Northern California DA steps down after decades as arson probe exposes affair with escort

It started with an arson investigation, led to an affair revelation, and finally to the resignation of a longtime Northern California prosecutor.

Carl Adams, for three decades the district attorney of Sutter County, announced Tuesday that he'll step down, just hours after his former lover accused police in an Associated Press article of overreaching when they counted him as a suspect in the lowly arson case that aroused suspicions and exposed his affair with the victim, a paid escort.

Sarah Garibay said she'd called Adams for advice and support when her house burned in July. Yuba City police said Adams' interest in the case, on top of the woeful texts sent to Garibay proclaiming jealousy of her other suitors, aroused their suspicions and prompted them last month to name him as an arson fire suspect in a search warrant affidavit.

Recounting other affairs with married men, Garibay said there are plenty of other people across California's prune country who might be angry enough to burn down her house. She never suspected, though, that a call seeking comfort and advice from Adams would put him under suspicion too.

"It baffled me," she said.

Other potential suspects include a wealthy married Sikh fruit farmer - a longtime client who is the alleged father of the woman's year-old baby - and also the woman's boyfriend at the time.

Her 70-year-old estranged husband is not.

"I've made some bad choices with men," Garibay said.

Another bad choice was an ex-boyfriend now serving a 12-year-prison term for killing a local physician in 2010 when he caught the two in the act, she said. The district attorney's office granted Garibay immunity for her testimony, which in hindsight raised eyebrows across the community.

"There was in no way an exchange of sex for favors in the first trial. It makes for good headlines and soap opera, but it's not the case," she said. "I only met him this year."

Adams, 65, seemed a pillar of the community — a Mason, Rotary Club officer and past president of the California District Attorneys Association. In a statement announcing his retirement, Adams also said he leads worship at his church and volunteers with youth organizations.

"I've made mistakes," he told the Marysville Appeal-Democrat on Tuesday.

Adams said he looks forward to spending time with family, including his wife, who retired two years ago. Adams, first elected in 1982, said in a statement that he's retiring "with mixed emotions."

The jowly grandfather with a bushy mustache had kept a low profile recently and wasn't talking to the press, though he did tell the Appeal-Democrat that he "never did anything illegal, unprofessional or unethical" in office.

The Yuba City police turned the investigation over to the California Attorney General's Office. Spokesmen for both agencies have declined to comment.

The affair was long over by the time someone set her house on fire, Garibay said, and several other suitors recently had expressed anger, including the married man she sued for child support four days before the arson. The man did not return messages.

Garibay said she met Adams last winter when she sought out the DA through Facebook. He remembered her name. "Before long, we were meeting up for coffee at Starbucks," she said.

There was a mutual attraction, she said. When the affair ended a month later, they agreed to remain friends. So when her house burned down in July, she called on Adams for support.

"What do you do at a time like that? You call a friend that might help. When your friend is the Sutter County DA, you call him," her attorney Roberto Marquez said. "She never once named Carl, and to this day she believes he should not be a suspect."

Yuba City fire officials told detectives they thought it was odd that Adams showed up at the fire scene to tell investigator Bubba Stoddard to look at the alleged father of Garibay's baby as a suspect. Then Adams followed up with an email to police, according to an affidavit.

Adams seemed to know that flammable liquids were used in the bedroom, the affidavit said, but investigators said they don't recall sharing those details. Then the investigation revealed text messages on Adams' phone in which he agonized over Garibay's lovers.

The DA told police he has an alibi: He was home with his wife and daughters that night.

Garibay said she has a sex addiction, and this public airing of her dirty laundry has been painful.

"The people judging me have never walked a mile in my shoes," she said. She paused and added remorsefully: "Had I known where this would have ended up, I would have never pursued Carl."


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