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Thomas Frank White, 73, once a famed San Francisco stockbroker and philanthropist, sits in a Puerto Vallarta jail cell, facing charges that he invited boys to a mansion there so he could have sex with them. White was arrested in Thailand in 2003 and later extradited to Mexico, and hasn't seen freedom since. Back home in San Francisco, newspaper pictures of him shirtless and surrounded by Mexican youths have become symbols of what was seen in the early 2000s as a growing international scourge of sex tourism.
White got this reputation with the help of San Francisco attorney David Replogle, 60, and his client Daniel Garcia, 26, who traveled repeatedly to Mexico to recruit underage plaintiffs willing to testify that White had sex with them.
"I want to see justice for the children of Puerto Vallarta," Replogle was quoted as saying in one of several San Francisco Chronicle stories describing the quest to bring White to justice. "I am a gay man, which makes what Tom White has done doubly offensive to me. This is not just a variation on being gay. It's wrong — ethically, morally, legally, every way."
White now faces Mexican and U.S. charges alleging that he traveled to Puerto Vallarta to have sex with boys. Replogle and his clients, including Garcia, settled for $7 million, after filing a lawsuit demanding $100 million. "But no amount of money can give back the most important thing Mr. White took from them, and that is their innocence," Replogle was quoted as saying in another Chronicle story.
Recent events, however, now throw into question Replogle's own innocence in the Thomas White affair. Replogle and Garcia recently pleaded not guilty in Palm Springs to unrelated fraud, embezzlement, and forgery charges, which, if true, could cast doubt on their credibility and raise the possibility that two alleged con men led U.S. law enforcement officials on a costly international manhunt while unfairly condemning a man to a half-decade in a Mexican jail.
As in the White case, the allegations against Replogle in Palm Springs suggest the attorney became associated with a group of young men who knew a wealthy, older homosexual man and then managed to extract money from him. Bail for Replogle and the other defendants has been set at $5 million.
Unsealed litigation documents, meanwhile, allege that Replogle may have been more mercenary than anti-sex-abuse missionary in his pursuit of White. "I think [the Palm Springs arrest] puts the allegations against [White] in a different light," said Stuart Hanlon, White's attorney. "He's always said he was set up and framed by Garcia and Replogle. Now there are allegations that they have a reputation of doing this kind of thing."
White is accused of having sex with numerous Mexican boys whom he invited into his mansion. Garcia claimed White abused him when he was a teenager.
According to statements by Garcia, a former friend of Garcia's, and a private investigator hired by White, Garcia and Replogle traveled together numerous times to Mexico to recruit additional boys as plaintiffs. Since then, questions of the financier's guilt or innocence have pivoted on whether the boys were honest victims, or mere opportunists responding to an invitation to testify their way out of poverty.
Replogle and his young Mexican clients obtained a U.S. civil settlement of $7 million based on an American sex tourism law allowing underage foreign sex abuse victims to sue in U.S. courts. White's attorneys are seeking to have the settlement nullified, based on an allegation of a frame-up. Courts have so far rejected this contention, which is currently on appeal.
Attorneys for Replogle hadn't responded to requests for comment by press time. When questioned about a federal indictment charging White with sex crimes, a spokesman for the U.S. Attorney's office stated the agency's policy of not commenting on pending cases.
Replogle and Garcia had an apparent falling-out in 2006, during which time the younger man cast a different light on their crusade against sex tourism. In unsealed court documents filed as part of current litigation, Garcia acknowledged that Replogle recruited dozens of impoverished Mexican boys who quickly learned they could earn money by answering yes when asked if they'd had sex with a man depicted in a proffered photograph.
"The second he signed up the first kid, there were tons coming out of the woodwork smelling money," Garcia said in a June 26, 2006 statement, after he fell out with Replogle. "And from day one, David was giving these kids cash, saying here is $100, 1,000 pesos, or something. Go get something to eat. ... But it quickly escalated to where he was paying for all of their living expenses, giving them a weekly or monthly allowance, paying for medical treatment. And he has basically been supporting almost 30 of these kids over the past couple of years."
Garcia's statement was shared with SF Weekly by Patricia de Larios, a private investigator who has worked for White's defense.
Judging from numerous lawsuits among Replogle and his former clients and other former legal allies, he suffers from a less-than-stellar reputation in San Francisco legal circles.
Richard Zitrin, director of the Center for Applied Legal Ethics at the University of San Francisco, once sued Replogle for malpractice on behalf of some property owners. Zitrin came away from the case questioning his fellow attorney's principles. "He's a piece of shit, in my opinion," he said. "My field is legal ethics, so I see rotten lawyers all the time. He is pretty much down at the very, very bottom."