What a tangled web we weave at times.
Manteca Unified School Board Trustee Sam Fant is suing one of his constituents that he claims lied when telling a handful of other people that the embattled politician – who is currently on the ballot for Stockton City Council – said “I’m going to f--- you up” after informing him that he was going to be speaking out against the proposed Weston Ranch stadium overhaul.
But Richard Smith, who has lived in Weston Ranch for 16 years and is involved in the community he has made his home, isn’t your typical political operative simply out to derail the political career of a young rising star.
He and Fant were at one time friends.
And on top of that, according to Smith, he was planning on helping Fant in his push towards ending up on the Stockton City Council until he received that phone call on Feb. 9 – a call, Smith says, that phone records will show as initiated by Fant and took an ominous turn when he told the elected official he would be part of the contingent speaking out against the district’s use of Mello-Roos funds for the stadium overhaul.
Now the only two people that know what happened during that phone call, which Smith’s records will likely show took place, are Smith and Fant. One claims something was said, while the other not only firmly denies it, but also has filed suit in San Joaquin County claiming slander, slander per se, and libel.
But if Fant did in fact call him to discourage him from being part of a group that was represented by former Manteca Unified Trustee and Stockton City Councilman Dale Fritchen – a group that went on to claim that the district has essentially misused public tax money to create a slush fund for projects outside of the coverage area in which the taxes were paid – it’s a troubling development.
It’s no secret that Fant has been lobbying hard for the stadium upgrades at Weston Ranch High School, which inadvertently kicked off a district-wide tour that allowed all of the high schools to weigh in on whether they’d want to see something similar at their location.
All but Manteca High essentially came out in favor of the state-of-the-art facilities.
And it makes sense for Fant to be behind such a project. It would be an instant legacy if he can point to the stadium – with artificial turf and an all-weather track – and say that he was part of the driving force behind making sure that it got done during his four years on the Manteca Unified School Board.
I say only four years because it appears his plan has been to make a run for Stockton City Council, and that made getting the preliminary approval for the Mello-Roos expenditure over and done with before voters went to polls in the Stockton primary.
But here’s where things get interesting.
Fant has been described as a “friend” and even political ally of Stockton Mayor Anthony Silva, but he’s also an understudy of a man he’s currently at odds with in a very public way – Frtichen.
Fant is essentially retracing the same steps that Fritchen took in his own political career by first representing the district as a Weston Ranch resident (albeit Fritchen did it for two-terms) before moving on to represent South Stockton on the Stockton City Council.
And they were allies. Fritchen even tapped Fant as his recommendation to the Stockton Planning Commission when he was still on the council, and Fant touts being the “youngest Planning Commissioner in city history” as one of his great achievements.
And when I spoke to Fant on Tuesday night to ask him about the lawsuit for a story that appeared in this newspaper, he spoke not only of Smith and the comments that he claims were erroneously made, but also noted that Smith is aligned, and possibly even being steered, by his old friend Dale.
That now makes two people from Weston Ranch that were firmly in Fant’s camp that now no longer agree with his leadership. And while he’s stayed relatively mum about Fritchen from the dais, he took the extraordinary step last month – a move, he says, to protect himself and the organizations he represents within Stockton – of suing somebody that was once one of his biggest supporters.
Not even that phone call and the alleged comment were enough to push Smith off of Fant’s bandwagon. A month later he called to see if Fant wanted to be his guest at a Stockton crab feed – an invitation that was also extended to Fant ally and Stockton Vice-Mayor Christina Fugazi. And while Fant didn’t attend, it was at that event, according to Smith, that he told Fugazi about the phone call and exactly what Fant had said.
According to the lawsuit, it was during this conversation that Smith expanded upon that by claiming that Fant threatened violence against Smith and Fritchen, which becomes important because while he denies that any of the comments were ever made, he also noted to me that he in “no way threatened violence against anybody” and that those allegations were, in and of themselves, illegal if misrepresented.
He didn’t say that he never spoke to Smith. And he didn’t say that he never attempted to keep him from attending a public board meeting to speak out against a pet project that would, if he were writing the script, become part of his legacy in South Stockton.
It’s a tangled web that’s only to become more tangled in the next few months. Fant is currently being charged with two counts of election fraud and two counts of conspiracy. And as he alluded to during a phone conversation he had with me after informing me that the charges had been filed, conspiracy is a very hard charge to prove unless somebody has inside knowledge of his involvement – which he firmly denies.
There’s no evidence yet that the two are related, but it’s clear that the Stockton political hopeful isn’t taking any chances when it comes with what’s left of his reputation that has been now been mired by a Stockton Police Department report about an illegal gambling operation, a San Joaquin County Grand Jury Report that painted him as an intimidating bully, and now charges by the San Joaquin County District Attorney’s office that he broke the law to stack the Manteca Unified Board of Education with friendly votes.
It just seems on the surface like the words of a former friend would be the last thing on his mind at this point – especially with the Stockton City Council primary less than two weeks away.
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.