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By Brian Hews and Randy Economy
In an exclusive interview, Michael Franchek, the owner of EccoGreen Services based in San Diego County, told Hews Media Group-Community News that he has been interviewed extensively by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regarding a complex case of bid rigging and influence peddling that directly involves former Assemblyman Tom Calderon, and former Bell Mayor George Cole.
The massive federal criminal probe appears to be centered on the Calderons, the Southeast Los Angeles County political family that has been in elected to public office for the past three decades and the Central Basin Municipal Water District.
Current State Senator Ronald Calderon had his Sacramento capitol offices raided by armed FBI agents last week. During the raid, officials hauled off boxes of potential evidence including computers and flash drive and other undisclosed documents.
Former Assembly Majority Leader Charles Calderon, who also served in the California State Senate, is no longer in power but his son Ian Calderon, 27, is following in the footsteps of this father and two uncles as a Freshman Assemblyman from the 57th District.
Tom Calderon’s son Cameron Calderon is also eying his first run for public office in 2014 and has already been elected to serve as a Member of the powerful Los Angeles County Democratic Party Central Committee.
FBI officials have been tight-lipped about the scope of their probe thus far but informant Franchek told Hews Media Group-Community News (HMG-CN) that Federal officials questioned him about how Tom Calderon and George Cole have been on the receiving end of lucrative contracts doled out by several public agencies including those at Central Basic Municipal Water District (CBMWD).
CBMWD services dozens of local municipalities in Southeast Los Angeles County including the cities of Cerritos, Norwalk, Montebello, Downey, Pico Rivera, Bell, Huntington Park and several others in the area.
“Everyone who works at the CBMWD literally bows to Tom Calderon and George Cole,” Franchek said.
Franchek told HMG-CN that FBI Agents have interviewed him about specific large dollar contracts awarded by CBMWD to the Oldtimers Foundation and Water2Save, a Solana Beach company of which Tom Calderon is a Board Member. Public records obtained by HMG_CN shows Water2Save won a contract in 2009 worth over $225,000 for “a pilot landscape project.”
Cole is a former elected Director of CBMWD and has been cashing in on his political ties through the non-profit Oldtimers Foundation for at least the past two decades.
Franchek said that in addition to Cole and Tom Calderon, he has been extensively questioned by FBI agents about three additional key figures; past CBMWD elected director Rudy Montalvo, former General Manager Art Aguilar, and Sally Zuniga Flowers, a former purchasing manager with the CBMWD.
Flowers is also the current Mayor of the City of Artesia, as well as a past President of the California Contracts Cities Association.
Connecting Central Basin
“In July of 2009, I connected with Central Basin Water District,” Franchek said. At that time he said his firm dealt with both local public water agencies and that he had successfully negotiated winning contracts from the US Government. “Back then, 80% of our revenue came from local water districts, and 20% came from Federal water resource projects, and our firm had a reputation for being able to deliver solid work,” Franchek said.
He said during 2009 his company EccoGreen Services, created marketing promotional materials and sent them out to every water district in California including the Metropolitan Water District, West Basin Municipal Water District and Central Basin.
Franchek told HMG-CN that he received a call from Flowers who at the time was working for CBMWD as a Vendor Contracting Executive.
“Sally called me and said we got a major project and it sounds like something you might qualify for, so I decided to bid on it,” said Franchek.
Franchek said that it was the practice of CBMWD to only send bid projects out to three or four preselected vendors and that he later realized that “they already know who was going to get a contract well before it is ever going to be sent out for public bid.”
“The deck was totally stacked in favor of Tom Calderon and George Cole at CBMWD, no one else had a chance to apply, they control the votes on the Board of Directors and they control the people who run the CBMWD,” Franchek said.
He said that one of the projects he sought was significant in value and involved retrofitting over 2,000 toilets for customers who reside and own businesses in the City of Maywood.
“It was put to me (from Flowers) that city officials in Maywood did not have the expertise needed to complete the project so they contacted CBMWD to do it for them,” Franchek said.
“My firm was without doubt one of the most qualified to win that project, there is no question about it,” he said. “We have done this same type of retrofitting for other water agencies and districts up and down California for years.”
Franchek said that Flower’s portrayed herself as objective during the bidding process. “She was coaching us, and supporting our company during that bid. I don’t have an ax to grind with Sally Flowers, I really don’t, she was following up with great qualifying questions,” Franchek said.
In August of 2009 he said he received a call from Flowers saying that there were concerns from the Board that his San Diego based firm was not a local firm, who did not have any local ties.
Franchek confirmed that it was Director Rudy Montalvo who voiced the biggest concern that his company was not local.
Franchek said that he reached out to Flowers and other officials at both CBMWD and at the City of Maywood and demanded that both agencies provide a list of local qualified sub-contractors to whom he could specifically hire to install the specially made toilets.
Then one month later, Franchek said “Sally called me and said, hey, we got this local firm that is connected to the CBMWD Board, and would you be willing to give them a portion of the business.”
Franchek said that the local firm Flowers was urging him to be associated on the project with the Oldtimers Foundation, that was headed by Cole.
“I immediately came to the realization that this agency was not on the up-and-up and that it was chalk full of political greed and corruption from top to the bottom,” Franchek said.
Franchek also said that federal investigators did not place a gag order on him regarding his ability to speak about the matter to members of the media.
“The only thing the FBI told me was that I couldn’t reveal the names of the agents who conducted the interviews with me,” he said.
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