Former South Lake Tahoe medical marijuana dispensary owner Gennaro "Gino" DiMatteo faces federal charges after being arrested prior to a court hearing in Placerville Friday.
As DiMatteo entered the El Dorado County Superior Court's Department 7 courtroom during a recess about 2 p.m., a District Attorney's investigator told him they had to talk, took his arm and shuffled him over to a corner of the courtroom between the audience and where arguments are heard.
He then asked DiMatteo to put his arms behind his back because he was being arrested on a federal warrant.
A statement from the El Dorado County District Attorney's Office regarding the arrest does not specify the nature of the federal charges and little information on the arrest could be located Friday.
Lauren Horwood, spokeswoman for prosecutors in the U.S. District Court, Eastern District of California, said on Friday that the federal criminal complaint against DiMatteo is sealed. She said she would likely know more on Monday, when DiMatteo is expected to have a hearing in Sacramento.
She said the federal charges against DiMatteo are related to the state charges he faced. Online El Dorado County arrest records show DiMatteo was arrested on a felony charge of manufacturing marijuana.
DiMatteo was arrested Aug. 31 and pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, possession of marijuana for sale, possession of a controlled substance and possession of ammunition by a convicted felon.
He was in court Friday for what was supposed to be a continuation of a hearing with testimony from William Wilkins, a former employer.
When the hearing started following the arrest, Deputy District Attorney James Clinchard told El Dorado County Superior Judge Douglas Phimister the prosecution was moving to dismiss the state charges against DiMatteo due to the federal arrest warrant.
Phimister allowed the dismissal, but said that the court had possession of DiMatteo's passport, something the court did not want to hold on to. Robert Woelfel, DiMatteo's criminal attorney, said there are multiple items taken as part of the August arrest he is requesting be returned to the family. He said he would take the passport when it is convenient for the court to deliver it to him.
After the hearing, Clinchard said he was unable to provide any further comment and could not talk about the federal charges.
Friday's statement says the move to dismiss the state charges was motivated by stricter penalties under federal guidelines.
"Due to the more severe penalties available under federal sentencing statutes, the District Attorney's Office moved to dismiss the state charges against DiMatteo in lieu of federal prosecution so that his criminal activities may be more appropriately dealt with in federal court," according to the statement.
The state bribery charge centered around a donation DiMatteo made to Lake Tahoe Educational Foundation, which includes South Lake Tahoe City Councilwoman Angela Swanson as a board member. DiMatteo was asking the City Council to approve a relocation of DiMatteo's dispensary, City of Angels 2, at the time of the donation. Swanson has not been arrested and has denied intentional wrongdoing.
In Friday's statement, the District Attorney's Office said, "the investigation into certain South Lake Tahoe City officials as to their dealings with DiMatteo is ongoing."
The statement includes a quote attributed to DiMatteo in which the Push Fitness owner says former City Councilman and DiMatteo attorney Ted Long's "only agenda is political," that he doesn't intend to represent DiMatteo properly and he is using the case "to advance himself and his own agenda."
Long is representing DiMatteo in a civil action against the South Lake Tahoe City Council challenging their denial of a relocation of City of Angels.
Friday's statement contends the federal charges refute Long's criticism of the District Attorney's investigation into DiMatteo.
Long has questioned prosecutors' unwillingness to release information in the case, and has contended they are pursuing DiMatteo aggressively because of his operation of the dispensary.
Long or Woelfel did not immediately return requests for comment Friday.
Audio of the DiMatteo's quote about Long is available at: http://tinyurl.com/DiMatteoInterview
- Mountain Democrat reporter Cole Mayer contributed to this story.
- Editor's note: This story was updated from a previous version at 5:21 p.m.