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By Brian Hews
(Commerce)-Despite repeated claims at Board meetings of promoting transparency, embattled Central Basin Municipal Water District Board Director Leticia Vasquez is using her newfound -and possibly illegal – majority voting bloc status to benefit longtime personal associates including Maurice Chenier, the law office partner of her fiancé Ronald N. Wilson and another close personal associate Jasmyne Cannick.
Chenier was hired as a special attorney and Jasmyne Cannick as a media consultant by the CBMWD recently, raising ire from two elected directors of the agency.
CBMWD Director Art Chacon suspects that the two were awarded the lucrative work because of their close ties to Vasquez, telling Los Cerritos Community Newspaper in a series of interviews this past week, “The District apparently has added yet another lawyer and for some unknown reason some sort of media relations specialist, whatever that means.”
CBMWD Director Phil Hawkins was even more outspoken telling LCCN, “The very first board meeting, after she was elected, I said her whole plan was basically to hire all her (Vasquez) campaign team, friends, and relatives and put them on staff so they would be ready for her next campaign, and it is all coming true now.”
Hawkins went on to say that, “for no reason they fired our attorney, COO, and assistant manager, now its time to fill those positions with her cronies.” Hawkins represents Cerritos on the five member board and is a former member of the California State Assembly.
Chacon contends that Chenier and Cannick have no prior experience working for the District and were hired “without process” by Interim Chief Operating Officer Dave Hill at the sole request of Vasquez.
Chenier has apparently been hired to investigate possible Brown Act violations related to election of officers, LCCN has determined. Chenier has been charged to “investigate facts relating to agenda posting procedures for January 24, 2013 special meeting to analyze and render legal opinions concerning procedures.”
Chenier will be paid a minimum of $300 an hour plus expenses, he lists his office on Flower Street in Los Angeles.
An examination of Vasquez’ 2012 California Form 460 disclosure statements lists Ronald N. Wilson as a multiple contributor and his address as 3700 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 655 Los Angeles, CA 90010. Chenier’s website and Linkedin account lists the same address as Wilson’s.
“It’s obvious this is a sweetheart deal, literally for the benefit of Vasquez fiancé’s legal associate,” said Chacon. “I don’t think anyone is being fooled by the awarding of this contract to another lawyer who’s website says that he works out of the same office as her fiancé, irregardless of what they the contract states.”
As evidence of the deal, LCCN found numerous connections between Vasquez, Chenier, and Wilson.
An internal document from Central Basin clearly displays Chenier as having RSVP’d for the District’s January 7, 2012 swearing-in as an invited guest of Director Vasquez, Wilson was also in attendance.
An internet search also produced numerous links in which Chenier and Vasquez’ fiancé Wilson are described as “co-counsels.” A lawsuit filed against the City of Lynwood’s Redevelopment Agency show the Law Offices of Ronald N. Wilson & Associates with Ronald N. Wilson and Maurice L. Chenier are described as defendant and respondent for the City.
Vasquez served on the City Council in Lynwood at that time and was subsequently recalled along with her colleagues who were later convicted on political corruption charges.
Cannick was hired under similar circumstances. At last Monday’s Board meeting, staff offered a presentation of “specialized media relations services” to be provided by Cannick. Vasquez did not disclose her prior relationship with Cannick during the presentation.
LCCN has obtained a video from the January 7th swearing-in event where Cannick refers to Vasquez as her “good friend.”
LCCN also found a Wave Newspaper article dated March 14, 2012 featuring Cannick that refers to her working for various elected officials including Rep. Laura Richardson and former Lynwood Mayor Leticia Vasquez.
LCCN’s investigation into Cannick’s hiring has also revealed questionable hiring practices within the District.
The District entered into the contract with Cannick on February 1, 2013, but did not obtain signatures until the 15th. In addition almost two months passed before the contract was brought to the Board for review. Interim Chief Operating Officer Dave Hill’s contract was entered into Feb. 1, 2013 and not signed until the 21st.
According to Chacon, Chenier and Cannick’s contract were authorized only under the Interim Chief Operating Officer Dave Hill’s spending approval, not the Boards.
“Roybal, Apodaca and Vasquez are playing ignorant like they knew nothing about these contracts. They want the public to believe Hill just stumbled upon these Vasquez buddies by chance so it would seem”, stated Chacon.
One source who declined to be identified said “I have no doubt that Leticia is leveraging her majority team of Jim Roybal and Bob Apodaca to secure contracts for her supporters and friends, that’s how these type of people operate. I think South Gate Councilman Henry Gonzalez said it best when he stated that Vasquez was ‘as dirty as they come’.”
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