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Harassment Allegations and Power Struggles Roil Bell Gardens City Hall, City Manager ‘Placed on Medical Leave’

Saturday Feb. 16, 2019 3:20 p.m.



Hews Media Group-Community News has obtained a four-page internal memo written by Bell Gardens City Councilman Pedro Aceituno in Dec. 2018, addressed to Mayor Alejandra Cortez, the City Council, and former City attorney Arnold Alvarez-Glasman, alleging harassment, retaliation, and the fostering of a toxic work environment by Cortez, Mayor pro tem Lisseth Flores, Marco Barcena, and Jennifer Rodriguez.

Pedro Aceituno

Aceituno also alleged that the toxic work environment caused long-time City Manager Phil Wagner to take a leave of absence for medical reasons.

After the memo circulated, Mayor Cortez sent out a statement saying, “I understand many of you [at City Hall] have been privy to rumors and innuendos on social media and other media about me and certain other members of the City Council. I can assure you none of the things being said about any of us are true.”

HMG-LCCN contacted long-time City Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez who strongly denied Aceituno’s allegations. “Everyone in City Hall knows us, they know we do not do the things Aceituno claims, we do not harass people,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez then accused Aceituno of instigating the harsh environment and the departure of Wagner, “Pedro is a very destructive council member, he is solely responsible for causing the toxic work environment.”

Sources tell HMG-LCCN that Aceituno and former Councilwoman Priscilla Flores, in trying to take over the city council, managed and supported council candidates Maria Pulido, Andrew Leon and Jose Mendoza.

All three candidates lost in the November election leaving Aceituno isolated from the Mayor, Mayor pro tem and City Council.

Flores finishing her term and declined to run under allegations she actually lives in Downey and not in Bell Gardens.

Just weeks after the loss, Aceituno wrote the memo to “stir it up” and attempt to regain power.

“This is an attempt to cause havoc and bring Mario Beltran, his friend Huntington Park Mayor Jhonny Pineda, and ultimately marijuana selling and distribution into Bell Gardens,” said the source, “come on, Phil Wagner suddenly takes medical leave, then we hear that Pineda is angling for the Assistant City Manager’s job?”



Beltran is best known for passing out drunk in a Skid Row hotel in 2006, losing possession of his wallet and city badge, then telling Bell Gardens police and the LAPD that he was robbed on the street by several African-American men, one of them wielding a knife. He was later convicted of filing a false police report when it was reported he was beat up by a prostitute.

Aceituno is a controversial figure himself; in May 2017, HMG-LCCN exclusively reported that a wide-ranging investigation has been opened by the Public Integrity Division of the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office.

Nine months later, HMG-LCCN once again exclusively reported that Aceituno had resigned his position at the Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District under threat of an incompatible lawsuit filed by the District Attorney.

That resignation cost Central Basin over $240,000; sources are telling HMG-LCCN that the county has yet to reimburse the cash strapped agency for the election.

One of the Aceituno accusations that was called into question was his assertion that he did not have to move out of the “Mayor’s office” inside city hall, and “that’s the way it has been for years.”

“Not true,” said Rodriguez, “the Mayor’s office is for the Mayor, not Councilmembers, you move when a new Mayor is appointed.”

But in what was the most explosive accusation, Aceituno alleged that some of the council members forced long-time City Manager Phil Wagner to resign.

Wagner has been with the City for over twenty years and is one of the most well-respected city managers in California.

HMG-LCCN has confirmed with City officials that Wagner was recently “placed on medical leave.” The leave was also confirmed by Wagner via text messages to HMG-LCCN.

“The city manager went out on medical leave, it was Pedro’s gossip and innuendo that caused Phil to leave,” said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez continued, “he is mad he lost his power. He had tons of money to use in favor of his candidates while new leadership ran with nickels and dimes, and they still won. Our community wanted to have genuine, honest and good-hearted people represent them . Our community has chosen them and entrusted them. I’m so proud to have supported Marcos, Lisseth , and Alejandra. I thank my community for again entrusting me and having faith in the people I supported by voting for them.”

When texted for comment Aceituno simply stated, “all far from the truth.”




  • John Rodgers says:

    Pedro please take this stuff to Tijuana. Your a worthless hack who does not know his butt from a hole in the ground. Your a joke!!!!

    • Miguel says:

      Pedro, ya ves lo que le paso a Jennifer por ladrona. Un Juez la en contro culpable de robo a la Ciudad de Bell Gardens, Hora tiene que reembolsar ese dinero robado y renunciar al consejo municipal de la Ciudad de Bell Gardens. Hay mas, Lisseth Flores,la muy Sinica pidio en escrito que beneficios monetarios daria un vendedor para poder ganar un contrato de la Ciudad.. Eso se llama soborno monetario, ILEGAL. Espero que investiguen esas sobornos y los destituyan de sus posiciones..