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Politics & Policy

Mystery and lies surround San Francisco political activist’s reported death

Friends and political figures lamented the death of Richard Parina, 78, a San Francisco activist and purported war hero. But now some suspect he may be alive.

A graphic illustration of Richard Parina.
Richard Parina, a well-known San Francisco political activist and purported war hero, claimed to have raised $1.3 million for a new political committee. In January, people claiming to be his family said he died in his sleep. | Source: Illustration by Jesse Rogala: Getty Images: SFGovTV

Word of Richard Parina’s death last month sparked an outpouring of condolences from political figures and community activists in San Francisco who knew the amiable 78-year-old as a war veteran and forceful advocate for public safety.

Parina was known to rise at the crack of dawn to help feed the destitute at St. Anthony’s Dining Room. In the afternoons and evenings, he would attend public meetings, check in on court cases of interest or volunteer for local political campaigns.

He told friends he was a retired brigadier general and the recipient of an astounding 21 medals, including multiple Purple Hearts and a Silver Star. He also boasted in recent months about forming a political group called the Catholic Alumni PAC to support local candidates. Parina said he had raised some $1.3 million from affluent retirees in the city, and he was telling local power brokers he intended to share the wealth. 

But in recent days, The Standard has uncovered a series of apparent half-truths and misstatements surrounding Parina. He never formally created a political committee. His ex-wife said he never went to war or won any medals. And no records could be found verifying that Parina is dead.

The making of a ‘true hero’

On Jan. 18, word began to spread on social media that Parina had succumbed to old war injuries in his sleep. Many remembered the forceful words he delivered last summer at a Police Commission meeting, where he described how seniors like himself were being attacked on the city’s streets.

Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who got to know Parina as a campaign volunteer, eulogized him as a “true hero” at a Jan. 23 Board of Supervisors meeting.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey reads prepared remarks detailing the life and achievements of Richard Parina in a Board of Supervisors meeting on Jan. 23, 2024. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

But a check with the city’s Office of Vital Records and the Chief Medical Examiner's Office turned up no documentation for Parina’s death. A person claiming to be Parina’s widow later said in an email to The Standard that he died in Napa County and she had a “provisional death certificate,” but officials in that region said they had no record of Parina’s death and do not issue provisional death certificates.

Several people who worked with Parina on public safety issues in San Francisco now suspect that reports of his death may be a hoax.

In his volunteer work, Parina would often share tidbits about his life. He said he was a native San Franciscan who had graduated from St. Ignatius College Preparatory and the University of San Francisco. Parina described himself as the son of a prominent Italian Irish businessman who led the city Controller’s Office under former Mayor George Christopher.

Parina also billed himself as a highly decorated U.S. Army veteran, serving in both Vietnam and the Persian Gulf War. He said he survived battlefield injuries to win numerous medals before settling into a successful career in organizational management. 

In the last couple years, Parina earned the respect of fellow public safety-minded activists, many of whom had met on the campaign to recall District Attorney Chesa Boudin. A regular fixture at City Hall, Parina pressed members of the Board of Supervisors to prevent crimes against seniors, citing his missing teeth as evidence of attacks.

But records and interviews with people who know Parina found that for every detail about his life that could be corroborated, there was almost always a lie. 

It’s true that Parina’s father, who shares the same name, was a notable figure in the city who was inducted into the University of San Francisco Hall of Fame. However, St. Ignatius has no record of a Richard Parina graduating in the mid-1960s. Instead, he and his deceased brother Anthony attended Bellarmine College Preparatory in San Jose, school officials confirmed. Parina’s father also never led the Controller’s Office.

Parina claimed to be a highly decorated veteran, but the U.S. Army’s Human Resources Command office said it had no record of a Richard Parina ever serving. Parina claimed his ex-wife died from colon cancer in 2006, according to an email he sent to The Standard last year. In a phone interview Wednesday, the woman confirmed she is alive and said that Parina tore a knee ligament on a ski trip and never went to Vietnam.

Instead, he served in the ROTC during college, she said. Parina’s ex-wife also disputed details he shared about his family, his upbringing and his career achievements.

When presented with evidence of conflicting information, a person claiming to be Parina’s widow, who gave the name Joslin Clooney Parina, acknowledged that Parina had lied about his life. She also claimed that he dealt with addiction issues and Alzheimer’s.

Parina’s purported widow refused to provide documentation on his life and death after initially claiming to be in possession of a marriage license, his death certificate and records related to his time in the Army. The purported widow threatened to sue The Standard, saying “we will burn this City down if we have to.” 

The person added: “One last thing....die a slow death...please!”

A person using the name James Chan, who claimed to be a retired attorney, then sent an email to The Standard saying he was Clooney’s representative and that communications should be directed to him. A search of the State Bar of California’s website did not turn up any records for a man with that name ever practicing law.

No evidence could be found that Parina followed through with the paperwork necessary to create the Catholic Alumni PAC. Campaign records do show that he made four contributions to Dorsey’s 2022 supervisor campaign totaling $250. Parina also gave $100 to Stephen Martin-Pinto, who is challenging Supervisor Myrna Melgar in District 7 in this year’s election. 

Martin-Pinto, a firefighter and U.S. Marine Corps veteran, said that Parina had pledged some $15,000 worth of donations to his campaign for supervisor. 

“He told me he was going to get me 30 $500 checks,” Martin-Pinto said. “That was in November or December. Then he died, or is purported to have died.”

A new political player

Over coffee with a Standard reporter at the Tenderloin Philz in November 2023, Parina gestured toward his mouthful of missing teeth and said he’d been attacked twice near his home in the Lower Nob Hill neighborhood. 

The incidents inspired his foray into political activism, starting with the campaign to recall Boudin and later supporting Dorsey’s campaign for supervisor, he said. The attacks on him were also part of a story he’d told at the Police Commission in July 2023, in one of his regular appeals to city officials to crack down on crime. 

“If we don’t do something about it, it will be open season on us,” Parina told commissioners after gesturing to his hat, which read, “Vietnam Veteran.” Attendees burst into applause as Parina concluded his remarks, with one shouting, “Thank you for your service!”

Richard Parina discusses his opinion on rising attacks on seniors in San Francisco before a meeting of the Police Commission on July 19, 2023. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

During his coffee meeting with The Standard, Parina—affable and energetic, and sporting a St. Ignatius cap—talked about raising roughly $1.3 million from a group of retired friends, most of whom had graduated from Catholic schools across San Francisco and the South Bay. The group of 31 donors consisted of affluent retirees who had withdrawn from their retirement accounts to fund the committee, he said. 

According to Parina, the donor table included retired fire department and police officials, a North Beach restaurant owner, former executives at Intel and Oracle and others who met regularly for lunch at the Olympic Club and Bohemian Club. He also said he was engaged to a wealthy retired psychologist named Joslin Clooney; the two planned to marry in December and settle in her Presidio Heights home.

Two months after the coffee at Philz, on Jan. 11, Parina hosted a candidates’ forum at St. Anthony’s Dining Room that attracted more than a dozen political candidates, who pitched a small crowd of locals on their plans for the city.

A speaker addresses an audience in a meeting room with rows of chairs and wall certificates.
Richard Parina speaking at a political event at St. Anthony's in January. | Source: Courtesy Sebastian Luke

“We had a couple conversations, and he put on an event that I spoke at to raise awareness about the campaign,” said Trevor Chandler, a candidate for Mission District supervisor and Democratic County Central Committee who spoke at the Jan. 11 event. “He came off as a very gregarious personality and was interested in local politics.”

On Jan. 17, Parina attended a District 9 supervisorial debate at the Mission District bar El Rio. Parina, who posted regularly on X and Nextdoor, told a friend at the event that he no longer had time for social media, handing out a card with his direct contact information. Parina’s accounts disappeared.

The next day, an X account using the name Richie Francis, who described himself as Parina’s 70-year-old nephew, reported that Parina had died from old war injuries. Reached by text message, Parina’s estranged daughter said that she had not been in touch with her father in years but said he did not have a 70-year-old nephew named Richie.

A screenshot of a person discussing the death of their alleged uncle on Twitter.
A screenshot of Richard Parina’s alleged nephew discussing the death of his uncle on X. The political activist had told people in that he had raised $1.3 million for a new political committee. | Source: The Standard

Condolences pour in for Parina

The news of Parina’s passing rocketed around the circle of activists and political figures who knew him. Those paying their respects to Parina—who said he’d gotten sober after tangling with alcoholism—included Dorsey and Y Combinator CEO Garry Tan. 

Frank Noto, the leader of Stop Crime SF, enlisted Parina as part of his project to monitor local court rulings. “He was a volunteer,” Noto said. “He went to listen in on some court cases that we had some interest in, and that’s about it. I don’t know anything about his death. It’s quite curious.”

The morning after Parina’s death was announced, his friends received an obituary via email from the person identifying herself as his widow. In the days following, friends were told over email that she and Parina’s nephew were organizing a memorial celebration at an Embarcadero restaurant on Feb. 16. The event never happened. 

An employee for the restaurant told The Standard that the space was booked and emails show an extensive back-and-forth between the restaurant and Joslin Clooney Parina about the menu, drinks and decorations.

However, issues around payment became a source of contention for Parina’s purported family members, who referred to him in emails as “General Parina.” They backed out of the event and the restaurant was left on the hook for $250 that had already been spent on flowers.

Touched by Parina’s passing, Laurance Lee, a candidate for the Democratic County Central Committee, invited Parina’s family to an event at his home on Jan. 24. Again, the family was a no-show. 

Parina’s friends started talking. There was no obituary published online—uncommon for someone of his stature, they thought. It struck some as odd that Parina’s social media accounts had disappeared around the same time of his reported death. 

There were rumors of Parina’s landlord entering his apartment and finding him alive and of folks seeing him around town. Others were unsettled by continued promises of campaign support from Parina’s widow, who they said sounded strangely chipper in emails. 

“If your loved one has just died, it’s kind of odd,” recalled Marie Hurabiell, a community activist and former chair of the Presidio Trust Board of Directors. “She’s saying she’s going to attend this fundraiser and hand out checks to people … then nobody showed up.”

A case of stolen valor?

Public records for Parina suggest that his life was more complicated than the picture of prestige he painted to friends and associates. 

Far from the grand Presidio Heights home he was said to occupy with his new wife, voter rolls and police records show Parina lived in a ground-floor apartment at 737 Post St.—a residential tower near the edge of the Tenderloin and Lower Nob Hill neighborhoods. A search of multiple databases—LexisNexis, Spokeo and the San Francisco voter rolls—could not identify any record of a person named Joslin Clooney Parina in San Francisco.

Court records show that Richard Parina had a history of financial problems, including a federal tax lien amounting to some $250,000 in the 1980s. He later pleaded guilty to failing to file federal taxes, documents show. In 2018, Parina was served with an eviction notice from an apartment at 589 Post St. Multiple attempts to reach Parina at his home and by phone this week were unsuccessful.

In an email, Parina’s purported wife disputed The Standard’s reporting about his lack of a military record and other details about his biography. Among other claims, the email said that Parina did not use his legal name due to “death threats because of his actions during a battle while serving in Vietnam.” It blamed Parina’s court cases on identity theft and said he never followed through on political donations because his estate “is encumbered with several bequeaths that preclude donations.” 

“Rick gave many hours of volunteer work each week, I could give a list as long as my arm who will attest to Rick’s generosity, both with his time and financial donations,” the email said. The author declined to meet in person, citing “security concerns.” 

A July 1969 copy of the San Mateo Times reported that Richard Parina married Mary Catherine Moriarty. The two met at the University of San Francisco, the wedding announcement said. 

Parina’s ex-wife confirmed in an hourlong phone interview Wednesday that they met in college, but she disputed many of the claims he made in an email to The Standard late last year. She also rejected his contention that he had been married to a second woman for 14 years before her death from Covid in 2021.

In the years since his divorce in the late ’70s, details of Parina’s life are more scarce. The U.S. Army had no record of his service or any medals, which supposedly included a Silver Star certificate he emailed to friends. 

A document that claims to be a Silver Star certificate for Richard Parina.
A picture of a document Richard Parina sent to people claiming that he received a Silver Star for his heroism in Vietnam on Feb. 23, 1969. | Source: Courtesy

Anthony Anderson, a retired staff sergeant who created the website Guardian of Valor, said the certificate looked like something that could be purchased on the internet. He pointed The Standard to the Hall of Valor project, which he described as a nearly comprehensive database of people who have received the Silver Star and other military awards. Parina does not appear anywhere on the website. 

“For somebody to claim that they earned a Silver Star or a Purple Heart, it's kind of like a punch in the gut, because I know what it takes,” Anderson told The Standard. “I know what these men and women have gone through to earn these [medals], either while they're alive or posthumously.”

Chandler said he was stunned to learn about the questions surrounding Parina’s death—and that he apparently lied about his military record. “This all comes as a shock to me,” he said. “A lot of people tell you about their background, and you take them at face value.”

In an interview, Dorsey said he suspects Parina is still alive but he is not aware of any criminal wrongdoing. A police spokesperson told The Standard that the department has no records related to a death investigation or welfare check on Parina, but they would investigate if alerted to any criminal activity.

Parina’s purported widow told The Standard in an email that he “may have stolen some valor,” but he was “making amends for his past sins by doing volunteer work in the community.”

“Was he perfect? Absolutely not!” the person wrote. “He was a borderline narcissist that needed to boost his reputation for reasons that are deeply psychological. … But I never knew a kinder and more generous man.” 

Dorsey said he was “genuinely saddened” by the questions about what happened to Parina, calling him “a nice guy and a hard-working volunteer.”

He added, “I can’t figure out why someone would do this.”