Almost two years ago to the day my column in the North County Times asked whether a Montebello schoolteacher named John Monti was being “Nifonged” by then San Diego City Attorney, Mike Aguirre.
“Nifonged” is the verb coined to describe the prosecution of an innocent individual for political purposes—as the North Carolina D.A., Mike Nifong, did to three Duke lacrosse players. Nifong’s brazen misconduct not only cost him his job, it also cost him his law license. Aguirre is now out of office but only because he was defeated at the polls last November.
A jury acquitted Monti in September of 2007 of the assault charges brought against him—a prosecution whose motivation seemed designed to punish Monti for attempting to expose the underage sex-trafficking he believes occurs in illegal migrant camps like those in Rancho Penasquitos’ McGonigle Canyon.
At least four 9-1-1 calls identified Monti as the victim, not the perpetrator, of an assault at Highway 56 and Rancho Penasquitos Boulevard where he was taking pictures of laborers. Those lost, suppressed, or ignored calls made on November 18, 2006, did not deter Aguirre’s team—whose case against Monti was in no small measure organized by the Executive Director of California Rural Legal Assistance Foundation, Claudia Smith.
Smith apparently spoke with migrants after the initial police investigation and discovered the laborer (a previously deported felon) whose arm was allegedly injured by Monti. According to a sworn statement by private investigator Robert Harris, Smith also interfered with his subpoena service of laborers who were being summoned to testify on Monti’s behalf. Harris said that Smith apparently called in a false police report in which she said he had threatened workers with a gun—a report the San Diego Police couldn’t subsequently locate.
Monti’s legal problems didn’t end with his acquittal. A civil suit was brought against Fox News and Monti on behalf of the migrants whose reputations and job prospects had been damaged by the network’s “Manhunt on the Border” story--a piece that featured Monti’s pictures of men that had allegedly attacked him.
The defamation suit against Monti and Fox was recently dismissed by the California Supreme Court, upholding a prior Appeals Court ruling. But the question remains why Monti, and not his apparent attackers, was targeted for prosecution by Aguirre and SDPD.
Aguirre’s political connections might account for some of the “inverted justice” aspect of this case, but a good deal of malfeasance appears to lie with SDPD. The most benign explanation of this misconduct is that SDPD doesn’t want to be bothered with illegal immigration issues. One can also imagine more sinister motivations for ignored 9-1-1 calls and what appears to be activist-inspired reshaping of reports and testimony.
Such actions were indispensable to putting on trial a bilingual elementary school teacher whose Colombian wife and in-laws speak the same language as many of his students--some of whom (Monti told me) possess intimate knowledge of cross-border sex-trafficking.