GILROY, CA — Could a Johnnie Cochran-style playbook work for a defendant with alleged ties to a right-wing extremist group?
Depending on how the case against a Gilroy man arrested on suspicion of threatening a public official unfolds, this novel experiment could soon play out in a Santa Clara County courtroom.
A San Jose lawyer published a letter in support of Alan Viarengo suggesting as much.
Cody Salfen, who appeared in court with Viarengo last week but said he isn’t representing him, mapped out what appears to be a scorched earth legal strategy reminiscent of that which helped O.J. Simpson skirt murder charges nearly 25 years ago.
Viarengo, 55, allegedly fired off a barrage of threatening letters to Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody containing language and symbols authorities say are associated with the "boogaloo" movement, the Sheriff’s Office said.
Sheriff’s deputies found a massive weapons cache when they arrested Viarengo at his Gilroy home that included 138 firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition and explosive material.
Salfen's letter attacked the credibility of the Santa Clara Sheriff’s Office, the agency behind the investigation and arrest of the Gavilan College faculty member who authorities say sent 24 threatening letters to Cody over a five-month period.
With the Sheriff’s Office embroiled in a scandal that’s already led to five indictments including a Sheriff’s captain, the moment to undermine the law enforcement agency appears to be ripe for an attorney looking for an opening.
And if Salfen’s letter is any indication, expect whoever represents Viarengo to pounce.
“I can say that there are one or more law enforcement officers directly involved who have serious credibility issues,” Salfen wrote.
Salfen’s statement all but casts Sheriff Laurie Smith as his Mark Fuhrman, who like the disgraced LAPD detective, last month invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the face of questions from prosecutors in a criminal grand jury proceeding, San Jose Inside reports.
Smith was appearing as a witness in the grand jury probe of an alleged pay-to-play scheme involving the issuing of concealed weapons permits to campaign contributors who were part of Facebook’s security team.
“The investigation in this case was apparently spearheaded by the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office – the law enforcement agency headed by the county’s top law enforcement officer, Sheriff Laurie Smith,” Salfen wrote.
“This is the same Sheriff Laurie Smith who just recently refused to testify in a grand jury indictment into allegation of public corruption.”
An attempt to make alleged government malfeasance the center of Viarengo’s defense strategy figures to add intrigue to a case that has already made headlines in several national publications.
The case has rocked this South Bay city of just under 50,000 with deep roots in farming that’s still reeling from a mass shooting at last year’s Garlic Festival that left three dead and 17 injured.
Viarengo’s arrest coincides with a national reckoning on racial injustice that erupted in the aftermath of George Floyd’s death after a Minneapolis officer pressed his knee into his neck for over eight minutes.
The Boogaloo movement, which has been embraced by white power and anti-government groups, has sought to stoke a backlash against the protests for the purpose of instigating a civil war, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
The group has been tied to the killings of Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Sgt. Damon Gutzwiller in Ben Lomand and Federal Security Officer Dave Underwood at Oakland's Federal Building earlier this year.
Viarengo allegedly sent harassing letters with boogaloo symbols to Gutzwiller's widow and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office, according to the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office.
Viarengo is listed as an active faculty member at Gavilan College.
According to his bio on the school's website, Viarengo was the first in his family to receive a college degree when he graduated from Gavilan in 1985.
He transferred to San Jose State and got his master's degree from Cal State Hayward in 1989.
Viarengo worked in research and development at Gilroy Foods for many years and began teaching math part time at Gavilan in 2001.
In one of the last letters he wrote before his arrest, advocates for violence against the government, according to an NBC Bay Area report.
"Enable the violent to carry out their missions by revealing the home addresses of public officials and their families," Viarengo wrote, according to the report.
Viarengo also claims to have inspired attacks against at least five public officials in the letter according to the report.
"F--- all authority. Enjoy the Boogaloo!" his letter concludes, according to the report.
Viarengo was ordered to be taken back into custody in a court appearance Monday after he had posted bail on Friday, according to the report.
Salfen’s letter describes Viarengo as a "a dedicated father, husband, community activist, respected professor, and volunteer," who "respects the rule of law and the Constitution."
"Allegations are not facts,” Salfen wrote.
“Very few facts, if any, have been provided by the District Attorney's Office about the law enforcement activities in this case. But, with the little information that has been provided, at present, the only apparent attacks that have occurred are against Alan and his family."
Viarengo was convicted of sending threatening letters to police in the early 1990s while attending an Outlaw Motorcycle Gang rally in Nevada, according to the NBC Bay Area report.
His conviction was overturned after accusations of alleged infractions against the criminalist involved in the case surfaced, the report said.
The sheriff's office has been investigating threats against Cody, the county's top health officer, since June.
Cody, along with health officers throughout the country, have faced pushback that degenerated into threats after issuing county orders aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus, according to a San Jose Mercury News report. Several others have quit.
The Santa Cruz County Sheriff's Office issued a June 23 safety bulletin alerting surrounding law enforcement agencies identified Viarengo as a possible suspect, the NBC Bay Area report said.
Viarengo was under surveillance on July 29 when Santa Clara Sheriff's deputies saw him drop a letter inside a mailbox addressed to Cody disparaging her for her handling of the coronavirus crisis according to the report.
Anyone with information about this case is asked to contact the Santa Clara County Sheriff’s Office at (408) 808-4500 or the Sheriff’s Office Investigative Services anonymous tip line at (408) 808-4431.