CALDERON GUILTY PLEAS HIGHLIGHT LOS ANGELES DISTRICT ATTORNEY’S FAILURES
By HMG-CN Publisher Brian Hews
The news that Ron and Tom Calderon, former legislators charged with corruption by the U.S. Attorney, had recently accepted plea deals and reduced prison sentences, although commendable, does nothing to stop the ongoing culture of corruption and dysfunction at the Central Basin Municipal Water District (CB) which has been fostered by the L.A. District Attorney’s failure to act.
HMG-CN has been reporting for years on the dysfunction, poor decisions, and criminal behavior that exists at CB. The Calderons, who for years helped steer government contracts to their friends using CB as their personal ATM machine, may be gone from the District, but their legacy of corruption remains.
HMG-CN has exclusively and repeatedly reported the offenses of the Calderon’s chief surrogate, CB Board President Bob Apodaca, including an Op-Ed in June 2015 entitled “Central Basin and The Cost of Inaction by the F.B.I. and U.S. Attorney.” The Op-Ed, documented several of the illegal actions that should disqualify Mr. Apodaca from public office, and argued that failure of law enforcement to take action was costing CB ratepayers millions of dollars.
To review Mr. Apodaca’s recent instances of ineptitude:
- In January 2013, Apodaca votes to fire Interim-General Manager Chuck Fuentes with only 60-days and $20,000 remaining on Fuentes’ contract. Fuentes files a wrongful termination claim, which the District’s insurance carrier ACWA-JPIA settles for $50,000. Apodaca’s ally, Director Jim Roybal, subsequently violates the confidentiality clause of the settlement agreement by leaking details of the settlement to the Whittier Daily News. Fuentes files another lawsuit for breach of contract and defamation, which settles for an additional $25,000.
- In January 2013, Apodaca votes to fire Assistant General Manager Ron Beilke after Beilke had been employed at the District for less than 30-days. Beilke and Chuck Fuentes were investigating questionable payments made to favored contractor Pacifica Services Inc. (PSI) prior to their terminations. PSI President Ernie Camacho is the first cousin of Apodaca’s common-law wife, Caroline Medrano, and has contributed tens of thousands to Apodaca’s election campaigns. In exchange, Apodaca voted to approve seven no-bid contracts and contract amendments to PSI totaling over $5-million, despite the clear conflict of interest. Beilke has since filed a lawsuit against the District for wrongful termination and defamation which is ongoing.
- In June 2013, a former contractor, Ms. Sigrid Lopez files a $1-million claim against Apodaca and CB alleging sexual battery, wrongful termination, and harassment. The subsequent lawsuit was eventually settled in June 2014 by the District’s insurance carrier ACWA-JPIA for $670,000.
- In June 2013, the District is served with the first of several subpoenas relating to a federal investigation into corruption charges against former State Senator Ron Calderon and his brother Tom Calderon. Ron and Tom Calderon were both indicted in February 2014 on federal charges of bribery, money laundering, and fraud and recently convicted. HMG-CN exclusively reported in June 2015 that Apodaca had negotiated a plea agreement with the U.S. Attorney to plead to a lesser charge in exchange for testifying against Ron and Tom Calderon.
- In October 2013, Apodaca, along with his voting partners, Roybal and Vasquez, vote to suspend the Ethics Committee. This after the Committee ordered an investigation into improper payments to Apodaca’s common-law wife, Caroline Medrano. Ironic given the fact that Roybal was assigned at the time to the infamous LAUSD Teacher Jail and Vasquez was recalled as a Council woman from the city of Lynwood in 2007.
- In April 2014, the District’s insurance carrier, ACWA-JPIA writes a letter to CB threatening to cancel the District’s insurance for “board dysfunction”. JPIA offers to continue the District’s coverage conditional upon, among other things, “The District will assume responsibility for paying any negotiated settlement with Ms. (Sigrid) Lopez”, and if the matter fails to settle, that the District accept “…responsibility for the defense and any payments to Ms. Lopez.” A Special Meeting was scheduled to discuss a response to JPIA’s threat, but Apodaca fails to attend, along with his voting partners Roybal and Vasquez, forcing cancellation of the meeting for lack of quorum. JPIA cancels the District’s insurance coverage 60-days later.
- In June 2014, Apodaca leads effort to approve settlement of a lawsuit with Pacifica Services Inc. (PSI) for $870,000. Sources told HMG-CN that Vasquez sent a representative to Camacho’s office to negotiate a yes vote in a pay-to-play scheme.
As stated previously, PSI President Ernie Camacho is the first cousin of Apodaca’s common-law wife, Caroline Medrano, and has contributed tens of thousands to Apodaca’s election campaigns. Apodaca manages to get the votes giving PSI a windfall settlement 30-days prior to PSI employees’ scheduled depositions by CB attorneys.
- In October 2014, Apodaca votes to fire General Manager Tony Perez for cause, despite the District first providing Perez a written proposal for 12-months severance and informing Perez that he has 21-days to review the proposal. Perez subsequently files an $8.2-million wrongful termination lawsuit against the District, which results in a $700,000 settlement payment to Perez in 2016.
- In March 2015, HMG-CN reported that the California State Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee had ordered a financial audit of CB. Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe who passed an Emergency Resolution calling for the audit stated “I am pleased to hear that the California State Auditor will audit the Central Basin Municipal Water District’s operations and use of public funds. Years of mismanagement and dysfunction have threatened the agency’s ability to fulfill their capacity as a water distributor to the region.”
- In June 2015, HMG-CN asked for law enforcement to step in at CB and protect the citizens of the District from continued mismanagement and abuse. Law enforcement’s inaction has resulted in millions of dollars wasted, ineffective management of a vital resource, and the pending take-over of the utility by the State Legislature.
- In December 2015, the State Auditor completes its audit of CB, slamming the district for poor leadership, violating state law, and hiring unqualified staff. State Auditor Elaine Howle wrote “This report concludes that the district’s board of directors has failed to provide the leadership necessary for the district to effectively fulfill its responsibilities.”
Currently there are 2-bills circulating in the State Legislature calling for the re-organization of the District in response to the State Auditor’s report in an effort to reform the District and bring competent management to the organization.
While federal law enforcement has finally put the Calderons behind bars, it is a shame that repeated appeals by HMG-CN over the years to the District Attorney’s office to step in has fallen on deaf ears. Instead the DA has abdicated its responsibilities to protect the citizens of CB, and chosen to let the County Board of Supervisors, the State Legislature, and the U.S. Attorney take the lead in halting the corruption.
The Calderons are gone now but that culture has been replaced by the new generation of Bob Apodaca, and his allies Jim Roybal and Leticia Vasquez. There should be no conflict to hold these people accountable. HMG-CN asks once again that Board President Bob Apodaca, a Calderon surrogate and the chief enabler of the Calderon corruption machine at CB not be allowed to escape punishment for his criminal acts, and finally be held accountable by the District Attorney’s office.
There is a legal maxim stating, “Justice delayed is justice denied.” Stop delaying, and give the citizens of Central Basin justice.
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