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By Brian Hews
After her recall in 2008, current Commerce Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio surprisingly won her election in 2009 with the active help of East Los Angeles political operative and Pyramid Press owner Angel Gonzales, a convicted felon who plead down to a misdemeanor on political mail fraud charges.
In exchange for the help and campaign donations, Baca Del Rio’s only way to pay Gonzales back was by leading the selection of current Commerce City Attorney Eduardo Olivo, a good friend of Gonzales whom she, and her council cronies, successfully voted in May 2009.
Just months earlier, Olivo was replaced as City Attorney in Jan 2009.
Since Olivo’s appointment, the city has been embroiled in several high profile confrontations, power struggles, backroom deals, employee releases, and recall elections, with Olivo turning a blind eye to obvious City Council corruption as published several times in HMG-CN.
The City Council, lead by Baca Del Rio, and under Olivo’s watchful eye, has also catered to Citadel Outlet Mall owner and campaign benefactor Steve Craig, whose taxes paid to the city are one-eighth that of the Commerce Casino, while threatening the Casino with more taxes, including a whopping 10% increase in the gambling tax.
In February of this year, HMG-CN reported that Olivo and Company blatantly changed a city ordinance to directly benefit Craig and his billboards outside his outlet mall, which kept Craig from paying millions in potential penalties to the City.
It was like the Wild West came to Commerce in 2009, with Olivo, now emboldened with new power, resembling a Sheriff running the city using Baca Del Rio, Lilia Leon, and Ivan Altamirano, litigation, and scare tactics to control the city.
But this is not new for Olivo; he has tried this before.
Olivo was fired from his City Attorney post in the City of Vernon in 2004.
Two years later, Olivo, disbarred attorney Cris Summers, and former Southgate treasurer and convicted felon “Big Al” Robles, allegedly hatched a scheme in an attempt to take over the cash-rich City of Vernon by registering three “candidates,” one of whom was found to be living out of his car.
Robles had tried something similar in Southgate.
Sources told HMG-CN that Olivo actually bought a building in Vernon to give the candidates an address so they could run for election.
An election battle ensued, and a judge eventually ruled that he thought there was a “scheme” to take political power in Vernon but was powerless to stop it; but the scheme did not succeed.
The judge said, “I think this was all a scheme hatched out by Eduardo Olivo, Cris Summers and Albert Robles. Basically, they saw a chance to take over this city.”
Undaunted by his setback in Vernon, Olivo then jumped to Baca Del Rio’s aid, and, using Gonzales and his convicted felon buddy, Ricardo “Ric” Mayer, managed to get Baca Del Rio elected in 2009 and re-aquire the City Attorney position he lost just five months earlier.
Fast forward to the months leading up to the 2013 election, an election that saw Baca Del Rio, Lilia Leon and newcomer Ivan Altamirano win seats on the City Council and join Joe Aguilar and political outsider Denise Robles on the dais.
Several irregularities emerged from the election including Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altamirano’s campaigns promoted by Commerce Interim Public Information Officer Jason Stinnett, with most everyone in the City and at City Hall aware Stinnett was running a political machine on the taxpayer’s dime.
When the City tried to hire a new PIO, and it was apparent it was not going to be Stinnett, AFSCME Local 36 placed “pressure” on city officials.
Olivo led the charge by placing the hiring of the new PIO in a City Council closed session meeting and away from public scrutiny.
Stinnett was eventually hired and given a $2,000 raise.
Showdown at Stevens Steakhouse – Olivo Once Again at Center of Controversy
The cronyism at City Hall got so bad that, just five months after their re-election, Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altamirano were served with recall papers.
The serving of the papers caused a heated confrontation at the iconic Stevens Steakhouse in late August 2013 with Olivo once again at the center.
The confrontation was between Denise Robles’ husband Richard and Councilman Altamirano with Olivo and Baca Del Rio present as witnesses.
Baca Del Rio, Altamirano and Olivo were at Stevens at 1:30 in the morning, with Baca Del Rio driving a city car. Richards noticed the car, went in to Stevens, and confronted the three about Baca Del Rio’s illegal use of the city car.
After a heated conversation that two other witnesses in the restaurant overheard, Olivo told the Sheriff’s that he “could not hear” what Altamirano and Robles were arguing about due to the “noise from surrounding persons,” despite being only a few feet away.
You Recall Us, We’ll Recall You
A few weeks later, Robles was “pressured” in a closed-door meeting by Baca Del Rio and Altamirano, with Olivo once again present, to stop the recall against them.
Robles told Altamirano she had nothing to do with the recall. Robles went on the record with HMG-CN saying Altamirano countered with a recall threat of his own to be filed Oct. 15, 2013.
A frustrated Robles then filed a complaint with L.A. District Attorney Jackie Lacey about the closed-door meeting pointing out that Olivo was present.
Olivo Approves Robles Recall, Cancels Similar Recall Against Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altamirano
HMG-CN investigated and was the only media outlet to report that the Robles recall “proponent” was Shawn Thomas, who lived outside of Commerce in Downey.
The fact he lived outside of Commerce would completely invalidate the Robles recall campaign.
California State Elections Code states, “all of the required proponents” of a recall must be registered voters in the city where the recall is occurring.
Since Thomas was listed as the “official proponent” of the Robles recall, and since he was not a registered voter in Commerce, officials at the Los Angeles County Registrar of Voters said the effort should be invalidated.
At the time, HMG-CN spoke to Commerce City Clerk Victoria Alexander via telephone alerting her about Thomas who said that she would be referring the matter to Olivo.
Not surprising to anyone in Commerce, Olivo did not cancel the recall campaign against Robles.
More Olivo Tricks
The Baca Del Rio, Leon, Altamirano recall was coordinated by a Commerce resident, so, unlike the Shawn Thomas fiasco, their recall could not be invalidated by anyone under the Elections Code.
The Notice of Recall against Baca Del Rio, Leon, Altamirano was published in EGP Newspapers, a newspaper Commerce had used for over 20 years to publish similar notices.
Olivo had used the paper for publishing notices since 2005.
But Olivo, up to his old tricks, inexplicably “ruled” that EGP Newspaper now did not qualify as a newspaper adjudicated (legally allowed) to run election notices.
Olivo contradicted himself to help his City Council buddies Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altamirano escape a legitimate recall effort, which should place the controversial attorney squarely in the sights of the D.A.
Olivo ruled that the notice for the Robles recall published in EGP was somehow valid.
Olivo ruled that the notice for Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altamirano recall published in the same EGP was not valid.
In a three-page letter, a perplexed Victoria Alexander, who was at the time Deputy City Clerk, said that “unfortunately” Olivo had determined that the Baca Del Rio, Leon, and Altamirano Notice of Recall published in EGP did not “satisfy the requirement” of publication.
Olivo must not have approved of the word “unfortunately” as Alexander, a 20- year employee with the city, was eventually fired.
Another apparent victim of Olivo’s wrath was Interim City Clerk Theresa Jackson, who sources told HMG-CN fought Olivo over the Robles recall cancellation and lost; and lost her job too.
With New Threat, Olivo Uses Same Old Tricks
In 2015, two new Commerce City Council members were elected, newcomer Oralia Reballo and former Council member Hugo Argumedo.
Reballo was solidly on the Baca Del Rio/Olivo team as her campaign was run by Olivo’s buddy Angel Gonzales, and she was endorsed by Baca Del Rio.
Argumedo, the top-vote getter, campaigned on implementing changes, changes that would upset Olivo’s hold on the city, so Olivo and Company used a little known law to attempt to initiate a recall against Argumedo.
During an April 21 closed session meeting, Leon, Baca Del Rio, and Councilmembers Ivan Altamirano and Oralia Rebollo voted 4-0 to direct Olivo to initiate communication with the California Attorney General (AG) regarding the initiation of a “quo warranto” matter against Argumedo
According to the AG’s website, the term “quo warranto” is Latin for “by what authority,” or “by what authority does this person hold this office?”
Quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a specific person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies.
Olivo, up to his old tricks, stands to gain huge litigation fees during the unnecessary “quo warranto” litigation, while Commerce once again loses.
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