SF accounting teacheraccused of toilet recordings
by Seth Hemmelgarn
A former San Francisco accounting professor has been accused of video recording men and women as they used the bathroom in his Castro district home.
Through his attorney, Mark Landis, 38, pleaded not guilty Tuesday, July 29 in San Francisco Superior Court to 15 misdemeanor counts of invasion of privacy.
According to Alex Bastian, a spokesman for the district attorney's office, a man who was with friends at a November 15 social gathering at Landis's home went to grab a tissue when he used the bathroom.
He pulled up the tissue box and saw a red, blinking light coming from a camera. The man pulled out the memory card, took it home, saw that the camera had been taking pictures of people's private parts, and went to police.
Bastian said Landis was arrested Wednesday night, July 23, and he is out of custody on $100,000 bail. He did not appear in court Tuesday and couldn't be reached for comment.
All 15 alleged victims are current or former students of San Francisco State or the University of San Francisco, but they weren't all necessarily Landis's students, Bastian said. Landis had taught accounting at both universities, according to the schools' spokeswomen.
"We believe there are many more victims," Bastian said.
In court Tuesday, Thanh Ngo, Landis's attorney, indicated that Landis may have been committing crimes for more than a year.
Prosecutors are requesting a protective order to keep Landis away from the victims.
Ngo said, "The event occurred more than a year ago and there haven't been any problems."
In a phone interview afterward, Ngo said that according to the complaint, "a lot of the charges stem from April" 2013. He said he hasn't yet gone through the police report and didn't have more specific information about what had happened.
Bastian said, "This is still an open investigation," and authorities are "trying to ascertain" how long Landis's alleged actions have been going on.
Ngo and others declined to immediately provide a copy of the complaint against Landis.
Outside the courtroom Tuesday, Ngo told reporters he had "just been given discovery" in the case but he's "very disappointed" that District Attorney George Gascón "wants to try this case in the public."
The case was first reported last week by media outlets including the San Francisco Chronicle. Through the Chronicle, Gascón said if there are more victims they need to come forward.
Ngo, who referred to the charges as "incendiary," said it's "disingenuous" that Gascón is just now "reaching out for victims" even though the investigation "has been going on for almost a year." If authorities were "concerned about the victims," they should have reached out before, he said.
Ngo has requested a gag order on prosecutors, but that effort has been rejected. In court, he told Judge Lucy McCabe, "The press might jeopardize my client's right to a fair trial."
Asked after the hearing about the proposed protective order, Ngo said, "Any time" you're impinging "on a person's right to move or to talk, that's a problem." He said there have been "no issues with threats and no issues with communications." Landis doesn't know where the alleged victims live and he doesn't want to be in violation of any stay away order, Ngo said.
In court Tuesday, Assistant District Attorney Laura Carwile said, "As new victims come forward, we will be amending the complaint."
The next court date is September 9.
Not all students who commented on Landis on the Rate My Professors site were fans of the professor, but many gave him high marks.
"Definitely a keeper!!! Mark is a big nerd but a caring and cute one. He goes above and beyond to make the lecture entertaining *still in love with disco cardinalities, yo!* ..." one anonymous person wrote in April 2008. The comments on Landis have since been taken down.
In an emailed statement, USF spokeswoman Anne-Marie Devine said Landis has not taught at the school "since the end of the Fall 2013 semester when this first surfaced. He was an adjunct faculty member (hence employed semester to semester) who was not renewed for the Spring 2014 semester."
Landis had "taught as an adjunct at USF for less than two years," Devine said.
She added that school officials had done an internal investigation when the allegations against Landis "came to light" in November. "Out of respect for the parties involved, details of that investigation will remain private."
San Francisco State spokeswoman Ellen Griffin said Landis was appointed at the school in 2006 as an assistant professor and had been on leave since November. He was an associate professor when he officially resigned July 18.
"I'm not aware of his reasons for resigning," Griffin said.
Asked whether students had complained about Landis, she said she was referring questions to the district attorney's office.
According to Griffin, Landis's salary "would have been in the range of $114,000."
Apparently, despite a six-figure income, Landis wasn't able to pay his rent. William McDonagh, his landlord, filed an unlawful detainer complaint against him in April, according to court documents.
The complaint says that since November, Landis and Hoi Le had failed to pay a total of $1,210 in rent on their apartment on the 4000 block of 17th Street. The men had signed a lease on the unit in March 2010 and their monthly rent had most recently been $2,585, the records say.
A notice on the door of Landis's former apartment said that it had been restored to the landlord June 25. A peek through a window showed no furniture in the kitchen or living room.
McDonagh and Le couldn't be reached for comment.
Thom Fraleigh, 26, was sitting outside his apartment near Landis's former home last Friday, July 25. Fraleigh said a pair of handcuffs had been on Landis's door about three or four months ago and police had been outside. He'd also seen notices pile up on the door for the rent not being paid.
Farleigh, who's lived in his apartment for just over a year, didn't recognize Landis's name and said, "I don't think I've ever even seen him." He had "no idea" about parties going on at the apartment but his unit, which is across a small courtyard from Landis's is "fairly" isolated sound-wise, he said. He indicated he didn't know anything about the allegations against Landis.
Ngo, Landis's attorney, wouldn't say whether his client is still living in San Francisco. He said he doesn't know if Landis identifies as gay.
Anyone with information in the Landis case may contact the district attorney's office at (415) 553-1487.