Attorney: San Mateo County deputy's only crime was running for sheriff

Deputy Juan Lopez's attorney, Stuart Hanlon, says his client's only crime was running for political office in a tight-knit county.

Hanlon says there's no way he could get a fair trial in San Mateo County because of the close relationship between District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe and Sheriff Greg Munks, who Lopez ran against as a write-in candidate.

"His big crime is running against Munks," said Hanlon. "I've never seen a case like this. I've really done this awhile."

In November, Lopez was arrested and charged along with two correctional officers in an alleged plot of smuggling a cell phone into the jail and contraband as explained by District Attorney Steve Wagstaffe.

"Simply that he allowed a phone to be brought, not to be brought into, but to be used in the jail by a Hell's Angel member," said Wagstaffe.

"There's almost no evidence against Juan. I think there is none, not any credible witnesses," said Hanlon.

Now, 11 new counts against Lopez, his fiance, and a friend ranging from election and insurance fraud to other charges not detailed in the criminal complaint.

"They've dragged up every possible charge and they're going to throw them against the wall and hopefully something will stick or drain Juan so he can't defend himself," said Hanlon.

Hanlon says all the charges stem from retaliation.

Lopez's bid for sheriff resurfaced a 2007 incident involving Sheriff Munks where he and the undersheriff were detained in an FBI sting known as Operation Dollhouse, which involved a Las Vegas brothel.

"It's not just that he ran, but the publicity that came out about Munks that he was involved in something illegal," said Hanlon.

Munks apologized saying he didn't know it was a brothel and was never charged.

"Jumping to his defense is Steve Wagstaffe," said Hanlon.

Wagstaffe sent Munks an email of support at the time saying in part, "To those who matter, your decades of outstanding work in law enforcement are all that count."

"I stand by it to this day that I support him as that email says," said Wagstaffe.

Hanlon says it points to a cozy relationship between the two top officials.

Wagstaffe acknowledges a good working relationship with the sheriff, but says Lopez's charges are nothing more than his office doing its job.

"It was really never a serious race so it's not like there's any anger or retaliation of any sort because it's simply if someone violates the law they have to pay the consequences," said Wagstaffe.

Running for sheriff brought attention Lopez never imagined, but Hanlon says he expects it going forward saying, "This interview is going to make it harder to practice there, but it's the truth and I'm willing to deal with it because I think this man is being falsely charged."

Hanlon plans to file a recusal motion in the coming weeks. It's an effort to get the case out of San Mateo County and in front of the Attorney General's Office.

Lopez is expected back in court in early March.