SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Holy political favors, Batman! That's the allegation against San Mateo County Sheriff Carlos Bolanos for sending a four-man team across the country last week, to raid the garage that builds Batmobiles.
Turns out, one of the sheriff's friends ordered a Batmobile and wasn't happy with how long it's taking.
Your public money paid for the trip last week by the sheriff's investigators - four round-trip plane tickets, three nights of hotels, meals, rental cars, and a lot of overtime.
Sam Anagnostou posted a profile video on his social media, saying, "Real estate is a lot like surfing."
He's is a real estate agent who lives in Atherton.
"Suddenly the perfect wave shows up right in front of 'ya. You gotta be ready to catch it."
This profile video shows Anagnostou likes expensive toys. He ordered a $210,000 Batmobile from the only builder licensed by DC Comics, Fiberglass Freaks of Logansport, Indiana.
A spokesmodel on the promotional video says, "You wanted one since you were a kid, now you can have your very own Batmobile..." complete with roll-top dashboard, flashing beacon light, and "detecta-scope."
The spokesmodel adds, "And even a working flamethrower. (poof)"
Owner Mark Racop has nine Batmobiles in production. He tells us Anagnostou was first in line, but missed a $20,000 payment: "And he disappeared on me for over eight months, almost nine months."
Racop moved Anagnostou to the bottom of the list; he'd have to wait a year and a half or two for his Batmobile.
Racop says, "He didn't like that, he exploded. He did pay off the entire car at that point, but he was absolutely livid to find out that his car was going to be delayed."
Anagnostou filed a complaint with Atherton police, but last September, the San Mateo County District Attorney declined to bring criminal charges at this time, according to a letter to the Batmobile builder.
Anagnostou also filed a lawsuit in San Mateo Superior County Court, alleging Breach of Contract and Fraud, but this past March, a judge dismissed the case saying Indiana is the proper venue.
Then, sources inside the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department tell the I-Team's Dan Noyes that the realtor asked his Facebook friend, Sheriff Carlos Bolanos, to intervene. He sent a lieutenant, sergeant and two deputies to Indiana; they raided Fiberglass Freaks last week -- July 19.
Mark Racop tells us, "Then, they showed the warrant saying that they were here to seize anything to do with his car. So I thought, 'Oh, they're coming in to pick up his car,' which is right behind me, by the way. I thought I was gonna have to move my other Batmobiles out of the way to be able to let them take this car."
But investigators took only two files of documents, according to the Search Warrant Return. Racop says they read his Miranda Rights, brought him to the local jail for an hour, but let him go. He only later found out they got a warrant for his Gmail, contacts and photos; that they froze his bank account; and charged him in California with two felonies -- Obtaining Money by False Pretenses, and Diversion of Construction Funds.
"I was horrified. I've never gone through anything like this ever before in my life, I am on the side of good. As a Batman fan since I was 2 years old, this was a completely opposite side. I love '66 Batman and Batman always stood with the law."
We interviewed the San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney, prosecuting this case.
Dan Noyes: "You wrote a letter to Racop in September of last year saying that there would be no criminal charges. What changed?"
Marie McLaughlin, San Mateo County Deputy District Attorney: "Additional investigation, the detectives were able to obtain search warrants and obtain additional evidence."
McLaughlin would not discuss that additional evidence or the sheriff's unusual step of sending four investigators across the country, for what Racop argues is a simple business dispute.
Noyes: "After the case went nowhere with the first criminal case, the civil case, is the sheriff stepping in for a friend here?"
McLaughlin: "I can't speak to that, I have no knowledge about what relationship if any the sheriff has with the victim."
We wanted to talk to Sheriff Bolanos about Anagnostou and about the use of public funds - four round-trip airline tickets, hotels for three nights, meals, overtime. He didn't return our repeated calls and texts to his personal cellphone. His office confirmed he's away on a month of vacation; he leaves office in January after losing the election. The undersheriff now in charge, Mark Robbins, and the department's spokesman, Lt. Eamonn Allen, refused our request for an interview citing the ongoing investigation.
We ran the case by Tony Brass, former prosecutor for San Francisco and the US Attorney's Office. He told us, "I just can't imagine why it's in criminal court. It shocks me that it's in criminal court."
He says this squabble over a luxury item, the Batmobile, belongs in Indiana civil court - with no involvement by the San Mateo County Sheriff's Department.
"It simply defies reason, in my view, why so many people, so many high-ranking members of law enforcement, would have to go and enforce something so unnecessary? And so trivial?"
Dan Noyes did reach Anagnostou by phone in Greece, where he's on vacation. He was surprised when we asked about the Batmobile. He said, "I'm dealing with someone privately on that." Noyes asked him, "Who's that?" and he just hung up.
Investigating this story, we learned something more about Racop -- he's a minister; we watched his church sermon this past Sunday online.
Racop tells us, "It's the only thing that helps me through this, Dan. I should expect trials and tribulations. It's just part of being a Christian and as a preacher, you know, this is an attempt to besmirch my reputation."
We reached the lawyer for Anagnostou. He also didn't want to go on camera, but said his client is returning from Greece in a few days, and both of them will sit down for an interview. Racop tells us he'll be flying here for his first court appearance in three weeks.
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