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Stockton, Calif., Mayor Arrested for Hosting Strip Poker With Teens -- and Recording It

Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva was booked into jail Thursday on charges stemming from a strip poker game prosecutors said he held with teen counselors at his Mayor's Youth Camp last summer.

By Nashelly Chavez and Bill Lindelof

Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva was booked into jail Thursday on charges stemming from a strip poker game prosecutors said he held with teen counselors at his Mayor's Youth Camp last summer.

Silva, 41, was arrested Thursday morning at Silver Lake in the Sierra Nevada, where he was conducting his annual camp for disadvantaged inner-city children, Amador County District Attorney Todd Riebe said.

He was charged with recording confidential communications, a felony, and three misdemeanors: contributing to the delinquency of a minor, furnishing alcohol to a person under 21 and child endangerment.

Riebe said the charges relate to incidents Aug. 7, 2015, at the Silver Lake camp in Amador County.

"This comes from an FBI investigation that we became aware of last Tuesday," Riebe said. "These charges stem from that investigation."

Last fall, federal agents searched the mayor's belongings and confiscated his cellphone and laptop computer when he returned to San Francisco from a trip to China. A search of Silva's cellphone produced 23 photographs and four video clips from the youth camp held last year from Aug. 3 to 9, the DA's Office said in a news release.

In one video clip, it appeared to investigators the phone was set down, darkening the camera lens. While no video was recorded, audio was captured.

"That clip contains audio of a conversation between participants involved in a strip poker game that occurred in Silva's bedroom," the news release said. "The conversation between the participants indicated that they were naked. One of the participants was a 16-year-old male."

The recording suggests that those talking did not want to be recorded, the prosecutor's office said, and witnesses told investigators that Silva provided alcohol to those on the recording, all of whom were under drinking age.

The Mayor's Youth Camp served about 75 children between the ages of 5 and 17 last year, according to a court document filed by Terrence Brass, a criminal investigator with the Stockton-based San Joaquin County District Attorney's Office. Silva had hired young adults to work as counselors supervising the children, it said.

The court document says the strip poker game included Silva, a 16-year-old boy, an 18-year-old woman, a 19-year-old woman and two 19-year-old men. The 18-year-old woman told investigators that "all of the participants in the strip poker game at some point were naked." She said beer and vodka were available at the camp, and that a lot of counselors were drinking.

Investigators found photos on Silva's cellphone showing people under age 21 in possession of alcohol during what appeared to be a game of beer pong, the document said.

"Mayor Silva allowed and encouraged persons under 21 years of age (including a 16-year-old) to consume alcohol for the purpose of getting intoxicated so he ... could involve, and participate with, such persons in sexually suggestive behavior such as strip poker where such activities could be videotaped," Brass wrote in his declaration of probable cause in support of an arrest warrant.

Silva's attorney, Mark Reichel, complained about the timing of the mayor's arrest.

"Authorities have had all of this information for a year, and have spent unlimited resources looking everywhere they could to find something to justify the investigation," Reichel said in a statement. "The timing is very suspect, and seems like the work of a political clique in Stockton."

At Silver Lake Camp, director Ron Felton said Thursday afternoon that staff were contacting children's parents to notify them about the arrest. He said parents who wanted to pick up their children from the camp were able to do so.

The city of Stockton said in a written statement that "Silva has been relieved from the camp and effective adult supervision is in place at the camp. Law enforcement is on the scene and the children are in no immediate danger."

Silva had no comment Thursday afternoon as he walked out of the Amador County jail after posting bail. As he walked to his ride, he wore a black T-shirt with the logo of the Stockton Police K-9 Connection, a nonprofit group that supports police dogs and handlers.

On Thursday, the Stockton Police Officers Association, a group that endorsed Councilman Michael Tubbs for mayor, said Silva should step down.

"The Mayor's actions have formed not merely a dark cloud, but a full-fledged storm, over the Mayor's ability to govern and represent the City of Stockton," the group posted on Facebook. "For this reason, we are calling on Mayor Anthony Silva to resign immediately, and allow Stockton to move forward without this dark storm of perception and suspicion above us."

Stockton Councilman Dan Wright, an elementary school principal, took a similar view.

"If these charges are true, I call on Anthony Silva to resign immediately," Wright posted on Twitter. "We cannot let today's incident hinder Stockton's progress."

Wright said he posted his sentiments on Twitter after coming to the realization that he "had a moral responsibility" to call for the mayor's resignation.

In a Facebook post last year, the mayor criticized federal agents for taking his personal electronic devices in San Francisco without a search warrant.

"I don't believe that any American would want any government agency to read through your emails, text messages, and social media without a warrant," Silva wrote. "I am confident that any forensic search of my personal devices will never ever show illegal or inappropriate activities of any sort."

It was not the only time in the past year that the mayor faced scrutiny. Silva learned recently that a gun stolen from him had been used to kill a 13-year-old boy last year. Silva did not report the gun missing for a month or more, The Record newspaper reported.

When Silva heard the news of the killing, he took to Facebook to say that words could not describe his sorrow for the victim and his family.

"Obviously, this was my worst possible fear," Silva said in his post. "I will be in shock for a long time. It's a horrible tragedy that will be on my mind and in my prayers forever."

Silva was chief executive officer of the Boys and Girls Club of Stockton from 2005 to 2013. Born in Stockton, Silva is a single father who shares custody of his school-age son with the boy's mother.

The mayor, a Republican, was elected in an upset victory in November 2012, after a summer in which Stockton, a largely Democratic city, filed for bankruptcy protection and experienced a soaring murder rate.

He promised during the campaign to not take a salary until he balanced the city budget and restored its police presence. But his tenure as mayor was quickly marked by controversy and conflict with other city officials -- and by his decision to draw his six-figure salary, including back pay, before he'd accomplished his goals.

By May 2013, a frustrated Silva delivered his state of the city address wearing a gladiator helmet and wielding a mace. He urged residents to "come to war with me and fight so we can change things here in Stockton, California."

The next month, a widely circulated, anonymous email aired a copy of a 2005 police report involving an accusation that Silva, a former water polo coach, secretly taped girls using his restroom and changing clothes at his home.

The city made public a separate, largely redacted report of an accusation of sexual battery, in which an unidentified woman said Silva insisted that she drink alcohol and touched her buttocks inappropriately in 2011.

Both complaints were investigated and no charges were filed.

Silva said at the time that the accusations contained in the older police reports were false and politically motivated.

"They're trying to create an image of somebody that I'm not," he said.

Today, Silva is running against Tubbs for re-election. In June, Tubbs won 34 percent of the vote to Silva's 26 percent in an eight-candidate race, setting up a runoff in the November general election.

Reichel said Thursday that his client's arrest is an attempt to turn voters against the mayor in the upcoming election.

"It is an obvious attempt to influence an election," Reichel said. "It will take some effort for the mayor to clear his good name before the election, and the voters might have only heard one side of the story by election time. He will clear his good name, and then we will seek whatever redress we can to restore his reputation."

The Bee's Loretta Kalb and David Siders contributed to this report.

(c)2016 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

Caroline Cournoyer is GOVERNING's senior web editor.
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