Palm Springs Arrests Cast Doubt on Famous SF-Mexico Sex Tourism Case
Five years ago, federal sex abuse charges lodged against against financier Thomas
Frank White put an elderly San Francisco multimillionaire's face on what was
then seen as the growing international scourge of sex tourism.
This week White's main accuser and his attorney, who together helped set into
motion a federal sex crimes investigation against White, pleaded not guilty to unrelated Palm Springs fraud, embezzlement and forgery charges. If true, these new allegations against San Francisco attorney David Replogle, and his client Daniel Garcia, could cast doubt on the credibility of White's accusers, and raise the possibility that a pair of alleged con men led U.S. law enforcement officials on a costly international wild goose chase, while unfairly condemning White to a half-decade in Mexican jail.
"I think it puts the allegations against him in a different light," said Stuart Hanlon, White's attorney. "He's always said he was set up and framed by Garcia and Replogle. Now they have allegations that they have a reputation of doing this kind of thing."
In response to questions about the White investigation, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco stated the agency's policy of not commenting on pending cases.
White is accused of having sex with numerous young Mexican boys who he invited into his mansion in the Mexican resort city of Puerto Vallarta. He was acquitted there of sex-related charges, but is in Mexican jail as prosecutors appeal his acquittal. Garcia, now 26, claimed to have been abused by White when he was a teenager. Garcia and Replogle traveled together numerous times to Mexico to recruit additional boys as plaintiffs in a sex abuse lawsuit. Since then questions of the financier's guilt or innocence have pivoted on the question of whether the boys were earnest victims, or mere opportunistic boys responding to an invitation to testify their way out of poverty.
White was charged in 2004 under a U.S. sex tourism law that pemits
Attorneys for Replogle hadn't responded to requests for comment by press time.
Replogle and his group of young Mexican clients obtained a civil settlement of $7 million. White's attorneys are currently seeking to have the settlement nullified, based on the idea of a frame-up. Courts have so far rejected this theory, which is currently on appeal.The attorney and client had an apparent falling out in 2006, during which time Garcia cast a different light on what had been characterized in a San Francisco Chronicle front page series as a crusade against sex tourists.
In unsealed court documents filed as part of this litigation, Garcia acknowledged that Replogle recruited dozens of impoverished Mexican boys from the streets of Acapulco, who quickly learned they could earn money by answering 'yes' when asked if they'd had sex with a man depicted in a proffered photograph.
"The second he signed up the first kid, there were tons coming out of the woodwork smelling money. And from day one, David was giving these kids cash, saying here is $100, 1,000 pesos, or something. Go get something to eat. Whatever," Garcia said in a statement, made June 26, during a temporary falling out he had with Replogle during 2006. "But it quickly escalated to where he was paying for all of their living expenses, giving them a weekly or monthly allowance, paying for medical treatment. And he has basically been supporting almost 30 of these kids over the past couple of years," according to a statement from Garcia, shared with SF Weekly by Patricia de Larios, a private investigator who has worked for White's defense.
In a signed declaration by Garcia dated June 28, 2006, Garcia said "I have heard the Mexican plaintiffs tell Replogle and Borrego that if they did not pay them money, they would go to 'the other side' and withdraw their allegations against Thomas White. When this occurred, Replogle... would give the young men more money," Garcia said in his statement. "Mr. Replogle has stated in front of me and before others that it does not matter if they are telling the truth; Mr. White cannot testify to defend himself himself because of his pending criminal charges and therefore all the plaintiffs have to do is make allegations of sexual abuse which will go to court and lead to more money for the plaintiffs and Mr. Replogle."
White doesn't merely allege that Garcia and Replogle framed him. He says his former confidante Garcia stole from him profligately as well. According to a separate federal lawsuit, Garcia, who prior to the investigation had spent significant time with White, managed to access the older man's bank accounts and withdraw thousands of dollars while White was locked in a Mexican prison.
White's attorneys hired a former FBI agent to document the theft, and presented U.S. prosecutors with the resulting evidence.
"It was a case that was handed to them in a basket," said Hanlon. "It was
a clear case of wire fraud, and it was done by Garcia."
Garcia was not prosecuted for the alleged theft, however, Hanlon said. "The general attitude I picked up was, they didn't care about White."
White isn't alone in alleging that Garcia stole from him. Tyson Wrensch, a Las Vegas executive with a slot machine company enjoyed a several-year friendship with Garcia, traveling together with him in Europe, and hanging out with Garcia's constant companion, a dashing, English-accented 27-year old man who claimed to be a Nepalese prince -- Kaushal Niroula. Wrensch recalls attending a lavish dinner with Garcia and Replogle to celebrate a pending settlement with White. And he recalls disbelieving his eyes one time when Garcia withdrew $1,500 from an ATM machine with what he
swore was a CitiBank card under Thomas White's name.
Two years ago Wrensch loaned Garcia the keys to his Las Vegas home, so that his friend could stay there a couple of days while Wrensch went on vacation in South America. Wrensh recalls going to an Internet cafe after he'd been vacationing for more than a week and finding all his bank accounts empty. He took the next flight home and says he found evidence proving it was Garcia, and within two weeks he had filed a
police report. Wrensch has subsequently made a mission of seeking out people who've brushed up against Garcia and Niroula to warn that there's an edge to the two young men's charm. "Danny just has one of those innocent smiles," Wrensch said. "He has a big mouth and teeth, with dimples. He's well-spoken when he needs to be... He's a chameleon. He can fit into any situation. He met my grandma. My grandma will still say to this day, 'How is that sweet little Danny?'"
Garcia and Replogle's 2006 falling out didn't last, according to people who knew Garcia. And this week prosecutors in Riverside County released a felony complaint and arrest warrant declaration alleging that the two men were involved in a scheme to steal money and property from Cliff Lambert, an elderly Palm Springs man who disappeared December 4. People who knew Garcia recall he had made friends with Lambert, traveling to visit him on occasion from San Francisco.
According to the scheme described in the police documents, Garcia and Replogle, along with Garcia's friend Niroula, and an associate of Niroula's named Russell Manning, allegedly began taking steps to liquidate Lambert's assets soon after the older man disappeared in early December.
"If (law enforcement) had intervened when they should have, maybe somebody
would have been alive right now. It's just sickening," said de Larios,
the private investigator.
Replogle, Garcia and the other defendants have pleaded innocent on all counts. Bail has been set at $5 million apiece.