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Schnaufer testified that a large amount of cash was withdrawn from the  union account without documentation or authorization.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

  • Hawaiian Gardens Resident says:

    I am not trying to be disrespectful here, but Mr. Rodriguez was on council for many years and did not do much and now it seems he is Hawaiian Gardens number one GADFLY. You throw out several names and accusations, but no real proof. It is easy to throw things on the wall in hopes one item sticks. I am for uncovering deceptive deeds and illegal activity, but reading Mr. Rodriguez’s comment all I see is a bitter old man. Sorry, but the truth is the truth.

    A couple of articles back Mr. Rodriguez mentions how the current council went to the Contract Cities event. What you failed to mention was that you attended for many years and you and your wife spent many hours out at the pool bar drinking. Let’s be truthful.

    • WTF says:

      Yes Rey was on for years and yes he did some questionable things but that was in the past nothing he did comes close to what these four bozos are doing, who you are obviously sticking up for and who you are friends with. Is this Eddie Olivo, Ernie Hernandez, Angel Gonzales? Why don’t you worry about the city first instead of bashing a long time public servant? Then you pick on Hews and his article? They erased the tape you fucking bozo and you say Hews is wrong? I am a big fan of Hews he exposes corruption no matter who…I too saw Mr. and Mrs. Hews at contract cities, when Hews walked on the floor half the politicians fled… the other half brought him drinks because of the corruption he has exposed, do you have a problem with that HATER?

      • Hawaiian Gardens Resident says:

        First of all WTF I did not bash Rey. I simply stated those who live in glass houses should not throw stones. I did not resort to name calling (like you). I am not a close friend of anyone. At what time did I pick on Hews and his article? People like Brian Hews keep others in check.

        I simply stated if you are going to accuse someone of something make sure you have facts to back it up. Throwing out allegations and proving them are two different things. You even said it yourself “Rey was on for years and did some questionable things.” People like you come out and try to intimidate people with name calling and, yet again, baseless accusations. I am not the HATER. Maybe you are.

      • Hawaiian Gardens Resident says:

        I posted a comment and I would not like to think that this newspaper does what they are accusing the city of doing.

    • Concerned HG resident! says:

      What does this have to do with Rey. We need to look at who is on our council now. Our city is going down and it’s an embarrassment! Council wants to put there energy into a grant for a pool or parking permits!!!! Who’s going to keep funding that pool year around. What a joke! RECALL!! Wish the people on council would have their own voice, instead of agreeing with whatever Myra says! Do what’s best for the city people!!!!

    • Ed Carrera says:

      Rey cut millions of dollars in “consultant” spending his first year on council. I wouldn’t call that “not doing much.” Pull the warrants, watch the tape, there’s your documentation.

      He went to that conference and to Mexico, but did he make the city pay for his wife and friends? From what I remember, he always paid for his wife’s expenses. After hours drinking? Who cares. Drinking between one seminar and another? That’s not alright. Assuming EVERYONE goes to that seminar, like Rey did for many years, and drinks at the pool, it doesn’t make it alright for them to go to Miami for an unrelated event to spend even more money. Rumor is they had “ulterior motives” to visit Miami, meaning Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem had another purpose on behalf of certain union folks. The city probably picked up the tab for their Uber to her house too.

      You want to be REALLY truthful? Let’s talk about the “tequila tour” that took place in Mexico when the Mayor was supposedly traveling alone. Fact of the matter is, if there was inpropriety when Rey (or any other council member) was in office, it should have been brought to light when they were in office. Who knows, maybe the public would have reacted the same way they’re reacting now. Myra didn’t say anything negative about Rey until now. She was his closest ally until after she got what she wanted. Say what you want, but she waited until her own interests were at stake before saying anything about him. That’s not leadership, that’s negligence. Or rather, “that’s politics” as they say.