Sabatino: “Taxpayers’ Association files to recall Fladager.”

“This is about accountability,” said Sabatino of the recall. “If the people can’t have accountability from their elected officials, they can’t count on anything.”

Carmen Sabatino
Carmen Sabatino

At 81 years old, former Modesto Mayor Carmen Sabatino still comes into his popular restaurant by its 6:00 am opening time almost every day. He usually spends the morning catching up on news, responding to messages, and chatting with customers.

He also remains active in his role as a political gadfly. Just last week, after learning of the acquittal of defense attorney Frank Carson and co-defendants Baljit Athwal and Daljit Atwal on charges of murder and conspiracy, Sabatino, a long-time critic of Stanislaus County District Attorney Birgit Fladager, decided he’d had enough and is leading the Stanislaus Taxpayers’ Association in a recall effort.

“We need somewhere around 26,000 signatures,” said Sabatino Tuesday, “and I’m confident we can get them. We’re already receiving donations.”

Sabatino says the prosecution of Carson and the Atwal brothers (they spell their last names differently) is part of a pattern of intimidation and retribution that goes back to Frank Carson’s defense of Sabatino himself after he was charged with 11 felony counts during his term as Modesto’s Mayor, some fifteen years ago. Though he was offered a plea deal at the time, Sabatino chose to go to trial; ultimately, the case ended in a hung jury.

“They’ve been after Frank ever since,” said Sabatino, “especially since he won defending Frank Drummond and AJ Pontillo, as well as my case.”

Carmen Sabatino at Work

The Carson trial lasted over four years. At 18 months, the pretrial alone was the longest in Stanislaus County history. Frank Carson spent much of that time in jail, as did the Atwal brothers. County officials have claimed they don’t know how much the case has cost, but Stanislaus County Supervisor Jim DeMartini said over two years ago on Sabatino’s radio show he thought the cost was already over $3 million.

“This is about accountability,” said Sabatino of the recall. “If the people can’t have accountability from their elected officials, they can’t count on anything.”

An elected official, Fladager can’t be removed from office other than by a recall.

“What’s important about the Carson case is how it affects everything else,” said Sabatino. “There’s a backlog of over fifty murder cases, attorneys keep leaving the DA’s office, and morale is terrible. She’s spent so much money on the Carson trial there isn’t enough money to retain attorneys and prosecute criminals.”

Critics of Fladager’s performance as DA tend to agree with Sabatino’s analysis. According to a report from the Modesto Bee, the Carson trial dragged on in part because of, “evidence lapses by Fladager’s office, including failure to turn over polygraph results for more than two years.”

Carmen SabatinoSabatino says the recall effort will be funded by local citizens. “We’re already receiving donations at my website, the Back Story News,” said Sabatino. “If you donate $99, you can remain anonymous, and that’s how most people want it when there’s an atmosphere of intimidation. People are afraid.”

Whether or not the recall will succeed, no one knows. But given Carmen Sabatino’s long history of dogged determination, it’s unlikely the Carson trial and its poor reflection on the DA’s office will be forgotten anytime soon. That alone should concern county officials, who are ultimately accountable for the DA’s performance.


Eric Caine
Eric Caine
Eric Caine formerly taught in the Humanities Department at Merced College. He was an original Community Columnist at the Modesto Bee, and wrote for The Bee for over twelve years.
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  1. Please let us know if you need signature collectors. Plenty of us are more than happy to knock on doors to fix this problem.

  2. Fact check: was there an acquittal in Sabatino’s case? Prosecutor Ferreira, in her rebuttal in the Carson case, pointed out that there is a difference between an acquittal and a hung jury, which is what happened in Sabatino’s case. There was no retrial, i.e., the prosecution dropped the case. That was a victory for Sabatino and for Carson, no matter what Ferreira said, and the jurors probably saw through that.

    • Actually, my recollection is that it was a hung jury. Then, DA Fladager wisely decided not to pursue the case. Subsequently, we learned that Pat McGrath was involved in enough criminal fraud that he was disbarred and actually owed Mr. Sabatino money, though he had claimed Sabatino owed him. Anyone who looked closely into the charges against Sabatino realized that he’d been framed. Nonetheless, Sabatino’s decision to choose a trial over the very sweet plea deal he was offered was a stunner to everyone. He’d pretty much been convicted on the front pages of the Modesto Bee. The hung jury was a surprise, but in retrospect there was a very weak case against the mayor.

  3. How can I help? Also can anyone help me aye the county? I’m a victim of kidnapping an sexual assult and the DA and aw enforcement used gangstalking tactics after my assultti implicate me in a case I was previously exhinerated from. I was illegally evicted and defamed in such a way that even local motels wouldn’t rent to me and my kids. I have suffered long term health issues due to the assult which I’m starting to believe was staged by sherrif Dept to “scare” information regarding a double ho.icide and drug cartel tie to the murders which I absolutely have no knowledge of. My husband was deported, we became homeless and my reputation was destroyed.

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