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HMG-CN EXCLUSIVE: Montebello Candidate Rosie Vasquez Asserted Fifth Amendment When Questioned About 2008 Trash Contract Deal

Her attorney at the time was Carson Mayor and WRD Director Albert “Little Al” Robles.

By Brian Hews

Rosie Vasquez asserted her Fifth Amendment rights when questioned about the Athens contract vote in 2008

Rosie Vasquez asserted her Fifth Amendment rights when questioned about the Athens contract vote in 2008

Hews Media Group–Community News obtained a complaint, filed on July 23, 2012 by the City of Montebello against current Montebello City Treasurer candidate Rosemary Vasquez, alleging conflict of interest violations related to the controversial Athens waste hauler contract she approved in 2008.

Others named in the complaint include recalled City Council persons Robert Urteaga and Kathy Salazar, along with City Administrator Richard Torres.

The city brought this action against Vasquez for “violating one of California’s most important conflict of interest laws.”
The complaint alleges, “Vasquez had a fiduciary duty to act in the best interests of the public when on July 23, 2008, she violated State law by voting to approve one of the largest (trash) contracts in the City’s history despite having a financial interest in it.”

But other allegations have surfaced and, when pressed for information about the new allegations at a deposition, Vasquez asserted her Fifth Amendments rights.

Started in 2007
In 2007, convicted felon Robert Urteaga ran for a seat on the Montebello City Council. Urteaga had previously initiated contact with Dennis Chiapetta the Vice-President of Arakelian Enterprises, Inc. (Athens) about the City’s exclusive residential waste contract.

In their conversation, Chiapetta told Urteaga that Athens could not secure the commercial waste contract and Urteaga thought it was a “good idea” that Athens should have that contract too.

After that meeting, Athens began contributing to Urteaga’s campaign, and Urteaga was eventually elected to the City Council.
After Urteaga’s election, City Administrator Richard Torres, without Council approval, asked Athens to submit a commercial waste contract proposal, with sources telling HMG-CN that Vazquez, Urteaga, and Salazar secretly told him to do so.

At the July 9, 2008 public hearing, an item on the agenda amended the Athens residential contract, but buried inside the report was Athen’s proposal to get both the residential and commercial contracts.

The item was approved 4-1, with Mayor Bill Molinari casting the lone no vote.

At the next meeting on July 23, 2008, following more than four hours of discussion and vocal community opposition, including the Vice-President of Athens offering the city $500,000, Vasquez hurriedly moved to approve an “amended and restated” waste hauling contract with Athens.

Urteaga seconded the motion, and the contract was approved by a 3-2 vote, with Molinari and Councilwoman Mary Anne Saucedo Rodriguez voting no.

That vote would lead to the eventual recall of Urteaga and Salazar.

Molinari Refused to Sign
As a safeguard, government code requires all city Mayors to sign off on contracts, but Mayor Molinari balked over the Athens contract for months because he wanted a host of questions answered before signing.

So the Athens contract sat unsigned in the Mayor’s mailbox.

On Monday morning, September 15, a reporter surprised the Mayor by informing him that Rosie Vasquez had issued a statement saying she had signed the Athens Contract because “the Mayor has declined to execute the agreement.”

The Athens Contract turned up back at City Hall with the signature page altered and executed.

Residents of Montebello were outraged and filed a petition to recall Urteaga and Salazar, in the meantime, Vasquez was running for City Council again.

According to FPPC filings, Athens gave Vasquez $45,000 for her campaign and also contributed over $353,000 to oppose the recall of Urteaga and Salazar.

Contrary to other election years, Athens did not donate funds to the Molinari campaign.

Vasquez lost in the regular election, Urteaga and Salazar were recalled.

The city of Montebello then filed the conflict of interest complaint in 2012.

The defendants, Vasquez, Urteaga, Salazar, and Torres filed a SLAPP lawsuit, Strategic Lawsuit against Public Participation, asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit under free speech laws.

The lower court denied the motion, so all the defendants appealed. The appellate court denied their appeal. The case now sits in front of the Supreme Court.

But, during the appellate process, Vasquez had provided a declaration saying she personally signed the Athens Contract on September 15, 2008.

However, at a deposition that took place later, and under direction from her attorney, Carson Mayor and WRD Director Albert “Little Al” Robles, Vasquez asserted her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, and refused to answer whether the signature on the declaration was hers.

Vasquez also refused to answer any questions pertaining to the Athens Contract.

When specifically asked whether she had ever violated the Conflict of Interest Government Code section 1090, Vasquez again asserted her Fifth Amendment right to remain silent.

In response to Vasquez taking the Fifth, on May 4, 2012, the attorney wrote a letter to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office requesting immunity for Vasquez so she could be compelled to testify.

To everyone’s surprise, the District Attorney’s Office refused to grant Vasquez immunity because the D.A. had an open investigation on her.

Montebello, through a process of elimination, concluded that the alteration and signing of the Athens Contract could have only occurred through collusion between Vasquez and Athens.