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Central Basin Finance Director, Lawyer Approved Unauthorized Payments to GM Kevin Hunt After Hunt was Fired

In addition, attorney Steven O’Neill approved – and Finance Director Andrew Hamilton wired – thousands in funds to Central Basin’s former law firm, Nossaman, LLC.

BY BRIAN HEWS • March 13, 2020 3:35 p.m.

The targeted rebellion started by Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia (D-Bell) at Central Basin (CB) against President Leticia Vasquez, VP Art Chacon, and Directors Phil Hawkins and Martha Camacho-Rodriguez, has now been joined by the agency’s former law firm, Olivarez Madruga Lemieux O’Neill (OMLO), and CB’s current Finance Director Andrew Hamilton.

CB Finance Director Andrew Hamilton (left) and OMLO Attorney Steve O’Neill.

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The uprising started back in November 2019 when OMLO attorney Steve O’Neill wrote to the CB Board that Kevin Hunt’s employment contract was not renewed, rendering the agreement void.

Hunt’s past problems had been well-chronicled by HMG-LCCN, starting with the revelation  that Hunt was named in a 2006 civil complaint accused of scheming with convicted felon Albert T. (“Big Al”) Robles in illegally altering a contract so Hunt’s company Psomas Engineering could win a lucrative $2.3 million project from the city of South Gate and Robles could get massive kickbacks to funnel to himself and relatives.

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And more recently, HMG-LCCN exclusively reported that Hunt violated his employment agreement when his outside firm contracted with another company.

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Months later, the CB Board, on O’Neill’s advice, finally fired Hunt, voting not to renew Hunt’s contract on December 24, 2019. The no votes were cast by Vasquez, Chacon, Camacho-Rodriguez and Hawkins.

Voting to keep Hunt was Directors Bob Apodaca, Dan Arrighi and Jahanshah “John” Oskoui. 

But for some reason, O’Neill and CFO Hamilton would not sever ties with Hunt. O’Neill’s reasoning is unknown but Hamilton’s is clear; he had allegiance to Hunt because Hunt hired him.

And what occurred after Hunt’s firing could land them both in legal hot water, including action by the State Bar of California against O’Neill.

HMG-LCCN has learned that O’Neill pushed Hamilton, without CB Board authorization, to pay Hunt’s salary after he was fired, and that Hamilton went along with the scheme, finally admitting it to the board during a meeting.

The payment to Hunt is likely a gift of public funds and a violation of Penal Code section 424, which is a felony.

OMLO Principal Rick Olivarez denied any wrongdoing and said his firm and O’Neill were advising Hamilton.

CB President Letica Vasquez did not mince words when told of Olivarez’ response, “This is the same lawyers who first informed the Board that the former General Manager’s contract was invalid…. while simultaneously instructing Central Basin employees to continue paying Hunt his salary and benefits.” 

When the board confronted O’Neill about the payments at a closed session meeting, O’Neill said his firm would resign. 

The resignation was effective February 29, 2019 and was witnessed by a majority of the board, including Director Dan Arrighi, who was caught on video admitting O’Neil had resigned.

On that same video, CB President Leticia Vasquez called Hamilton up to the dais and asked him if he made the payment to Hunt, to which Hamilton answered yes.

But the questionable payments did not stop there.

For months, CB had been in a billing dispute with their former law firm Nossaman, LLC, who’s contract was not renewed in September 2019.

In several CB Board meetings, the payments to Nossaman were “pulled” out of the warrant register so they would not be paid.

According to sources it was a clear billing dispute; Nossaman claimed CB owed the firm $50,000 while the CB Board wanted to pay less since Nossaman “always exceeded their monthly budget of $25,000.”

But in December, after several emails and “consultations” with OMLO General Counsel, Hamilton and interim GM Kevin Wattier wired the unauthorized money to Nossaman in the amount of $32,205.

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Interoffice memo showing Hamilton “discussed potential payment with OMLO and Kevin Wattier, who both provided approval.”

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And, according to a letter written by CB’s attorney Anthony Willoughby of Willoughby and Associates, O’Neill, on the sole orders of Director Bob Apodaca, continued to pay OMLO after they resigned on Feb. 29.

Asm. Garcia, in her attempt to assist Apodaca, Arrighi, Oskoui, and OMLO, fired a poorly written letter to Los Angeles County District Attorney Jackie Lacey demanding an investigation into the actions of Vasquez, Chacon, Camacho-Rodriguez and Hawkins.

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Asm. Garcia ignored the actions of O’Neill and Hamilton and their blatant abuse of tax payer funds, along with Apodaca’s recent assault of Vasquez at a board meeting.

In an email to HMG-LCCN, the #Metoo advocate declined to comment on her reasoning.

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