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Saturday, November 20, 2010

SSFD: Former BC gets probation for Firehouse gambling racket

Former South San Francisco fire chief gets probation on gambling charges

REDWOOD CITY -- Felony bookmaking charges against a former South San Francisco battalion fire chief and two co-defendants were dropped Friday as part of a plea bargain that ended with a misdemeanor conviction for each of the men, attorneys said. 

San Mateo County prosecutors had accused James Selvitella, 52, of Petaluma, of running a gambling operation out of a South San Francisco fire station and implicated accomplices William Kirkpatrick, 63, of Redwood City, and Louis Kristovich, 71, of Millbrae, in the racket. The charges had been particularly shocking because prosecutors said Selvitella took money from fellow firefighters and personally collected cash and debts from gamblers in between fire calls.

But during a court appearance Friday, prosecutors abruptly offered to drop all felony charges in exchange for a no contest plea to a misdemeanor count of illegal gambling.
The men pleaded no contest and were put on 18 months probation and ordered to complete 30 hours of community service. Selvitella also was ordered to attend a year of Gamblers Anonymous and stay away from gambling establishments.

"It just blew us away," said Kristovich's attorney, Charles Pierpoint. "What happened in the interim that had you reduce this thing down to a miniscule misdemeanor?"
Chief Deputy District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe said his office generally wants felony convictions in these type of cases, but must work with the evidence it has.
"My deputy DA's review of the evidence led to the conclusion that it supported three misdemeanors for the defendants and a felony for Mr. (Christopher) Mesa.
Mesa, 63, of Corte Madera pleaded no contest to felony sports gambling and was sentenced to 90 days in jail and three years probation. A fifth defendant in the case, Michael Cooper, 50, of San Francisco, is due back in San Mateo County Superior Court Dec. 7.

Selvitella's lawyer said the end of the case represented vindication for his client. Attorney Jim Lassart added that Selvitella is not a bookmaker and never picked up or dropped off wages. In fact, the worst thing he did was make some bets, Lassart said.
"He's a decent man who has been put through misery," Lassart said.

The case began after a whistle-blowing South San Francisco employee said a firefighter had lost nearly $30,000 in bets made through Selvitella. Officials launched an investigation that ended with the former battalion chief's firing.

Selvitella is suing the city, claiming in the lawsuit that South San Francisco has no rules regulating gambling on duty and had long tolerated it. The case hasn't been resolved and is currently in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Source article: Mercury News link
South San Francisco Fire Department website link

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