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EXCLUSIVE: Central Basin Privatization-Corruption Web Involves Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

BY BRIAN HEWS • July 22, 2020

The allegations of corruption and privatization have been swirling around Central Basin Municipal Water District for months now, as documented by Hews Media Group-Los Cerritos Community News.

The swirling is about to turn into a storm.

The privatization push heated up at the beginning of the year when two CB Directors, John Oskoui and Dan Arrighi, along with Director Bob Apodaca, started organized effort to stop all business transacted at the Commerce-based agency.

The Los Angeles District Attorney is reviewing a letter that charges Oskoui with incompatible offices. Arrighi recently resigned after a HMG article revealed another incompatible office situation.

Sources are telling HMG that Arrighi’s boss Michael Whitehead, CEO of San Gabriel Valley Water and his friends, Ron and Tom Calderon, pressured Arrighi to quit.

Apodaca is mimicking his old ways; at 86 years old, he is a leftover of a past corrupt regime that included James Roybal and former GM Art Aguilar; all of whom, like Whitehead, worked closely with Ron and Tom Calderon.

Like taking sides in their own water war, the three directors have stopped all business at Central Basin. They have interrupted or left several board meetings, and encouraged a rogue group of employees to sabotage meetings.

And this past week, HMG exclusively reported additional conflicts of interest between Oskoui, Arrighi, and former Central Basin GM Kevin Hunt that could end in FPPC violations and fines and an investigation by the District Attorney.

The culmination of the scheme surfaced when Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia, who is at the center of the web of privatization, co-sponsored a gut and amend bill that would place Central Basin into receivership and disenfranchise 2 million – mostly Latino – voters.

But no one knew that Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood) was involved in the web – until now.

Conflicts of Interest and Recusal

HMG has obtained the employment contract of Norris Brandt, who was hired by former CB GM Kevin Hunt.

Brandt has been working at Central Basin for three years, hired as the Principal Engineer and Operations Specialist-retired annuitant earning $100 per hour, working 12 hours per week and reporting to Hunt.

On his Linkedin account, Brandt indicates he is the owner of Brandt Water Strategies since 2014 “to the present.” He also indicates he is an Administrator for the San Juan Basin Authority JPA since 2017 “to the present.”

Conspicuously missing is Norris Brandt’s three-year employment with Central Basin.

 

Norris Brandt’s Linked In page showing his job experience absent his three-year stint at Central Basin.

 

 

When HMG informed current Chair Leticia Vasquez, Vice-Chair Art Chacon, and Director Phil Hawkins about Brandt, all three said they had never heard of him.

“Well no wonder, he is working three jobs,” Central Basin Vice Chair Art Chacon wryly stated.

Kevin Hunt was “insulted” by the director’s comments, “I find it ridiculous that the directors claim they never saw him, he gave numerous presentations at Engineering Committees and Board Meetings. Minutes of the Engineering Committee and video of Board meetings will show them [the board] interacting with him.”

But Brandt contradicted Hunt in an email to HMG when asked about attending meetings, “That is very possible [other boardmembers did not see him]. I generally didn’t attend Board or Committee meetings, because I stayed focused on the technical issues.”

For three years Brandt worked at Central Basin, “resigning” in February 2020; it was around the same time the appointed directors and employees were starting their privatization push.

Just two months after that, Assemblywoman Cristina Garcia authored AB 625.

Appearance of Impropriety

One of the driving forces behind the Garcia’s bill is Speaker Rendon’s Chief General Counsel Alf Brandt.

If that name sounds familiar, it should, Alf Brandt is the brother of Norris Brandt.

When asked about their relationship and communication, Norris Brandt responded, “we live in separate areas of the state our conversations about Central Basin have been [very] little.”

But a cursory search on Google would find Alf and Norris at many of the same water conventions and workshops.

HMG sent an email to Alf Brandt on July 5 informing him that HMG had obtained Norris’ contract.

The normally verbose Brandt responded three days later after three follow-up emails and indicated he talked to his brother after HMG contacted Norris, “If you’ve had contact with my brother Norris, that should be sufficient.”

HMG asked Alf Brandt if he should recuse himself from the bill process, he avoided and evaded and did not respond to the question.

Norris Brandt Leaves, Garcia Shops Her Bill, Another Covert Relationship, Another Conflict

About the same time Norris Brandt was leaving, Garcia was shopping AB 625 around Sacramento, with the help of Speaker Rendon and Alf Brandt.

In an email, Norris Brandt denied he passed any Central Basin information to his brother or Speaker Rendon.

But Norris Brandt might not have been the person passing information; in a text, Hunt exposed yet another conflict for Alf Brandt, “I have known Alf Brandt for years,” Hunt wrote.

Once Garcia got the support she needed, via political threats according to one Senator who wished to remain anonymous, Alf Brandt outrightly ignored the conflicts and began his mission to pass the bill.

Brandt was already accustomed to working with Garcia in relation to Central Basin, in 2016 he helped her pass AB 1794 which mandated appointed directors to Central Basin’s Board.

 

 

Alf Brandt with Asm. Garcia. Garcia wrote, “I just wanted to take a moment and thank Alf Brandt from Speaker Rendon’s office for working with me and my office on AB 1794.” That bill changed Central Basin’s Board and caused the current problems.

 

 

Since the passage, two of the appointees have resigned under a cloud of corruption, the other, Oskoui, in under a review by the DA and has been the front person in stopping all business at Central Basin.

While working to pass the bill, during his information gathering stage Brandt, acting as his own judge and jury, refused to talk with Vasquez, Chacon, Hawkins or Camacho-Rodriguez because “they were not the majority.”

The reason? Central Basin’s Board has eight seats, but one of the appointed directors resigned, leaving seven filled seats.

Brandt argued California’s Water Code dictated that it remained eight seats thus the majority was five seats.

Vasquez and the others, citing strong case precedents, including a case exactly like Central Basin’s, argued that since only seven seats are filled, four is the majority.

That did not matter to Brandt, once again ignoring blatant conflicts, he pushed forward with meetings attended by the rogue employees.

The employee’s leader is Andrew Hamilton, another Kevin Hunt hire, who is best known for his recall from the Lake Forest City Council in 2018; just months later he was hired by Hunt.

In May, Hamilton was legally fired by the current GM Carlos Penilla, but Brandt, citing the Water Code, argued Hamilton was not fired.

Brandt forged ahead and used information from Hamilton to write up a Central Basin Financial and Organizational Summary that was circulated inside the chambers of the State Capital.

Chair Vasquez was livid and sent a letter requesting an investigation into Brandt’s actions, “You held a meeting to discuss SB 625 without inviting any of the CB Board of Directors. You’re relying on false information and regurgitating that false information without conducting your own investigation.”

Brandt did not even consult with the Board on balance. The summary was cited by the Assembly’s first committee hearing, and Garcia’s bill passed unanimously moving through the Assembly, as one former Senator put it,  “lightning fast.”

The bill has since been moved to the Senate.

Meanwhile, in the background is a lawsuit that would end the question of whether five seats or four seats is the majority on Central Basin’s Board, and end the appointed director’s quest to shut down the agency.

The case was first heard two months ago, with the judge rescheduling the hearing for tomorrow, July 23.

If the judge rules that four seats is the majority, Vasquez and her fellow board members would have the majority and have indicated they are ready to move forward immediately with crucial business.

Many elected officials told HMG that the July 23 hearing is why the bill went through the process and into the Assembly “lightning fast.”

If Garcia, Rendon, Brandt, and the many water companies and associations – including San Gabriel Valley Water, Cal Water, Cal Domestic Water and the Mutual Water Association, Central Basin Water Association, and Golden State Water – were successful in passing the bill, the court case would have been moot.

But that is not the case, and like a camping tent that losses its poles, Garcia’s web could come tumbling down tomorrow.

Emails into Garcia and Speaker Rendon’s office went unanswered.

[email protected]

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3 Responses to EXCLUSIVE: Central Basin Privatization-Corruption Web Involves Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon

  1. Pingback: Central Basin Privatization-Corruption Web Involves Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon  | Anti Corruption Digest

  2. CWB Elephants. Reply

    July 23, 2020 at 10:59 am

    Since before christ, world has argued about water rites, compared to the BS were exposed to with the CWB corruption on top of more corruption.

    These thugs are worse then camels and elephants, arguing over pond water.

  3. virginia Johnson Reply

    July 25, 2020 at 10:47 am

    Thank Gosh someone (Rendon) finally has the nerve to try to clean up the Central Water Basin. Good Going Anthony Rendon and keep up the good work. Some of us appreciate what you are doing.

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