The Plot to Bury a News Agency
Watch video trailer here. Release date: Early 2020
Seven years ago, an article was published on the news website CalCoastNews.com that would forever reshape the lives of its authors and their families — and ultimately those of the article’s subjects and even their attorneys.
The article described unlawful practices by San Luis Obispo County’s garbage agency, the Integrated Waste Management Authority (IWMA) and its 20-year manager William Worrell. It also examined a favored IWMA contractor.
A subsequent libel lawsuit initiated by that contractor, Charles K. Tenborg, (and backed by Worrell and certain IWMA board members) led to an eye-popping $1.1 million judgment against two journalists in March 2017. It was only later that the truth would be unearthed -- layer upon layer of carefully coordinated lies had resulted in a patently fraudulent judgment.
But the journalists fought back — with unexpected and extraordinary results.
LYING IN TRASH probes the origin of the lawsuit — the reckless efforts of a local politician named Adam Hill, and a handful of his governmental co-conspirators who plotted destruction of the two journalists and the news site. It documents the deplorable actions of a San Francisco law firm; a county judge bedazzled by those big-city celebrity lawyers; the untimely deaths of two key defense witnesses; pernicious efforts to poison the jury pool; the lop-sided trial; and the litany of lies by plaintiff’s witnesses to mislead jurors. It follows an internationally-recognized private investigator as he establishes the accuracy of the journalists' original reporting, and proves the preponderance of perjury.
And in the end, LYING IN TRASH reports on the shaming and top-to-bottom reorganization of the public waste disposal agency itself.
The perpetrators of the lawsuit have ample reason to regret their actions. Now Worrell, Tenborg, and the IWMA itself are under criminal investigations. Worrell has been forced into early retirement and the IWMA’s attorney of two decades, Raymond Biering, has departed under a cloud. Examiners subsequently found the public agency had been operating as a privately-run criminal enterprise, exposure of which its exploiters felt the need to prevent … at any cost.
The truth prevails because two journalists refused to surrender... despite back-breaking financial stresses.
LYING IN TRASH is their story.
“I knew then that the Integrated Waste Management Authority was dirty.”
Wayne Hall was an assistant county administrator who helped write the original joint powers agreement forming the IWMA and is a former chief administrator of the county’s court system.
“I would love to see our district attorney go after this, but I don’t see that happening. He’s become just one of the crowd."
Debbie Peterson has dedicated more than 15 years to public service and was mayor and council member in the city of Grover Beach.
“Not only did people not want to get to the truth, but there were things going on (at the IWMA) that were unsavory.”
Tim Brown until recently was a member of the the IWMA board and served on the city council of Arroyo Grande.
“If good people don’t stop the corruption, then the bad people win.”
Andrea Seastrand is a former member of Congress from San Luis Obispo County.
“In my experience, in these kinds of investigations, had that information come out, there would have been a different verdict.”
Carl Knudson spent 23 years as a special agent and forensic investigator with the IRS and was key in toppling the Columbian drug cartel.
“CalCoastNews has done a lot to shed light on the corruption in this county, which is rife, as everybody knows.”
James Duenow is a San Luis Obispo County attorney who has won thousands of civil cases in a 50-year law career.
“The Tenborg lawsuit was brought as a means of stifling the press."
Mike Brennler spent more than 30 years as a police officer, 23 with the San Luis Obispo Police Department. He was a city council member and mayor of the city of Atascadero, and now is a private investigator.
“Suborning perjury to impair First Amendment rights of any journalistic entity is a violation of one's oath to support the Constitution.”
Stewart Jenkins is a San Luis Obispo attorney who for 35 years has practiced in governmental issues and Constitutional law.
“It was easy to see that Supervisor Adam Hill was deeply involved in numerous aspects of the Charles Tenborg lawsuit."
Liz Doukas is a certified court reporter who transcribed half of the Tenborg-CalCoastNews trial proceedings.
View scenes from Lying in Trash posted periodically during production.
San Luis Obispo County, situated on California's Central Coast, has been called one of the nation's most corrupt. There may be an obvious reason for this: a history of law enforcement disinterested in investigating and prosecuting civil corruption. And the county's current district attorney, Dan Dow, continues the practice by refusing to prosecute perjury or civil corruption.
"We just don't do perjury." Dan Dow, San Luis Obispo County District Attorney