SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — A long and largely forgotten death investigation in California's Central Valley has led to a vast and unexpected set of arrests that included three current and former Highway Patrol officers and a prominent defense attorney.
They were among nine people arrested in the 2012 disappearance and killing of Korey Kauffman, stemming from the belief that he was stealing antiques, car parts and other objects from Modesto attorney Frank Carson's home, law enforcement officials said at a news conference Friday in Modesto, California.
Those arrested either played a part in the killing of the 26-year-old Kauffman or helped cover it up and misled investigators, the officials said.
Friends last saw Kauffman on March 30, 2012. On the night of his disappearance, Kauffman left the home of friends Mike and Rickey Cooley to steal irrigation pipes from Carson's property. The brothers' home was adjacent to Carson's property, according to a 326-page court filing authorities used to get arrest warrants.
Mike Cooley said he believes the pipes were put there to lure him or other thieves to the property.
Rickey Cooley said he went outside 10 minutes after Kauffman left and saw three men on Carson's property, one of whom had a shotgun.
Carson believed Kauffman and others were stealing valuable antiques from storage containers on his property, and he wanted to stop the thefts by sending a message, investigators said.
As far back as 2010, Carson was taking personal action against people he believed were stealing from him, despite being told by investigators he needed to make a police report and not investigate the thefts himself. He would confront people he thought were involved and attempt to disguise his identity by saying he was a private investigator, according to court documents.
Kauffman's body was found by hunters in August 2013 in rural Mariposa County near Yosemite National Park.
Carson orchestrated the killing and enlisted the help of two brothers who own a liquor store in Turlock, investigators with the Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department said.
Carson's attorney, Percy Martinez, said his client is innocent and his arrest was politically motivated.
Carson ran unsuccessfully for district attorney last year. He has been under investigation since Kauffman disappeared, Martinez said. Investigators searched Carson's property in 2012.
"We welcome the opportunity to fight this in court," Martinez said.
The CHP officers were all associated with Daljit Singh Atwal and Baljit Singh Athwal, owners of Pop N Cork liquor store in Turlock, who often entertained them with parties in a back room of their store; the officers allegedly tried to intervene when the brothers came under suspicion.
Carson represented Baljit Athwal in criminal and civil cases in 2008.
CHP officers Scott McFarlane and Eduardo Quintanar are suspected of obstructing the investigation. They are accused of lying about their involvement with the liquor store and the two brothers who own it.
Former CHP Officer Walter Wells is suspected of murder.
All three CHP officers withheld information during the investigation, and Wells may have been in possession of Kauffman's cellphone after he is believed to have been killed, according to the affidavit.
"The entire department and I are appalled at the mere thought that one former and two current employees played any role in this incident," CHP Commissioner Joe Farrow said.
Wells left the CHP several weeks ago, and the other two officers have been placed on administrative leave, Farrow said.
Carson's wife, Georgia Geanette Defilippo, is also accused of participating in the killing. Defilippo's daughter was also arrested on suspicion of conspiracy and being an accessory.
The suspected are expected to be charged Monday.