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HMG-CN Exclusive Story Prompts F.B.I. Investigation of Commerce Mayor, Mayor pro tem, & Council


By Brian Hews

Commerce Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio.

Commerce Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio.

Hews Media Group– Community News has learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has questioned Mayor Lilia Leon, Mayor pro tem Tina Baca Del Rio, Councilpersons Ivan Altamirano and Joe Aguilar and possibly City Attorney Eduardo Olivo and other high ranking officials over the dismissal and $35,000 severance given to former Commerce employee Wendell Johnson.

Sources told HMG-CN that the F.B.I. agents expect the investigation “to go very quickly.”

In July of this year, a HMG-CN investigation obtained documents that showed the City of Commerce, led by Mayor Tina Baca Del Rio, devised a secretive plan and paid a $35,000 “severance” to Johnson after he objected to the bidding and award process for the City’s multi-million dollar Washington Boulevard Project (Washington).

Councilman Ivan Altam

Councilman Ivan Altamirano

Documents also showed that Baca Del Rio and City Attorney Eduardo Olivo apparently devised the plan to give the severance to Johnson as possible hush money by hastily passing Commerce City Resolution 14-105, months after his hiring, that established entirely new rules for City severance payments.

Johnson worked for the city from March 24, 2014 to September 23, 2014, a mere six months.

But checks obtained exclusively by HMG-CN show that Johnson was shockingly paid a 4-month severance amounting to over $35,000 in January 2015.

The reason given for the release and severance was that the city, “implemented a reorganization plan and that Johnson wanted to leave his ($9,500 per month, $114,000 per year) city job after the reorganization.

Commerce Mayor Lilia Leon

Commerce Mayor Lilia Leon

Sources inside the city told HMG-CN that once Johnson, who apparently had a smoking gun that the bidding process for the Washington was rigged, told city officials of his concerns, the process to remove him as a city employee began in earnest, directed by City Attorney Eduardo Olivo.

The first step in their plan, and a document that indicates Johnson had the evidence to prove the Washington bidding process was manipulated, was to draft a Separation Agreement and General Release (Release) that read as if Johnson was ready to file a lawsuit against the city.

No one at the City would comment on HMG-CN’s question as to why, if Johnson agreed to resign because the City reorganized, did he need the Release to leave his job.

Section 2 of the Release, “released and forever discharged the City, its management and supervisory team, of all charges, claims, causes of action of every kind that [Johnson] has, or ever had, or may in the future relating in any manner to [Johnson’s] employment with the City.”

Part B, Section 2 read, “[Johnson] agrees not to start, join, or cause to be started a lawsuit or any action arising from any alleged unlawful conduct relating to his employment with the City.”

The Release was signed Nov. 8, 2014, but Johnson “resigned” from his position with the City September 23, 2014, which turns out to be a very significant date in the plan.

The second part of their plan was to hurriedly pass Resolution 14-105, “Providing For Fringe Benefits And Related Compensation For Executive Management Employees Of The City Of Commerce.”

According to former Councilwoman Denise Robles, there was no discussion of Resolution 14-105 at any City Council meeting, “it was just approved,” she said.

In the Resolution, Johnson was re-classified as an Executive Management Employee.

The Resolution was passed on September 23, 2014, the exact same day Wendell Johnson resigned from his position.

A short, seemingly out of place “Section 18,” of the Resolution, found on page 11 between the Holiday Policy and the Computer Purchase Program, conveniently provided Executive Management employees a new severance pay package, “if the position was reclassified or eliminated,” where no such severance pay existed before.

Essentially, the new Section 18 gave Johnson $35,000, where he would not have received the money prior to the passage of Resolution 14-105.

Commerce City Attorney Eduardo Olivo

Commerce City Attorney Eduardo Olivo

City Attorney Olivo did not respond to questions as to why he would let the City pass a resolution that basically provided a $35,000 severance where none was needed.

Johnson resigned September 23, 2014, presumably during normal working hours, the Resolution, passed and dated September 23, 2014, could only be passed at Council Meetings, which occur at 6 p.m. or later, so therefore Baca Del Rio, Olivo, and anyone else connected with the Release could have stopped the implementation and saved $35,000.

See entire story click here.

According to sources the F.B.I. questioned Leon, Baca Del Rio, and Altamirano on a number of issues related to Wendell Johnson and the severance he was paid.