Local pot advocate slammed with lawsuit following claims of blackmail

Matthew Martin, Treasurer of Kern County Young Republicans, filed a lawsuit against local pot advocate TJ Esposito and former city councilman Mark Salvaggio. (KBAK/KBFX photo)

There is some political drama in Bakersfield after a well-known GOP supporter filed a lawsuit against a local pot advocate and a former city councilmember.

Matthew Martin, the treasurer of Kern County Young Republicans and chief of staff at Western Pacific Research Inc., claims his "private medical records" were illegally obtained, leaked and used as blackmail.

It appears the record in question is a medical marijuana card.

Martin alleges it was illegally spread around and used as blackmail by local marijuana supporter TJ Esposito.

Former city councilman Mark Salvaggio is also being sued. He is accused of illegally disseminating it to "third parties who have no legal or legitimate interest in the information," further invading "Martin's rights to privacy."

The lawsuit is heavily linked to the debate over commercial cannabis in Kern County and the city of Bakersfield.

Martin's complaint states Esposito sent him an email saying he had the document. He claims Esposito "made threats and demands," insinuating he should "attempt to influence the clients of his employer and attempt to influence public votes and public policy" in favor of commercial cannabis.

The court document states, "Even though Esposito claimed he would keep the protected health information confidential in his possession and custody-- the Esposito email was sent to Defendant Salvaggio through what appears to be an email blind carbon copy (bcc) or other digital means."

Esposito is being represented by attorneys Jeffrey Wise and Gabe Godinez.

"It's a document relating to medical marijuana use and Mr. Martin," Wise said.

Wise said of the claims, "We don't think there is merit to this."

He said, "Our counter to that and Mr. Esposito's position is he came by it (medical document) lawfully, that the document was found in somebody's vehicle, and the person who found it turned it over to Mr. Esposito."

Wise and Esposito confirm an email was sent but deny the extortion claims.

"It was simply an expression by Mr. Esposito that, 'I came across this document, this is how I obtained it, this is what I said, I believe there is some hypocrisy on your part, Mr. Martin. If you want it back, I'd be more than happy to give it to you if you meet me in person,'" Wise said.

Esposito claims since Martin is a "public figure" the information about the medical document is "an issue of public concern."

"It is our impression this is being done to essentially stop Mr. Esposito from disseminating information he's come by. It's essentially being used as an effort to gag his ability to exercise his First Amendment rights," Wise said.

Martin and his attorney Doug Gosling disagree, stating in court documents Esposito took "unlawful actions" to "extort" Martin, causing him "humiliation, embarrassment, mental anguish, and suffering."

Eyewitness News reached out to Martin and Gosling numerous times. Both were unavailable for comment.

As of Wednesday, Eyewitness News has not heard back from Salvaggio for comment.

Due to pending litigation, Esposito and his attorneys would not release the email that was sent.

Tuesday, Wise said Gosling asked the court to issue an order stopping Esposito and Salvaggio from releasing Martin's private medical information to anyone else.

The judge declined, as he was not provided with all of the documents to back-up the claim.

That decision was postponed to Dec. 1.

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