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Hawaiian Gardens ‘Accidentally’ Erased Video After HMG-LCCN Public Records Request

HMG-LCCN STAFF REPORT  • Friday Aug. 23, 2019 [email protected]

In June of this year, Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News published an exclusive story about Hawaiian Gardens employee and former AFSCME President Fred Licon who was accused of misusing thousands of dollars of union funds.

Council 36 Staff Representative Pete Schnaufer leveled  serious allegations under oath of financial fraud accusing Licon of a  cover-up by failing to follow administrative procedures under the Union’s International Constitution.

Schnaufer testified that a large amount of cash was withdrawn from the  union account without documentation or authorization.

“$38,000 had been appropriated out of the account by Licon without authorization or supporting documentation,” Schnaufer told the court.

The June front page article, which was based on a hearing document obtained by HMG-LCCN, was deemed “offensive” by Licon and his friends down at City Hall, which includes Mayor Myra Maravilla.

So offensive that City Hall personnel resorted to lies, petty theft, and a violation of free speech and the First Amendment in an attempt to bury the story.

Newspapers “disappear”

HMG-LCCN delivers 200 papers to Hawaiian Gardens City Hall reception area and to the Recreation Center next door to City Hall every Friday for free as a courtesy to City employees and local residents.

When the Licon story published on Friday June 14, HMG-LCCN delivered the papers at approximately 10:30 a.m. 

Later on in the day, HMG-LCCN received several calls from readers asking for the newspaper, subsequent calls into City Hall revealed that no papers could be found.

 “I asked questions,” said HMG-LCCN Publisher Brian Hews, “nobody knew anything, just that the papers were gone.”

Hews later learned that both buildings had video surveillance equipment and sent a public records request June 19 to City Clerk Lucie Columbo and City Manager Ernie Hernandez asking for the video between Friday June 14 and Tuesday June 18.

Under the Freedom of Information Act, cities are required to respond to a public records request within ten working days (June 29). If on the tenth day the City deems the request  “voluminous,” the city can request an additional fourteen days for a total of twenty-four days.

Hews did not receive a response so he followed up with two additional emails June 20 and June 21. 

Finally on June 25, Hawaiian Gardens City Clerk Lucie Columbo sent an email indicating the City received the request but was asking for “clarification of the time you are looking for.”

“This was the first indication something was afoot,” said Hews, “my first email asked for video from June 14 to June 18, I don’t know how much more specific I could get. The next indication was when City Clerk Columbo said ‘I will be out of the office until next week.’”

Columbo waited two days to send another email on June 27,  once again asking for a time frame; Hews responded one hour later restating his original request.

Finally on July 5, seventeen days after the request, Columbo sent a letter to Hews stating, “we are in receipt of you June 25 request.”

“I sent the request June 19 followed up with two emails,” said Hews, “and Columbo, who was undoubtedly under the orders of Mayor Myra Marvilla and her buddy Fred Licon, said the request started June 25?”

The two-page letter stated that the City was “diligently” working on the request, and is in process of retrieving the records, but needed more time.

“The extension is reasonable to compile and extract data,” Columbo stated in the letter, “your records will be ready July 19.”

On July 19, HMG-LCCN received a letter from David Perucci representing the City’s attorney Best, Best, and Krieger (BBK)  stating, “The city continues to review its records to determine the existence of the particular video. The city will send you an update by July 31.”

Wendy Greuel did this while she was running for Mayor of Los Angeles,” said Hews, “it took her six months to produce her records, so I said OK I will wait.”

But Hews was not expecting what was coming up next.

On July 31, another BBK attorney Megan K. Garabaldi sent a letter that verified Hawaiian Gardens city officials were either covering-up the disappearance of the newspapers and/or were grossly incompetent.

Garabaldi wrote, “after a diligent search and inquiry, the city has discovered that, due to inadvertence in its internal procedures and practices, the requested video footage is no longer available. It was automatically overwritten by the default settings of the system.” 

“As we say in the newsroom, you can’t make this stuff up,” said Hews. “They said they were going over the video for 26 days, since July 5, so nobody on the team looking at the video or anyone at the City knew at some point it would get overwritten? Why didn’t they extract a copy?”

In response to the “accidental” loss, the City indicated it would take steps to ensure “this would not happen again” while also engaging an IT expert to recover the video. 

“We will keep you apprised as we attempt to recover the video,” Garabaldi wrote.

“I did not know you could recover overwritten video on the same medium,” said Hews.

“Regardless, someone stole my newspapers so people would not read the Fred Licon story. It was caught on the video, they knew it and delayed, knowing the video would get overwritten. This is obstruction of justice and typical of the corrupt culture that has emerged since Mayor Maravilla and the three new crony councilmembers Jesse Alvarado, Monica Rodriguez, and Luis Roa took over. They are just as corrupt as political operative Angel Gonzales, who managed their campaigns.”

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