Sam Clauder was gaining momentum in 2009 as a mover and shaker in San Bernardino County politics, aligning himself with the Democratic Central Committee and landing a job as an aide to Rep. Joe Baca.

Then, a child pornography rap in March of that year ended it all.

Based on allegations made by Clauder's wife and son and pornographic images found on Clauder's personal computer, the District Attorney's Office charged Clauder with felony possession of child pornography.

Stories appeared in newspapers. Clauder's career in politics was over and his reputation ruined.

From the beginning, Clauder maintained his innocence, saying the allegations were trumped up by his estranged wife and estranged son so his wife could gain leverage in a pending divorce case.

Clauder spent 50 days in jail and has spent roughly $40,000 over the last three years trying to clear his name. He paid $20,000 to El Segundo-based Elluma Discovery, a computer forensics company that examined Clauder's computer hard drive and prepared an information-dense 6-page report that helped vindicate Clauder of his criminal charge.

On Sept. 28, after more than three years of legal battle, Clauder was vindicated. San Bernardino County Deputy District Attorney Maryanne Choi, presented with the new evidence from Elluma Discovery and additional witness statements, requested the case be dismissed "in the interest of justice." Judge Glenn Yabuno granted the request.

Choi did not respond to a request for an interview.


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District Attorney spokesman Christopher Lee said in an e-mail that there was insufficient evidence to prove Clauder committed the alleged crime.

Forensic report

Clauder said he retained the services of Elluma Discovery in July. It took roughly a month for computer forensics expert Sheryl Katz to examine the same computer hard drive the sheriff's High Tech Crime Detail examined and produce her report, which revealed:

  • No child porn had been downloaded from any of the newsgroup accounts on Clauder's computer alleged to have been the source of child porn.

  • The most likely source for several pornographic images found on the computer was from peer to peer networking software used on the account of Clauder's son, Trey Stancher.

  • A timeline of computer use showed Clauder's computer had nearly 30,000 system events, with daily activity, between May 1 and July 7, 2008, when Clauder had not been residing at the house.

  • Included in hidden folders in Trey Stancher's account were data for the peer to peer file sharing programs Limewire, Shareaza and Frostwire, portable versions of which can be installed on a thumb drive and plugged into the computer for use. Peer to peer file transfer, Katz said, is the most commonly used method for sharing child porn.

  • Katz determined there were two user identities created in the Outlook Express e-mail account on Clauder's computer, one being "Sam Clauder" and the other "Voyeur Extraordinaire." Sheriff's investigators, Katz said, completely overlooked the "Voyeur Extraordinaire" identity, which was accessed 19 times between April 17 and July 6, 2008, when Clauder was not residing at the home.

  • Stancher's account had a copy of a peer to peer networking tool called "Gnutella Turbo Express" that was uninstalled on July 5, 2008 - two days before sheriff's detectives seized the computer.

  • Clauder's account did not require a password for access, which goes against what Clauder's wife, Lana Clauder, and Stancher told detectives, Katz said. Furthermore, Stancher was listed as the computer administrator at the time the computer was seized by investigators, and could change or remove account passwords at will.

    Lana Clauder and Stancher told authorities that Sam Clauder's access to his computer ended when he moved out of the home on April 16, 2008, and that he didn't have a key to the house, according to Katz's report.

    Lana Clauder and her son also told investigators they had minimal use of the computer after Sam Clauder moved out, but the plethora of evidence showing extensive and daily use of the computer proved otherwise, said Clauder's attorney, Rajan Maline.

    "It appears (Clauder's) son was accessing these images and manipulating them, and even deleted some of them prior to the computer being seized," Maline said. "We know that because we found the images."

    When asked how such evidence could have gotten overlooked or if investigators and Choi exercised proper due diligence, Lee declined to comment.

    "As far as discussing the specific evidence or forensic analysis of this case, or any case for that matter, we have an ethical obligation not to discuss these matters," Lee said.

    Maline said investigators typically don't investigate how or why such content is on computers.

    "It puts the techniques of law enforcement into question," Maline said.

    Reached by telephone, Clauder's estranged wife, who now goes by her maiden name of Pittman, denied fabricating the allegations against her husband. She said she merely reported what her son said he had found on his father's computer.

    "If Mr. Clauder didn't do it then I'm glad he wasn't prosecuted and the case was dismissed," Pittman said.

    When asked if she felt her son could have planted the evidence, she said she didn't know.

    "I can't comment on my son," Pittman said.

    Stancher denies having done any such thing, and said he never used his father's computer for anything more than writing papers for school.

    He is adamant that his father's account was password protected, despite findings by both Katz and sheriff's investigators that proved otherwise.

    "It doesn't make any sense to me," said Stancher, 28, who said he changed his name from Samuel Clauder III on Christmas Eve 2009 to sever ties to his father's legacy.

    When pressed with questions on Katz's findings, Stancher declined to answer in detail, saying it would require him to go into details about his father he didn't want to.

    "I feel I'm risking the safety of me and my mother. My father is a vindictive and dangerous man," Stancher said. "I don't want to talk about those things."

    For Clauder, he's not sure where the road will take him now. He says he's pondering civil lawsuits against the county and his wife.

    He doubts he will ever be able to have a career in politics due to the controversy that has followed him over the years.

    "Where do I go to get my life back?" Clauder said.


    Reach Joe via email, call him at 909-386-3874, or find him on Twitter @SBCountyNow.