Paul Fullerton believes that YONET (Yolo County Narcotic Enforcement Team) has engaged in a witch hunt against him and his wife. Three months after he took a plea agreement in which charges were dropped against Maricel Fullerton, YONET Agent Chris Lara testified at a hearing before an administrative law judge for the Department of Social Services, as Ms. Fullerton attempts to get her nursing license back.
According to them, even the administrative law judge was confused as to why Agent Lara was there, given that the charges against Ms. Fullerton were dropped.
Ms. Fullerton told the Vanguard that when she first saw Agent Lara, she didn’t recognize him. “I didn’t know that the YONET guy was going to be there,” she said.
She explained that she didn’t have representation and had never been to a hearing like this before. She thought since the charges against her were dropped, that this would be routine. But it wasn’t and Agent Lara would testify under questioning from the attorney from DSS for nearly an hour.
“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “I didn’t know what to ask.”
She said, “He never looked up. The whole time he was sitting there, he just had his head down. He never even looked at me once.”
She said that he said, “Because you were charged with child endangerment.”
“What about the other charges you put on me?”
“That was just the DA,” Agent Lara would respond.
“That was the only question I asked him,” she explained.
In February of 2016, Paul Fullerton made a mistake. He knew that YONET and other investigators were attempting to bust him for marijuana sales, but when an undercover agent came to him with a sob story about his wife dying of cancer, he bought it and ended up “selling” him a small quantity of cannabis.
During the sentencing hearing, Defense Attorney Joseph Tully, who represented the couple, explained: “(Mr. Fullerton) is a really good family man and when the deal was offered that he would accept a misdemeanor offer where he wouldn’t do any jail time and his wife would be done (with) everything and walk away, that was a really big consideration.”
Mr. Fullerton, he explained, pleaded to “giving cannabis to an undercover cop, who had been in (his business) and given him a sob story about his wife having cancer. He didn’t check for a medical card.
“He did give out pretty small amounts of cannabis on two occasions to an undercover officer without first checking his card,” he explained. The first time he gave it out, and the second time, he accepted a small amount of money “because the man was insistent. He put it right in a boot he collects for charity all year long,” Mr. Tully explained. “He really tried to tell the guy not to worry about it. The crime would be in giving it away – it’s just as much of a crime in giving it away as selling it.”
Many believe that the actions by law enforcement were entrapment.
“They pulled on his heart strings,” Mr. Tully said. “Because of the nature of the shop, he suspects that they had had multiple undercover people come in there, lots of times. The thing that actually got through was someone coming in and talking about a sick wife kind of tugging on his heart strings.”
YONET agents raided his business and his home on February 29, 2016, and Mr. Fullerton was arrested on multiple felonies including possession of marijuana for sale, a weapons charge and a child endangerment charge that resulted in the very temporary removal of the daughter of Mr. Fullerton and Maricel, who had similar charges placed on her.
Mr. Fullerton to this day maintains it was a set-up, that he didn’t illegally sell marijuana, that he kept his weapons safely locked up and away from his young daughter, and that none of the product was accessible to the child. Nevertheless, YONET would arrest not only Mr. Fullerton, but also his wife, who claims she had absolutely nothing to do with the cannabis.
In December, Mr. Fullerton agreed to take a misdemeanor plea. It meant that the charges against his wife disappeared. He would have a 90-day jail sentence, which he is serving out of custody but on an ankle monitor, and three years of probation.
Mr. Tully said, “I felt that the charges were overblown.” He said, “They charged his wife with things she had nothing to do with.
“They charged them both with felony child endangerment and used that to take their child away with them for (a) time,” he said.
The case was questionable. One reason for the child endangerment charge, Maricel Fullerton explained, was they said that the marijuana was accessible to the child. “That door was locked,” she explained. “They had to kick it in.”
She said, “They were asking for a key to that room and I said, I don’t have a key. Where Paul kept his marijuana.”
Agent Lara also testified that the gun safes were not locked and were open. They said that the daughter stated that there were guns all throughout the house. “It was just a total lie,” she said.
She said, “We asked our daughter if she said that. She said, no. Did you ever see guns around the house? She said no.”
During the hearing, Maricel Fullerton only asked her sole question and then they took a break. During the break she would confront Agent Lara. At this point, Ms. Fullerton was crying. He got up and handed her a tissue box.
She finally said something to him, “I don’t mean to be disrespectful…” He finally looked up for a second. “You know what, how do you sleep at night knowing that you’re ruining innocent people’s lives?
“He was quiet, just quiet, looking down,” she said. “I said, you don’t know what it did to my head.”
Maricel Fullerton told the Vanguard, “To me, I just shouldn’t be there. I even said, I don’t know why I’m here. Because my case was dismissed.” She said that even before they recorded the conversation they said, “We know that you’re innocent.”
She told the judge, “That’s why I’m wondering why they took me.”
The administrative law judge has 30 days to consider her petition.
—David M. Greenwald reporting
***Clarification: DSS is not challenging Ms. Fullerton’s license, they are psuhing for her to have a lifetime ban from DSS facilities.