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EXCLUSIVE: Commerce City Attorney Racking Up Huge Legal Fees, Averaging Over $47,000 Per Month



 

Commerce City Attorney Eduardo Olivo

Commerce City Attorney Eduardo Olivo.

By Brian Hews

Hews Media Group-Community News has obtained records that show current Commerce City Attorney Eddie Olivo has billed the City of Commerce nearly $2 million since 2011, averaging well over $47,000 per month in 2014 alone.

Documents were obtained via the Freedom of Information Act through public records request on the City of Commerce.

Olivo’s actual billings have been rising from a monthly average of $31,000 in 2011 to the $47,000 monthly average in 2014.

Olivo racked up $571,000 in fees in 2014, up from $378,000 in 2011. In April and May he billed the city $110,000; August and September he invoiced $106,000; and in November and December, Olivo billed the city a staggering $173,000.

The $173,000 for two months, at the $180 per hour that Olivo said was his rate, is equal to billing over 24 hours per day.

The amounts were based on when Olivo submitted the invoices to the City.

In an email response to HMG-CN Olivo wrote, “ there may be higher amounts billed in certain months because of heavy trial preparation and work in a complicated case involving the City and a few significant property transaction issues involving the [Redevelopment] Successor Agency.”

A recent decision by a California Appeals Court  bars public access to billing explanations of work done by City Attorneys such as Olivo, therefore there is no way to analyze the “significant property transaction issues” Olivo mentioned in his email to HMG-CN.

Commerce City Administrator Jorge Rifa told HMG-CN in an email, “the City’s annual budgets and expenditures for legal services, 2011 until early 2015 ($400,000 to $450,000) have generally been on track within the budget appropriations for that timeframe.”

According to online documents, Cerritos with 49,000 residents and almost 9 square miles budgeted $480,000. Commerce with 12,500 residents and 6.5 square miles budgets about the same amount.

As mentioned before, 2104 Olivo billings totaled $571,000, $121,000 over budget according to Rifa’s statement.

And it appears as if Commerce City Council’s Mayor Lelia Leon, Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio, and Council persons Ivan Altimirano and Oralia Reballo, minus newly elected Councilman Hugo Argumedo, are ready to spend more money on legal fees to retain power in the city and keep Olivo happy.

Recently, it was first reported in this newspaper that the Council voted 4-0 in a closed session to initiate a “Quo Warranto” action against Argumedo in relation to a complaint letter sent in by former Commerce candidate and bitter Argumedo rival, John Soria.

Based on the vote, City Attorney Olivo will likely earn  hefty fees during litigation, as the process is very detailed.

Quo warranto is a special form of legal action used to resolve a dispute over whether a person has the legal right to hold the public office that he or she occupies. For example, a quo warranto action may be brought to determine whether a public official satisfies a requirement that he or she resides in the district; or whether a public official is serving in two incompatible offices.

Interestingly and pertinent to Councilman Argumedo, quo warranto is not available to decide whether an official has committed misconduct in office.

One attorney told HMG-CN, “a [Soria] public letter is not a basis for a Closed Session unless Olivo believes, or wants to have people stupidly believe, the letter writer is going to sue the city. In that case, I am not sure Argumedo is conflicted since the defendant will be the city and if Argumedo is named as a defendant, which many council members are often named, the Tort Claims Act give him automatic legal defense which the others cannot strip him of and he can sit in Closed Session since he is one of the clients.”

This is not the first time Olivo has tried to influence and control a city to his advantage.

In 2006, Olivo bought a building for over $200,000 in Vernon and, working with convicted felon “Big Al” Robles from South Gate, Robles’ cousin Angel Gonzales, who was convicted of a felony in 2001 but plead down to a misdemeanor, and current Water Replenishment District Director and Carson Councilman “Lil Al” Robles, attempted to orchestrate a coup and take over the city.

Olivo and Company brought in several “candidates” to “live” in the building he bought, and set them up to run for Vernon City Council.

During the election controversy, city officials based their voter fraud case for canceling the election on their allegations that certain people — including Robles and Olivo — were behind the coup.

Olivo actually represented the challengers in the case that he and Robles brought into the city after the April election, and was blasted by Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Aurelio Munoz during the voter fraud trial.

At times during the trial, Munoz said that he thought there were “too many coincidences” to believe that people moved into Vernon for “cheap rent” and then decided to run for office.

“I think this was a scheme thought out by Eduardo Olivo, Cris Summers and Albert Robles, basically they saw a chance to take over this city,” said Munoz.

Recent history shows that Olivo will fight for, as well as ignore, issues related to any Commerce council person other than Argumedo.


HMG-CN e-mailed Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio, a staunch ally of Olivo, for comment on his large legal fees.


 


 

HMG-CN recently revealed in a two article expose that Baca Del Rio was paid $2,500 in car allowance money while still using the city-owned vehicle, a violation of the city’s Vehicle Use Policy (VUP) and a misuse of public funds which is prosecutable as a felony and up to 3 years in prison.

But Olivo did not act on the story amid the valid documentation.

The payments to Baca Del Rio were obtained through a public records request.

Baca 1

Commerce Mayor pro tem Baca Del Rio.

Prior to the first article publishing, in an angry email to HMG-CN, Baca Del Rio denied receiving the $500 car allowance and threatened to sue HMG-CN for “slander.”

Read story, click here.

The second article once again caught Baca Del Rio lying about using the city-owned car when a second public records request revealed Baca Del Rio never signed the city-owned car out or back in to the city’s Transportation Department, another violation of the VUP and misuse of public funds.

HMG-CN then sent a letter to Olivo asking him to investigate the misuse of public funds, but apparently fearing for his job, Olivo once again failed to act.

Read story click here.

It was Baca Del Rio that got Olivo hired. The aforementioned Angel Gonzales ran Baca Del Rio’s last city council campaign.

As compensation for the win, Gonzales demanded Baca Del Rio hire his good friend Olivo as the City Attorney, which she eventually did.

During that campaign, the unemployed Baca Del Rio was hit with a $26,000 fine by the Fair Political Practices Commission for violating the Political Reform Act by: 1) failing to timely file three semi-annual campaign statements, for the reporting periods from July 1, 2007 through June 30, 2008 and from October 19, 2008 through December 31, 2008, 2009; 2) failing to timely file two pre-election campaign statements, for the reporting periods of July 1, 2008 through October 18, 2008; and, 3) failing to timely file two pre-election campaign statements, for the reporting periods from January 1, 2009 through February 14, 2009.

It was alleged that Olivo got together with Citadel Outlet Mall owner Steve Craig and had a “fundraiser” to successfully pay off Baca Del Rio’s fine.

After learning and inquiring about the violations, HMG-CN found that Baca Del Rio is once again under investigation for similar violations and could face additional massive fines.

The new FPPC investigation commenced October of 2013.

Baca Del Rio was recalled from Commerce City Council on November 2008 and was subsequently reelected to the City Council in March 2009.

According to officials at the FPPC, in 2011 Baca Del Rio was slammed with seven counts of failing to file pre-election and semiannual campaign statements for her candidate controlled campaign committee Friends of Tina Baca Del Rio.

Commerce Councilwoman Oralia Reballo

Commerce Councilwoman Oralia Reballo

Another article first reported by HMG-CN showed Olivo once again ignoring Council violations, the latest one by newly elected Councilwoman Oralia Reballo.

A public records request documented Reballo receiving $1,307.41 as a City Council member and $1,409.01 as an employee of Commerce as the Recreation Leader.

Under the Attorney General’s own rules, the fact Reballo is taking a check from the city as an employee and taking a City Council check, places her in an “incompatible office” position.

Ironically, a quo warranto action could be initiated against her, and is actually a better litigation case than Argumedo’s.

Yet Leon, Baca Del Rio, Altamirano, and City Attorney Olivo chose to overlook Reballo’s obvious violation and instead initiated the action against Argumedo.

Several emails into Mayor Leon, Mayor pro tem Baca Del Rio, Councilmembers Altamirano and Reballo, went unreturned.

Councilman Argumedo did not want to comment given the impending litigation.

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