STOCKTON – Being linked to school board hopefuls with serious ethical questions might not be the worst thing for Sam Fant.
In documents that were filed in San Joaquin County Superior Court on Wednesday, the Stockton Police Department named the current Manteca Unified trustee as one of three men being investigated for a nefarious gambling operation that existed in sites across the community and which show Fant played at least some sort of a role aside from just casual observer.
The 26-year-old was not arrested and has not formally been charged with a crime. What happens next is up to the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office. The findings were forwarded to the DA after search warrants at multiple businesses and locations were served last week.
Fant was elected nearly two years ago to represent the Weston Ranch area on the Manteca Unified board.
Fant came under scrutiny earlier this month when it was learned that he was the common thread between two Manteca Unified candidates that may not have been completely forthcoming on their initial elections paperwork. He was the one person that both listed could verify the information is true and correct.
But Wednesday’s bombshell takes on a much sinister tone. It is a picture painted by law enforcement as one full of underworld characters, late-night money handoffs, evasive driving designed to shake law enforcement tails and, in at least one instance, a locally elected official running for at least a short time a gambling parlor masquerading as a sweepstakes center/Internet café while investigators and/or informants looked on.
“Yesterday was the first time I heard about it (involvement with online gambling), when I got a call from The Record asking about it,” Fant said in a statement to The Bulletin. “I wasn’t made aware of my name appearing in any court document.
“I’ve assisted police multiple times when potential illegal activities were brought to my attention, and I’ve worked on numerous occasions to notify police of illicit activities, specifically Internet cafes. Some of these establishments that operate at Internet cafes bring a negative light in clientele into our communities. They call them by different names, but any business operating illicitly in our city (Stockton) should be closed immediately.”
The investigation of Stockton Police Detective Paul Huff – which is summarized in a 16-page “statement of probable cause” that was filed on Wednesday morning – tells a different story altogether.
According to the first page of the probable cause document, Fant is named as one of three men – along with Aram Mkrtchyan and Ivan Shevchenko – that were the target of a long-running Stockton Police Department vice investigation into three illegal gambling parlors located across Stockton. Only one of the men, 30-year-old Mkrtchyan, was arrested as a result of the investigation. He is believed to be the ringleader.
According to the search warrant paperwork that was signed by San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Humphries:
• Fant met with Mkrtchyan back in January out in front of the University Plaza Hotel in Downtown Stockton – one of the five sites where the alleged gambling was taking place – just hours before Mkrtchyan drove up to Gold River and deposited $110,000 in cash into a JP Morgan Chase Bank Account. According to the police filing, the bank account had him listed as unemployed.
• Then early on Feb. 14 Fant was seen in the tellers-only area of one of the gambling facilities and took payment from an informant and in turn handed back a receipt with a code that would allow for a computer inside to be used to access a Nevada-style video slot machine. The money that is won can then be claimed at the same teller, and when Fant was approached and informed that the informant wanted to “cash out” he allegedly responded “you mean redeem?”
• That Fant used his time on the Stockton Planning Commission – during at which he was at one point being extorted – to learn evasive “counter-surveillance measures” to determine if he was being followed. According to the affidavit, he used those whenever possible and on May 9 slipped in behind the detective that was following him and chased him at speeds in excess of 100 mph on the Crosstown Freeway.
The warrant was served on Tuesday and Mkrtchyan was the lone person under investigation taken into custody. Officers also seized vehicles and more than 60 computers.
Manteca Bulletin reporter Rose Albano-Risso contributed to this report.