Thomas Frank White, 73, once a famed San Francisco stockbroker and philanthropist, sits in a Puerto Vallarta jail cell, facing charges that he invited boys to a mansion there so he could have sex with them. White was arrested in Thailand in 2003 and later extradited to Mexico, and hasn't seen freedom since. Back home in San Francisco, newspaper pictures of him shirtless and surrounded by Mexican youths have become symbols of what was seen in the early 2000s as a growing international scourge of sex tourism.
White got this reputation with the help of San Francisco attorney David Replogle, 60, and his client Daniel Garcia, 26, who traveled repeatedly to Mexico to recruit underage plaintiffs willing to testify that White had sex with them.
"I want to see justice for the children of Puerto Vallarta," Replogle was quoted as saying in one of several San Francisco Chronicle stories describing the quest to bring White to justice. "I am a gay man, which makes what Tom White has done doubly offensive to me. This is not just a variation on being gay. It's wrong — ethically, morally, legally, every way."
White now faces Mexican and U.S. charges alleging that he traveled to Puerto Vallarta to have sex with boys. Replogle and his clients, including Garcia, settled for $7 million, after filing a lawsuit demanding $100 million. "But no amount of money can give back the most important thing Mr. White took from them, and that is their innocence," Replogle was quoted as saying in another Chronicle story.
Recent events, however, now throw into question Replogle's own innocence in the Thomas White affair. Replogle and Garcia recently pleaded not guilty in Palm Springs to unrelated fraud, embezzlement, and forgery charges, which, if true, could cast doubt on their credibility and raise the possibility that two alleged con men led U.S. law enforcement officials on a costly international manhunt while unfairly condemning a man to a half-decade in a Mexican jail.
As in the White case, the allegations against Replogle in Palm Springs suggest the attorney became associated with a group of young men who knew a wealthy, older homosexual man and then managed to extract money from him. Bail for Replogle and the other defendants has been set at $5 million.
Unsealed litigation documents, meanwhile, allege that Replogle may have been more mercenary than anti-sex-abuse missionary in his pursuit of White. "I think [the Palm Springs arrest] puts the allegations against [White] in a different light," said Stuart Hanlon, White's attorney. "He's always said he was set up and framed by Garcia and Replogle. Now there are allegations that they have a reputation of doing this kind of thing."
White is accused of having sex with numerous Mexican boys whom he invited into his mansion. Garcia claimed White abused him when he was a teenager.
According to statements by Garcia, a former friend of Garcia's, and a private investigator hired by White, Garcia and Replogle traveled together numerous times to Mexico to recruit additional boys as plaintiffs. Since then, questions of the financier's guilt or innocence have pivoted on whether the boys were honest victims, or mere opportunists responding to an invitation to testify their way out of poverty.
Replogle and his young Mexican clients obtained a U.S. civil settlement of $7 million based on an American sex tourism law allowing underage foreign sex abuse victims to sue in U.S. courts. White's attorneys are seeking to have the settlement nullified, based on an allegation of a frame-up. Courts have so far rejected this contention, which is currently on appeal.
Attorneys for Replogle hadn't responded to requests for comment by press time. When questioned about a federal indictment charging White with sex crimes, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office stated the agency's policy of not commenting on pending cases.
Replogle and Garcia had an apparent falling-out in 2006, during which time the younger man cast a different light on their crusade against sex tourism. In unsealed court documents filed as part of current litigation, Garcia acknowledged that Replogle recruited dozens of impoverished Mexican boys who quickly learned they could earn money by answering yes when asked if they'd had sex with a man depicted in a proffered photograph.
"The second he signed up the first kid, there were tons coming out of the woodwork smelling money," Garcia said in a June 26, 2006 statement, after he fell out with Replogle. "And from day one, David was giving these kids cash, saying here is $100, 1,000 pesos, or something. Go get something to eat. ... But it quickly escalated to where he was paying for all of their living expenses, giving them a weekly or monthly allowance, paying for medical treatment. And he has basically been supporting almost 30 of these kids over the past couple of years."
Garcia's statement was shared with SF Weekly by Patricia de Larios, a private investigator who has worked for White's defense.
Judging from numerous lawsuits among Replogle and his former clients and other former legal allies, he suffers from a less-than-stellar reputation in San Francisco legal circles.
Richard Zitrin, director of the Center for Applied Legal Ethics at the University of San Francisco, once sued Replogle for malpractice on behalf of some property owners. Zitrin came away from the case questioning his fellow attorney's principles. "He's a piece of shit, in my opinion," he said. "My field is legal ethics, so I see rotten lawyers all the time. He is pretty much down at the very, very bottom."
According to Garcia's unsealed statement, Replogle's suit against White was also pockmarked with ethical questions. In a signed declaration dated June 28, 2006, Garcia said: "I have heard the Mexican plaintiffs tell Replogle ... that if they did not pay them money, they would go to 'the other side' and withdraw their allegations against Thomas White. When this occurred, Replogle ... would give the young men more money ... Mr. Replogle has stated in front of me and before others that it does not matter if they are telling the truth; Mr. White cannot testify to defend himself because of his pending criminal charges and therefore all the plaintiffs have to do is make allegations of sexual abuse which will go to court and lead to more money for the plaintiffs and Mr. Replogle."
White doesn't merely allege that Garcia and Replogle framed him. He says his former confidant, Garcia, stole from him as well. According to a separate federal lawsuit, Garcia managed to access the older man's bank accounts and withdraw thousands of dollars while White was in a Mexican prison. White's attorneys hired a former FBI agent to document the theft and presented U.S. prosecutors with the resulting evidence. "It was a case that was handed to them in a basket," White's attorney Hanlon said. "It was a clear case of wire fraud, and it was done by Garcia." Garcia was not prosecuted for the alleged theft, Hanlon recalls: "The general attitude I picked up was they didn't care about White."
White isn't alone in alleging that Garcia stole from him. Tyson Wrensch, a Las Vegas executive with a slot machine company, enjoyed a several-year friendship with Garcia, traveling with him in Europe and hanging out with Garcia's associate, Kaushal Niroula, a dashing, English-accented 27-year-old man who claimed to be a Nepalese prince.
Wrensch recalls attending a lavish dinner with Garcia and Replogle to celebrate the pending multimillion-dollar settlement from White. Another time, he remembers being shocked when Garcia withdrew $1,500 from an ATM with what Wrensch swore was a Citibank card bearing White's name.
Two years ago, Wrensch loaned Garcia the keys to his Las Vegas home to let him stay there for a couple of days while Wrensch vacationed in South America. A week or so later, Wrensch went to an Internet cafe and found all his bank accounts had been emptied. He immediately flew home and says he found evidence proving Garcia stole his money. Wrensch has subsequently made a mission of seeking out people who've brushed up against Garcia and Niroula to warn them that there's an edge to the two men's charm. "Danny [Garcia] just has one of those innocent smiles," Wrensch said. "He has a big mouth and teeth, with dimples. He's well spoken when he needs to be. ... He's a chameleon. He can fit into any situation. He met my grandma. My grandma will still say to this day, 'How is that sweet little Danny?'"
Garcia was being transported last Friday from Sacramento County Jail to Palm Springs and was unavailable for comment.
Garcia and Replogle's 2006 falling-out didn't last, according to people who knew Garcia. And last week, prosecutors in Riverside County released a felony complaint and arrest warrant declaration alleging that the two were involved in a scheme to steal money and property from Cliff Lambert, a 74-year-old Palm Springs resident who disappeared in early December. People who knew Garcia recall he had made friends with Lambert, traveling to visit him on occasion.
According to the plan described in the police documents, Garcia and Replogle, along with Niroula and an associate of Niroula's named Russell Manning, allegedly began taking steps to liquidate Lambert's assets soon after the older man disappeared. Wrensch and two other friends of Garcia (who spoke on condition that their names not be used) said Niroula and Garcia had been friends for several years.
According to a Palm Springs search warrant statement, Replogle posed as Lambert before a San Francisco notary to obtain official documents that gave Niroula power of attorney on Lambert's behalf. Niroula then took the documents to Mark Evans, a Saratoga real estate professional who knew Niroula personally, and asked him to sell Lambert's house, which was valued at around $1 million. "The power of attorney didn't look quite right to me," Evans said. "We did a Google search of the principal's name, and he turned out to be missing." Evans then contacted the police.
Prior to his arrest in Palm Springs, Niroula had been charged with allegedly stealing more than $600,000 from victims in San Francisco and Marin County. After Niroula was charged in August with allegedly stealing more than $300,000 in jewelry from a friend's mother, Evans said he received a call from Replogle, described by police as Niroula's boyfriend, asking to borrow $25,000 to bail out Niroula. "He called up like he was Niroula's pal, and associated with him in some way," Evans recalls. "I told him that if Niroula didn't appear in court, we would lose that money. Replogle assured me that we could have Niroula under lock and key at his own place. That didn't seem like a good idea to me."
Somehow, Niroula made bail. And he, Garcia, and other members of an alleged con artist crew made their way to Palm Springs where Garcia had a friend: Cliff Lambert, according to acquaintances of Garcia's who spoke with SF Weekly.
By December 4, Lambert had apparently vanished. Within a couple of weeks, a handsome Castro bartender who hung out with Niroula began removing expensive artworks and other valuables from Lambert's home. A neighbor noticed and called the police. Once in custody, the bartender, Miguel Adolfo DeLeon Bustamante, turned on his friends. He fingered Replogle, Garcia, Niroula, and Manning as having concocted a scheme to take Lambert's house, loot his bank accounts, and steal his possessions, police said.
Police fear Lambert may be dead. And Thomas Frank White is still in a Puerto Vallarta jail cell.