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DIRTY WATER: Central Basin Directors Obstruct Lawsuit Against Pacifica Services

Wednesday January 15, 2014, 4:19 p.m.

By Brian Hews 

(Commerce)~In August 2013, Hews Media Group – Community News obtained exclusive documents that detailed an orchestrated collaboration between former Central Basin Municipal Water District GM Art Aguilar, former Interim GM Dave Hill, and Ernie Camacho, CEO of Pacifica Services, that showed large contracts being altered that were never approved by the Directors at CBMWD.

HMG-CN also obtained email exchanges between Hill, Camacho, his son Michael Camacho, and Pacifica Vice President Mike Sission dating back several years that outlined how Pacifica leveraged its political clout using Aguilar as a pawn in the agency outside of the public glare.

Pacifica Services and the CBMWD ended up suing each other in Los Angeles County Superior Court on allegations ranging from contract fraud to negligence.

Shortly after the initial lawsuits were filed, amid mounting evidence of wrongdoing, CBMWD amended its lawsuit against Pacifica and added Aguilar as part of the complaint.

The documents obtained and published by HMG-CN outlined how Camacho and Aguilar interfaced via company emails and weekly golf outings, displaying how the “pay to play” scheme between Aguilar, the agency, and Pacifica Services was conducted.

Now, concerns are being raised by two long-time Central Basin Board Members that three of their Board colleagues, along with Aguilar, are purposely attempting to sink their own District’s case against the politically powerful Pacifica Services.

For the second time in a span of less than three weeks at a Special Board meeting attended only by President James Roybal, Director Robert “Bob” Apodaca, and Director Leticia Vasquez, the three inexplicably fired its legal counsel, Grant Burton, who has been successfully litigating the District’s case against Pacifica.

Director Phil Hawkins, who represents the Cerritos area, stated that the “Roybal Three” have “no logical reason” to fire Burton and his firm Cohen & Burge LLP.

“Grant retired recently after more than 20 years with Metropolitan Water where he served as their in-house litigator. He has shown to be successful in proving CBMWD’s case to the court.  Grant is the best of the best and he was winning our case as evidenced by the court rejecting Pacifica’s request to throw the case out on December 30th. This shows we have a great case against Pacifica, the firing makes no sense at all, unless you look at the contributions,” Hawkins told HMG-CN in a recent interview.

HMG-CN previously reported contributions affiliated with Pacifica Services, and it’s politically influential President Ernie Camacho, to Roybal, Vasquez, and Apodaca.

Campaign reports filed with the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder’s Office in Norwalk and the California Secretary of State in Sacramento reveal that a combined $45,797 has been contributed by known Pacifica sources, which include Ernie Camacho, his brother Andy Camacho, via his restaurant El Paseo Inn, MLJ Properties, owned by Ernie’s children, and Pacifica itself.

Over the years, Apodaca has received $34,000 including $10,000 in “forgiven loans”, Vasquez $6,797 and Roybal $5,000.

In addition, during Apodaca’s November 2006 reelection, he received $20,000 in contributions from Pacifica.  Apodaca has also acknowledged publicly, amid conflict of interest claims, that his longtime live-in girlfriend Caroline Medrano is a cousin of Ernie and Andy Camacho.

Roybal also reported $6,617 in un-itemized contributions, where he does not identify the source of the funding.  Those donations are currently under official investigation by the California Political Practices Commission, who is charged with enforcement on political misdeeds in the Golden State.

Adding to concerns within the water community, both Roybal and Vasquez accepted their substantial donations from Pacifica sources well after their June 5, 2012 election dates.

In an exclusive HMG interview, Hawkins and Director Art Chacon stated that they felt that the time had come for the public to be made aware of what they describe as a possible “growing criminal conspiracy” orchestrated by Roybal, Apodaca, and Vasquez.

“I don’t think it’s a stretch to see that the ongoing actions of Board President Roybal, Vice President Apodaca, and Director Vasquez make it clear that they are working against the best interests of their own agency in favor their largest financial campaign contributor, Pacifica,” Chacon said.

When asked to comment about the firing of Burton, Director Vazquez told HMG-CN in a written statement, “our general manager has communicated to me he believes Pacifica committed fraud and Grant Burton has refused to articulate the fraud. He originally filed a lawsuit claiming fraud then changed it; also Burton was recently fined by the court.”

Sources tell HMG-CN that the fraud charges stemmed from Aguilar altering the Pacifica contracts, which would not be included in the Pacifica case.

In response Burton said, “Director Vasquez’s comments are unfortunate and uninformed.  The so-called ‘fine’ was in reality a routine mild discovery sanction when we opposed a motion to compel the early deposition of our expert witness.  The other side made the motion claiming he was a percipient witness.  Although the judge agreed with us that he is an expert, he nonetheless decided to allow the deposition and therefore granted the small sanction, which is routine for discovery motions.”

Burton also told HMG-CN, “as for everything else in Director Vasquez’s comments those were matters both discussed in closed session and/or privileged attorney-client communications and I will not comment.”

Chacon and Hawkins also see an active and well-coordinated “conspiracy” stretching back to Aguilar who retired last October.  In December, Aguilar was deposed on behalf of Pacifica and said the lawsuit against Pacifica was Hawkins and Chacon’s fault for allegedly demanding larger campaign donations from Pacifica.

Campaign filings show that Chacon received $3,000 and Hawkins’ $1,500 over a combined 20 year time span as Board Members from Pacifica Services and affiliated employees.

According to Chacon, his contributions from Pacifica were not solicited.  “They were obviously insignificant compared to the nearly $46,000 the “Roybal Three” received. Aguilar failed to mention that in his deposition. It seems obvious that the sky was the limit if you were willing to be bought. Pacifica has proven that they’ll pay whatever necessary if you give in to them, so I’m pretty sure they would have given more had I asked.”

“Aguilar’s deposition comparing $4,500 that Art and I received while failing to mention the $46,000 Apodaca, Roybal, and Vasquez squeezed from Pacifica was a joke,” stated Hawkins. “He was obviously coached by his attorney.”

The attorney representing Aguilar is Steven J. Elie, who is an elected Board Member on the Inland Empire Utilities Agency, representing Chino and Chino Hills. One of Elie’s Board colleagues is Michael Camacho, son of Ernie Camacho.  Both Elie and Michael Camacho are considered to be staunch political friends and close allies.

HMG-CN called Elie for comment; the phone calls were not returned.

Hawkins also noted that internal investigations at the District have raised serious concerns about Aguilar’s involvement in illegally amending official documents related to Pacifica’s contract.

“That would be a pretty good excuse for Aguilar to attempt to divert attention away from the $5 Million paid to Pacifica by fabricating lies about Art and I,” Hawkins said.

Central Basin filed its lawsuit against Pacifica on July 25, 2013 seeking reimbursement of $539,000, stating it mistakenly paid above Board established spending limits.

Pacifica filed their counter lawsuit shortly thereafter demanding payments of nearly $300,000 they claimed it was owed.  Sources say Pacifica has been unable to substantiate those charges with detailed invoices.

According to Director Chacon, Board President Roybal requested mediation in October 2013 that was attended by attorneys, President Roybal and himself.  No deal was reached.

Previous HMG-CN investigations confirmed that Pacifica billed over $5 million to the District bypassing the competitive bidding process.

Their lone contract was won on a competitive bid back in 2007 for fee not to exceed $600,000.

According to a former high-level employee at CBMWD who was terminated as a result of the District’s attempt to investigate Pacifica’s questionable billings by telling the newspaper: “Pacifica and its President Ernie Camacho control the “Roybal Three” and until I see those three fight to protect the District’s best interest, I’ll continue to believe that. By taking one look at Roybal and Vasquez’ campaign statements it is plain to see they won their seats on I.O.U.’s, they won with almost no money, and now they have to pay the piper.”

HMG-CN sources have acknowledged Pacifica, along with other companies, are under scrutiny by the FBI looking into past business practices at CBMWD and that one of those investigations surrounds the now well known $2.7 Million “Slush Fund.”

Pacifica was a principal player in CBMWD’s ill-advised Groundwater Management Plan, spear-headed by Aguilar, and sources claim Pacifica reaped over $750,000 in fees.

Copyright. Hews Media Group-Community Newspaper. All Rights Reserved.  Republishing Granted with proper attribution.

 

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