Written by The Business Journal Staff
(AP) — The embattled mayor of one of California’s largest cities forcefully declared his innocence Friday, denying charges that he supplied alcohol to teenagers for a strip poker game in his room at a youth camp and declaring himself a victim of a smear campaign by political enemies.
Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva made brief remarks outside his lawyer’s office, neatly dressed in a suit and tie a day after leaving jail in shorts and a T-shirt following his arrest on charges that included child endangerment and secretly recording confidential communications without consent.
Silva didn’t take questions and didn’t talk about his political future amid growing calls for his resignation.
Prosecutors say a review of Silva’s cellphone turned up an audio recording of a gathering last August in his bedroom at the summer camp he hosts annually where at least four young adults and a 16-year-old were playing strip poker and drinking with the mayor.
Silva vigorously denied all charges while not specifically addressing whether the game occurred.
“Everyone there was 18 years old,” Silva said, flanked by his attorneys. “I never ever, ever, ever endangered a child. Ever… I never provided alcohol to anyone. And I certainly did not secretly record anyone. I’m innocent and I appreciate your patience.”
He and his lawyer, N. Allen Sawyer, said the charges were politically motivated. Silva is running for re-election this fall.
The summer camp Silva has run since prior to being elected mayor is in neighboring Amador County. District Attorney Todd Riebe rejected the mayor’s declaration that counselors were all over 18, saying that investigators know the minor’s date of birth and that witnesses put the minor at the party. He also denied being part of a political operation.
“I couldn’t care less about the politics in San Joaquin County,” Riebe said.
Stockton, a city of 300,000 in the state’s Central Valley, has been battered in recent years. It declared bankruptcy in 2012, at the time the largest city in U.S. history to do so, and the 41-year-old Silva swept into office the following year, styling himself as the “people’s mayor.”
The charges came a week after news broke that a gun stolen from Silva’s home during a burglary was linked to the killing of a 13-year-old in Stockton early last year. The mayor did not report the gun as missing until a month after the boy was killed.
On Friday, Silva also called the timing of the news about the gun “calculated and politically motivated.”
“I’ve never seen the victim of a theft be trashed in the media like I have,” he said, adding that his treatment could make others think twice before reporting a crime to police.
The Stockton police union is among those calling for his resignation. The allegations against Silva are “more than just a black eye” for the city, Stockton Police Officers Association spokesman Lee Neves said Thursday.
“This is a devastating body blow,” he said. “Given what has gone on over the past two weeks, he’s just not able to effectively govern or represent the city anymore.”
Silva has a court appearance later this month on the felony charge of secretly recording confidential communications without consent and misdemeanor charges of contributing to the delinquency of a minor, providing alcohol to people under 21, and child endangerment.
The charges stem from an FBI search of his cellphone last year, after he was stopped briefly at San Francisco International Airport by authorities who confiscated his laptop and cellphone as part of an unspecified investigation. The FBI turned over contents of the cellphone to Amador County on July 26.
One of four video recordings found on Silva’s cellphone was of the strip poker game, according to an affidavit filed by a San Joaquin County investigator. The screen went black and only audio is heard after players in the room said they didn’t want to be videoed.
The affidavit does not identify the two women and three males prosecutors say were playing strip poker in the mayor’s bedroom in August 2015. In the video an unidentified female says that she is done with “drinking bets.” Silva responds: “Yeah, she didn’t win those too good.”
An 18-year-old woman told the investigator that all the participants in the game were naked at some point, although the mayor is heard saying he has clothes. She also said beer and vodka were present at the camp that hosts up to 75 underprivileged children, according to the affidavit, and that the mayor kept alcohol in his closet for counselors.
She said the 16-year-old boy was at the party. The boy denied participating in a strip poker game, or even knowing there was a game, and directed the investigator to his attorney, according to the affidavit.
Neither Silva nor Sawyer would elaborate on how he knew that no one was underage, whether alcohol was present and how the audio was recorded. Sawyer declined comment on whether there was a strip poker game.
AP Writer Scott Smith contributed to this report from Fresno.