacciatore said under oath that she was not married to Briggs and never had been. She said the two refer to each other as husband and wife because they’ve been together so long.
Monday morning, Goldsmith sent a letter to Helix’s chief executive, Michael Schwerin, thanking the consulting company for its assistance in the ongoing review. Helix emailed a copy of the letter to inewsource Monday afternoon.
“We appreciate your response regarding the reason Ms. Cacciatore’s relationship with the Briggs Law Corporation was not disclosed to the City,” Goldsmith wrote. Helix had told the city in a letter that Cacciatore “verbally assured HELIX’s senior management that she was not involved in Mr. Briggs legal practice.”
If Cacciatore lied about her relationship with Briggs under oath, it would be considered perjury. Likewise, recording a deed stating they are “husband and wife,” if they know they are not, would constitute filing a “false document,” a violation of Penal Code Section 115p(a), according to Vance Welch, deputy district attorney in the real estate fraud division for San Bernardino County.
One reason state law is so harsh with its penalties for filing a false document, Welch said, is that publicly recorded documents like these must be accurate. He relayed a story from a recent seminar:
“Somebody gave a lecture on this, and they referred to the official records, whether it’s in this county or another county, as the king’s record. People 200 years from now should be able to research to find out what happened here accurately. Birth certificates, marriage certificates, transfer of property. The public record is almost held to be sacred. You can’t fudge on the public record. It’s one of those things that has to be a constant. That’s why… it is not a wobbler, meaning that it is not a felony or misdemeanor. It is a straight felony.”
Steve Walker, spokesman for the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, said he couldn’t comment on the matter or say whether the district attorney might investigate.
At the San Diego County recorder’s office, Bernadette Almendra, assistant division chief, said they don’t “police” documents such as deeds.
“We just make sure it meets the standard for the public record,” she said.
inewsource emailed Briggs for comment Monday but received an out-of-the-office reply.
The full text of Goldsmith’s letter to Helix is below.
Dear Mr. Schwerin:
Thank you for your letter of March 3, 2015, and for meeting with us today. We also appreciate your cooperation in providing us information on an ongoing basis.
It appears that Ms. Cacciatore has not Worked for Helix since 2011. Accordingly, We have not seen a basis for concern regarding current projects. We do believe it is important for us to continue to do our due diligence regarding pre-2012 projects.
We appreciate your response regarding the reason Ms. Cacciatore’s relationship with the Briggs Law Corporation was not disclosed to the City. Your letter explains that Helix Was unaware of Ms. Cacciatore’s role as an officer in the Briggs Law Corporation during the time she worked at Helix and, in fact, was informed that there was no relationship. We have seen nothing to contradict that explanation.
With your assistance, we are continuing our review of this matter.
We'll let you know when big things happen.