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Law Firm’s Questionable Letter Triggers Shocking Staff Mutiny at Central Basin

BY BRIAN HEWS • Sunday, March 22, 2020

HMG-LCCN has obtained a letter composed by former Central Basin lawyer Steve O’Niel of Olivarez Madruga Lemiuex and O’Neill (OMLO) that blatantly told CB employees to disregard the agency’s general counsel while also telling staff to ignore their boss, Interim General Manager Carlos Penilla.

The letter was dated February 27, just one day before OMLO’s tenure at the Commerce-based agency expired, and strangely addressed “To Whom It May Concern.”

Without citing any legal facts, O’Neill, relying on a disputed legal argument, told the employees that CB’s attorney Anthony Willoughby, was not the agency’s new counsel.

He also indicated Carlos Penilla, the current interim CB general manager, was “not properly hired as Interim General Manager of the District.”

O’Neill used an ongoing legal dispute, that will soon be settled by the Los Angeles District Attorney or the California  Attorney’s General, to argue his point.

OMLO argued since the board has eight seats, five is a majority; Willoughby argued that there are only seven seated members, Frank Heldman resigned in disgrace a few months ago, so the majority is four.

Willoughby cited a landmark California Appeals Court case that addressed CB’s exact situation, with the court ruling that a majority was four.

O’Neill’s letter had an immediate and chilling effect that will likely lead to resignations when the issue is resolved.


Armed with O’Neill’s letter, Finance Director Andrew Hamilton and IT Director Albert Plimpton took it upon themselves and went further than simply ignoring Willoughby and Penilla.

The two inexplicably changed the codes on President Leticia Vasquez, Vice-President Art Chacon, and Directors Phil Hawkins and Martha Camacho Rodriguez’ entry cards.

The two did not inform the elected officials; they only discovered the change when their cards did not open the entry gate.

“I pulled up to the entry gate in my car and my card didn’t open on the gate,” said VP Chacon, “I did not think anything of it until the card did not open the door to the building. The security guard let me in and we questioned Hamilton and Plimpton, and that’s when we found out.”

Hamilton and Plimpton brazenly confronted President Vasquez and VP Chacon in the lobby, which Chacon videoed on his smart phone.

The video shows Hamilton reading O’Neill’s letter, but he went further, saying that Vasquez was not the president and Chacon was not the vice president due to OMLO’s assertion that a majority is five.

Vasquez and Chacon attempted to enter the second story of the building where the management and employee offices are located, but once again their cards did not work.

“To say we were disrespected is an understatement, we are elected officials we represent our constituents and they were trying to stop us from doing our job,” said Chacon. 

“I don’t know why they [OMLO] wrote that letter, it’s very suspect, they had resigned and their last day was the next day, why would they circulate a letter like that unless they just wanted to cause us and the agency trouble.”

Vasquez confirmed to HMG-LCCN, “The CB Board of Directors accepted [O’Neill’s] resignation during our special board meeting on Jan. 30, 2020 in closed session.”

Vasquez indicated that O’Neill  directed several additional actions not authorized by the CB Board which included directing Andrew Hamilton to pay Kevin Hunt’s salary “even though you [O’Neill] provided a legal opinion stating Hunt’s contract was invalid.” 

Vasquez also indicated O’Neill directed CB Human Resources Director Naja Braddock to place Hunt on paid administrative leave and that O’Neill alone appointed the recently departed Kevin Wattier as interim general manager.

Another allegation, as reported earlier in HMG-LCCN, indicated that O’Neill, without CB Board authorization, paid CB’s former law firm Nossaman, LLC $32,000.

“You improperly and without CB Board approval directed Central Basin staff to make illegal and improper monetary wire transfers to Nossaman, LLC even after the CB Board gave specific instructions against this.”

“[The] firm has violated [several] rules of professional standards and the CB Board of Directors will pursue a complaint with the California Bar Association regarding the violations.”

  • Mark G from Pico says:

    This is amazing. The four “elected” officials should not be held hostage by employees of the agency they are employed by. Rick Olivarez, who is Congresswoman Lucile Roybal-Allard’s son, thinks he’s untouchable because of his mommy. Once he resigned, he should have just walked away, but when you have mommy to cover your ass, your balls just keep growing bigger and bigger.

    Cristina Garcia and Jackie Lacey, both worthless elected officials, should stay out of the water business. They are not helping, they are only causing chaos! Let the voter’s speak! In November they’ll make a decision whether to re-elect Lacey (I won’t be voting for her) and unfortunately, stupid voters keep re-electing Garcia and along with her drunken whorish antics.

    The same should be said about the Central Basin Board. Let the voter’s decide if they want them to continue or not.