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HMG-CN Publisher Fires Back After Written Threats From Commerce Mayor Pro Tem Tina Baca Del Rio

 


 

Staff Report

Commerce Community News Publisher Brian Hews, President of Hews Media Group-Community News, fired a letter off to Commerce City Attorney Eduardo Olivo demanding an investigation into Commerce Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio’s violations of the city’s Vehicle Use Policy (VUP) as documented in this newspaper on two different occasions.

Hews also sent a copy to Los Angeles District Attorney Jackie Lacey and the D.A.’s Public Integrity Division.

Hews published two articles in print and online in consecutive weeks starting April 3.

The April 3 article outlined how Baca Del Rio was taking the $500 car allowance while using the city car, backed up by a picture of the city car in her driveway.

 

Baca car in driveway

City car in Baca Del Rio’s driveway Dec. 11 2014.

 

 

The April 10 article, backed up by a pubic records request, documented Baca Del Rio covering up her use of the city car by not signing the car out and back in. The time period requested was from Oct 2014 to the present.

 

 

 

Screenshot 2015-04-16 15.29.09

When informed the April 3 was to be published, Baca Del Rio sent a threatening email to Hews saying (note: it is unedited), “I have just read your email to me with false accusations of my use of the city vehicle. I am not using the city vehicle and collecting a $500 stipend. You’re statements are false, and furthermore, if you continue to write slanderous and accusatory statements about me, I will seek legal action against you. You also claim to have pictures of “the vehicle” in my driveway. Please present the pictures of proof to me with dates showing that I have used the city vehicle, and received a stipend in violation of our current car policy.

Hews sent Baca Del Rio the picture and again asked if she was receiving the $500 allowance, but she never responded to either question.

Now, a public records request received today April 16 confirmed what many sources had told HMG-CN, that Mayor pro tem Baca Del Rio has been taking the $500 car allowance while using the city car, and then trying to cover up the use of the car by not signing the vehicle out or in, a direct violation of the city’s VUP.

The public documents showed Baca Del Rio receiving $1,172.56:

  1. Council Compensation $490.21
  2. Successor Agency Stipend $150.00
  3. Deferred Compensation Contribution$25.00
  4. Auto Allowance at $507.35.

Baca Del Rio began taking the $1,172.56 amount in November 2014, well before the city car was seen in her driveway Dec. 11, 2014 in violation of the VUP.

 

Auto-allowance

 

 

 


 


 

Hews’ letter, sent via e-mail and USPS stated:

Mr. Olivo, my newspaper, the Commerce Community News, an affiliate of Hews Media Group-Community News, has published several articles documenting Commerce Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio’s illegal use of city car in violation of Commerce’ City Council Vehicle Use Policy (VUP).

Despite this, your office has failed to take action on the documented violations, misuse of public funds, and the fact she has attempted to cover up the use of the vehicle per the VUP by failing to sign the city car out and then back in.

As per attached, the Commerce City Council amended the VUP on October 21, 2014 stating that the Mayor, Mayor pro tem and councilmembers can take the $500 allowance but must use their personal car and not the city-owned car, the only exception was if an event was more that 75 miles away from the city.

The amendment to the VUP stated: The Council members will also have the alternative of accepting a vehicle reimbursement of $500 per month (net of taxes) in order to reimburse them for the required use of their personal vehicles for City business. City Council members that elect to receive such reimbursement at their discretion may also have access to a City vehicle if they are required to travel outside of the Los Angeles area, more than 75 miles from City Hall. If the Council member is required to travel 75 miles beyond City Hall and does not elect to use a City vehicle, the Councilmember shall be entitled to reimbursement for the mileage put on their personal vehicle; the total mileage shall be measured from the City Hall and shall be reimbursed at the current IRS vehicle mileage reimbursement rate beyond the 75 mile point or, for example: if the trip is a total of 200 miles round trip, then the reimbursement will be for 50 miles, discounting the first 150 miles traveled. The vehicles are not to be used for personal business.

An investigation by this newspaper found then-Mayor Baca Del Rio using the car for personal reasons while taking the $500 stipend. We have pictures of a city car in her driveway, one dated Dec 11, 2014 at 11 a.m. In addition, many residents that live near her have told this newspaper that they have seen her using the car every day and in her driveway for long periods of time.

A further investigation of her daily calendar found no events that would necessitate the use of a city car, farther than 75 miles on Dec. 11, 2014. The calendar is included in this document.

Daily-calendar

Daily calendar showing no events over 75 miles away from the city. Picture documented the city car in Baca Del Rio’s driveway Dec. 11, 2014 at 11 a.m.

 

 

In addition, a public records request showed that the Mayor pro tem never signed the car out or in on Dec 11 as per the city’s Transportation Department. The answer of the public records request from the Transportation Department is attached.”

The letter then documented Baca Del Rio’s violations of the VUP fell under the California Penal Code section 424.

“Given the above documentation, Councilwoman Baca Del Rio is in violation of California Penal Code Section 424 and 425: Misappropriation of Public Funds.

PC 424(a), sections 1 and 2 and PC 425 state:424.

(a) Each officer of this state, or of any county, city, town, or district of this state, and every other person charged with the receipt, safekeeping, transfer, or disbursement of public moneys, who either:

  1. Without authority of law, appropriates the same, or any portion thereof, to his or her own use, or to the use of another; or,
  2. Loans the same or any portion thereof; makes any profit out of, or uses the same for any purpose not authorized by law…is in violation of PC 424 and dictates a violation is punishable by imprisonment in the state prison ….and the official is disqualified from holding any office in this state.

PC 425 dictates that anyone who violates PC 424 is guilty of felony.

The Mayor pro tem misused public funds by spending the car allowance for her own uses, violating 424 section 1. She also profited by using the city car and while not paying expenses for her own car, violating 424 section 2.”

Hews’ letter to Olivo went on to say, “In the last council meeting, you proceeded to take the council into a questionable closed session to address what was basically a complaint letter from a resident slamming newly elected Councilman Hugo Argumedo, a letter that basically deserved to be read at public comment by the author and then left alone.

Many observers wondered why the closed session was initiated by you, Mr. Olivo.

Given that action against Councilman Argumedo, you are now compelled to initiate an investigation into the violations by Mayor pro tem Baca Del Rio as outlined above or your actions will be construed as prejudiced towards certain city officials.

I await your response as to the time you will initiate an investigation.”

The letter was signed by Hews with a copy sent to the L.A. County District Attorney’s office.

Hews said, “the corruption in Commerce has gone on long enough. We have a city council run by Baca Del Rio, Mayor Lilia Leon, and councilmember Ivan Altamirano, who play musical Mayor chairs, and threaten people when they feel threatened. They are also puppets for Citadel Outlet Mall owner Steve Craig. The latest maneuver by the three was to completely amend the sign ordinance to the exclusive benefit of the Citadel and Steve Craig, an amendment which now reads, ‘19.25.180 Conversion Of Citadel Digital Display Sign(S) To Off-Site Digital Sign(S)’. Coincidentally, at the same time, Craig gave $40,000 to an independent expenditure committee to oppose Hugo Argumedo and Denise Robles in the Mar. 3 election and similar money to another independent expenditure committee in support of Oralia Reballo, who won her election by 59 votes over Robles.”

Hews went on, “these people will do anything to keep control of Commerce. They rigged the recent city elections by moving polling places that had been in place for 30 years, so seniors could not vote due to travel restrictions, or had to travel long distances to vote. I don’t think there is anything they won’t try, and it is time either City Attorney Olivo or D.A. Jackie Lacey step in and stop the corruption.”

Former Councilwoman Denise Robles commented to HMG-CN, “The city administrator is well aware of the vehicle use policy violation that took place in November and December. I brought the issues to his attention as I personally saw the councilmember driving the vehicle and saw the vehicle parked at the councilmember’s home and other locations she was attending . This was after an email was issued by the city administrator stating that all 5 council members had choosen to receive the $500 per month stipend and requesting that the vehicles and keys be returned to the city.When I advised the city administrator that one Councilmember had not returned the car and was still driving it he stated that he could not do anything and that the other council members needed to take care of the issue . Maybe the DA needs to question Jorge Rifa.Good luck on obtaining any information from the city attorney, who is suppose to represent the city and its best interest – but in my opinion and that of many others – he represents those who will ensure he keeps his position in the city.”

 

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