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Law Firm Submits Questionable Billing in Central Basin Water Investigation of Former GM Tony Perez

Tafoya and Garcia

(l-r) Robert Tafoya and David Garcia. The law firm has billed over $91,000 in only 34 days for Central Basin’s Investigation of former GM Tony Perez.

 

By Brian Hews

A Hews Media Group-Community News investigation has, according to documents obtained from a public records request, revealed that the Los Angeles law firm of Tafoya and Garcia has billed Central Basin Municipal Water District (CB) over $91,000 in fees related to the investigation into alleged violations by former CB General Manager Tony Perez.

Massive billings were also submitted by private investigators working with the law firm on the Perez case. Total amount of the investigator billings has reached $36,000.

All billings have been generated in only 34 days.

The investigation is in “anticipation” of Perez suing CB for wrongful termination, a highly unusual move. Investigations and discovery usually occur after a lawsuit is filed, not before.

Perez was unceremoniously fired from his CB post in October 2014, with 3.5 years left on his contract. Immediately after his termination, CB Director Leticia Vasquez handed Perez over 100 alleged violations committed by him since April 2013.

A source close to Perez  at the time said, “if Director Vasquez had violations dating back to April 2013, why did she not bring them up then?”

At the next board meeting, CB inexplicably hired Tafoya and Garcia to investigate Perez and immediately gave the firm a $20,000 retainer.

Inexplicable given the fact that months earlier, Tafoya and Garcia applied to become CB’s General Counsel, but was removed from consideration after the first round of interviews.

The vote was 3-2, with CB President Robert “Bob” Apodaca, Directors James Roybal and Vasquez voting yes. Directors Arturo “Art” Chacon and Phil Hawkins, vehemently opposed the hiring, voted no.

It was a well-know fact that Tafoya and Garcia were active supporters of Director Vasquez, giving her $1,500 for her 2012 CB campaign.

A review of the billing documents show that “DAG,” presumably David A. Garcia, and an attorney with the initials “ASA,” exclusively worked on the investigation.

The Tafoya and Garcia invoice submitted to CB contained the name “Aisha Adama.”

HMG-CN placed three calls into Tafoya and Garcia asking for Aisha Adama and three different employees, one identifying herself as “Mildred” said that, “there is no Ms. Adama that works here, I have never heard that name.”

Several sources at CB, who did not want to be identified, told HMG-CN that they have never talked to nor heard of an Aisha Adama.

A search on the California State Bar website, www.members.calbar.ca.gov, which lists all attorneys active or retired and licensed to practice law in California, reveals that Aisha Adama does not exist.

But, using the option “include similarly sounding names” on the website produced Aisha Adam a licensed attorney in Whittier.

When contacted by HMG-CN, Ms. Adam confirmed she had worked for Tafoya and Garcia, but would not elaborate further and would not confirm she had done any work on the Perez case.

Billing Documents

According to the billings, both attorneys earned a hefty $350 per hour.

October billings for Garcia totaled $10,785, while billings for “Adama” totaled $9,240.

November billings showed that in only 8 days of work, Garcia racked up $21,315 in fees and “Adama” totaled $13,510. That is 60.9 and 38.6 hours, respectively.

Included in the billings was $12,635 for 36 hours of work on Saturday Nov.1 and Sunday Nov. 2.

“Adama” worked 21.5 hours Nov. 1 and 2, charging $7,525 in fees.

 

See billing documents, click here.

 

Questionable Investigator Billings

Equally as disturbing are the billings from two investigators and an obscure investigation company assisting Tafoya and Garcia with the Perez case.

They include Michael Preece Investigations-Michael Preece; Art Preece-AP Investigations, and AP Investigations.

An internet search reveals scant data on either Michael or Art Preece, or AP Investigations, and no websites could be found.

Michael Preece is a licensed investigator registered with the California Dept. of Consumer Affairs Bureau of Security and Investigative Services License # 24710; Art Preece is not licensed, and is a retired Huntington Beach Police Officer.

All submit their invoices to Tafoya and Garcia. The law firm then adds the amount to their invoices and submits to CB. Michael and Art Preece earn $90 and $60 per hour, respectively.

All invoices from the investigators were surprisingly plain, containing only names and billing totals, absent was any company or website address, phone, or email.

First billing period

HMG-CN was told that when the investigation started, CB had 19 employees on payroll that worked the typical 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Yet invoices showed hourly billings well past 5 p.m., with investigators often not leaving CB offices until 11 p.m.

As of Nov. 10, total hours billed were at an astonishing 434.5 hours in only 34 days, averaging 12.77 hours per day.

The first billing period was from Oct. 2 to Wed. Oct 8, five working days.

Art Preece billed 55.5 hours and Michael Preece billed 79.5 hours for a total of $3,905 and $7,410 respectively.

Art Preece’s invoice, which was missing an invoice number, indicated he was at CB until at least 10 p.m. working an average of 10 hours per day.

Michael Preece’s invoices indicated he was at CB until at least 11 p.m. working an average of 16 hours per day. He also worked 12.5 hours on the weekend, Oct. 4 and 5, and charged for 130 miles.

Of interest is the fact that the IRS mileage reimbursement rate is .56 per mile. Every invoice submitted by the investigators charged .70 per mile. That equates to a 25% mark-up on the IRS reimbursement rate passed on directly to CB ratepayers.

Second billing period-Oct. 9-15

Art Preece was conspicuously missing from the billings during the week but an invoice from “AP Investigations” was submitted.

No investigator was named for payment on the AP Investigations invoice and once again it did not have an invoice number. The invoice charged 42.5 hours for a total of $2,708 including mileage reimbursement.

Michael Preece billed 46.5 hours for a total of $4,349.50.

Both investigators again reported working 9 hours on Sat, the 11th and 3 hours on Sun. the 12th.

Third billing period-Oct. 16-22

Only Michael Preece worked that week, totaling 50 hours or $4,727.50. He again worked 8.5 hours over the weekend and charged for 30 miles.

Fourth billing period-Oct. 23-29

Michael Preece worked 58.5 hours for a total of $5,405. He reported working 14 hours over the weekend.

Art Preece worked 20 hours, totaling $1,200. The invoice, once again, did not have an invoice number.

Fifth billing period-Oct. 30-Nov. 5

Michael Preece worked 70 hours, billing $6,485. He also worked 26 hours over the weekend, reporting that he worked until 11 p.m. Sun. Nov. 2.

Art Preece worked  8 hours, totaling $480.

All tolled, Michael Preece worked all 34 days, earning $27,405. He billed for a total of 304.5 hours, averaging nearly 9 hours per day, including weekends.

Art Preece and AP Investigations earned $7,800.

In addition, upon closer inspection of  the Michael Preece invoices, there is a conflict of invoice numbers. Preece invoiced on Oct. 31, invoice number 100214. Another invoice dated four days earlier, Oct. 27, was numbered 100914. Invoicing systems always use ascending numbers, so the Oct. 27 invoice number should have been lower than the Oct. 31 invoice number, meaning one or both invoices was altered.

 

See billing documents, click here.

 

CB Director Art Chacon told HMG-CN, “there is absolutely no justification for paying Tafoya & Garcia and this investigation a single dime to handle a situation that doesn’t exist at this point. If and when Tony Perez decides to sue Central Basin for what everyone sees as an obvious case of wrongful termination, then the matter should be referred to insurance to be evaluated. Money spent now is nothing more than a gift of public funds and something the District Attorney should be investigating.”

Sources at CB have told HMG-CN that Tafoya and Garcia recently asked for an additional $100,000 for the investigation.

When told of the law firm billings, Los Angeles County Supervisor Don Knabe told HMG-CN, “If further investigation supports this story, it’s the same old stuff, filling the pockets of friends! I am sure that the State Audit will reflect that as well. If their case was as strong as they said, they wouldn’t need $200,000 of legal fees!”

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