The taxi "thief"

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By Tim Redmond

This is front-page news in the Chronicle? A weeks-old story that an assistant to a department head was convicted of stealing a $100 necklace 15 years ago?

Let's check out the facts. The man, Tristan Bettencourt, is now the assistant to the director of the Taxi Commission. He's filling in as acting director because the commission fired director Heidi Machen in a politically motivated move June 28th.

Back in 1989, Bettencourt was a cab driver when a woman he'd taken to a movie later realized her house had been burglarized and a necklace stolen. She accused Bettencourt. An overworked public defender told Bettencourt that he could be facing six years in prison, and urged him to plead. The way Bettencourt described it to me, he was a 130-pound kid, terrified about doing hard time. He took a deal that kept him out of the violence of the California prison system.

Maybe he's telling the truth, and he's innocent. He was poorly advised by a lawyer and took a felony rap. These things happen all the time.

But what if he was actually guilty? Should anyone really care 15 years later?

There's no doubt that he's been free from legal trouble since that episode. His conviction was erased from the record because he'd fulfilled his probation. He's gone on to get a decent job and is supporting himself and contributing to society. Isn't that something we should all be proud of?

And what possible connection could a small-time burglary bust all those years ago have to do with his qualifications to work for the Taxi Commission?

There's no secret what's happening here. The big cab companies are pissed that Machen is cracking down on all their permit scams, and they're trying to smear her staff. It's disgraceful that the Chron is playing along.