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Los Angeles Times Article Misled, Reporters Used Questionable Sources

By Brian Hews • February 24, 2023

In January of this year, the Los Angeles Times published an article entitled “Water district roiled by bitter infighting and criminal charges against general manager,” which used two disgruntled Central Basin Directors as sources who painted the Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District (CB) as an utterly dysfunctional public agency while the Times’ reporters left out information, given to them by CB officials, concerning the article’s sources.

Roiled? Central Basin, the favorite SoCal/Sacramento major media punching bag, has seen upgrades to its credit rating due to improved operations and over two million in profit since new management took over in 2020. The agency has refunded its bonds and lowered the interest rate – while keeping the same payoff schedule – and increased its reserves by three million, resulting in three and four notch investment credit rating upgrades from S&P and Moody’s, respectfully. 

Bitter infighting? Only two of the seven directors, Leticia Vasquez-Wilson and Martha Camacho Rodriguez, are complaining about operations; the other five are in lock-step with each other and have advanced several large revenue-generating projects while selling the old building off the five freeway and netting over $5 million in profit.

Both Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez tried to block the sale of the building, with Vasquez-Wilson defaming Rojas and others, a fact the LA Times reporters did not cite in their article.

In addition, Vasquez is once again using her fee-free attorney husband, “Sweet James” Ron Wilson, filing yet another frivolous lawsuit against CB that has cost the agency nearly $100,000, another fact the LA Times reporters did not cite in their article.

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Criminal charges? The D.A. did indict CB GM Alex Rojas in August 2022, charging him with fraud, bribery and money laundering while Rojas worked as Superintendent at Bassett Unified, based on an much-maligned investigative report completed in March 2019 by attorney Francisco Leal of Leal-Trejo.

The D.A. also used the report to charge Basset’s construction firm Del Terra with fraud, bribery and money laundering in criminal court.

But what the Times article did not elaborate on was that, in May 2021, Bassett Unified used that same Leal report and allegations to sue Del Terra in civil court. 

The first complaint was filed by Bassett attorneys, Del Terra’s attorneys filed a demurrer – which is an objection to all facts in the complaint – Bassett , then requested to amend their original complaint and file a new complaint. 

The amended complaint was filed, Del Terra’s attorneys filed a new demurrer; once the judge looked at the purported evidence in the Leal report and Del Terra’s demur, he dismissed the major allegations of fraud and punitive damages against Del Terra, which were the main thrusts of the lawsuit.

But it wasn’t just any dismissal; the judge dismissed the allegations with prejudice and without leave to amend. In the formal legal world, a court case that is dismissed with prejudice means that it is dismissed permanently, it is over and done with and can’t be brought back to court; another fact the LA Times reporters did not cite in their article.

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PAGE ONE of the dismissal, to view entire ruling click on image.

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In addition, civil cases are much easier to win in court than criminal cases, yet Bassett Unified lost, and lost horribly. 

Further showing the fallacy of Leal’s report beyond the humiliating dismissal, the firm that filed the lawsuit, Tao and Rossini APC, has “major experience” related to public school construction litigation, writing on their website, “We recognize construction problems, their genesis and how to resolve the disputes. We have experience with the Division of State Architect, Office of Public School Construction, State Allocation Board, and many other local and state government agencies.”Yet Bassett still lost the case….in civil court.

The dismissal in Del Terra’s favor was in January of 2022, seven months before District Attorney Gascón’s indictment of Alex Rojas & Luis Rojas, Del Terra’s CEO.

Did the D.A. Know of the Bassett v. Del Terra Dismissal?

According to Alex Rojas and Del Terra’s attorneys, Gascón’s indictment used much of the Leal report to file charges against them, which were summarily dismissed in the civil case against Del Terra.

Emails sent three weeks ago into the D.A.’s office pointing out that the same charges filed against Alex Rojas and Del Terra were dismissed in the civil court went unanswered; it is highly unusual for the D.A. to go silent on an email request.

Alex Rojas’s attorney Craig Missakian told HMG-CN, “the criminal case is based on the same discredited report that formed the basis for the related civil action against Del Terra. The judge threw those claims out and we expect the criminal case to suffer the same fate.”

Times Used Questionable Sources

The article also used two of the most disruptive directors in the history of Central Basin as sources, Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez, painting the two as “whistleblowers and heroes for taxpayers” while failing to publish crucial information concerning the two that, according to officials, was given to the LA Times reporters.

In 2020, HMG-CN exclusively obtained documents via a public records request that showed two public relations firms submitting $42,000 in bogus consulting fees to CB GM Alex Rojas, with one invoice indicating that Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez authorized the payment; yet another fact the LA Times reporters did not cite in their article.

The first was submitted by Dallas Fowler, a consultant whom HMG-CN’s investigation found very questionable with connections to Vasquez-Wilson’s good friend Jasmine Cannick; Vasquez-Wilson handed Cannick a three-month $9,000 contract shortly after her election in 2012.

In an email to GM Rojas, Fowler wrote, “I’m Dallas Fowler, I was referred to you by Directors Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez to submit my invoices for work performed.”

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Rojas told HMG-CN at the time that no agreement between Fowler and CB existed, and three CB officials, then- VP Art Chacon, and Directors Bob Apodaca and the late Phil Hawkins went on the record as never discussing or meeting Fowler.

The second invoice was submitted by former California Assemblyman Rudy Bermudez in the same manner as Fowler.

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Bermudez wrote Rojas, “Attached is the invoice that I have been instructed to submit to you for my work rendered on Senate Bill 625 for the Central Basin.”

Rojas countered, “We do not have authorization or a contract to pay this. I am not sure what instruction or approval you received, but if you send me the documents, I will be happy to look into it.” No other emails were available.

Then- VP Art Chacon, and Directors Bob Apodaca and the late Phil Hawkins went on the record as never discussing Bermudez’s retainer.

Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez countered by saying Chacon brought Fowler and Bermudez in despite Fowler clearly citing Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez in the email.

Vasquez-Wilson and Camacho-Rodriguez never answered emails from HMG-CN asking about Fowler and Bermudez.

Another fact the Times’ article left out was Francisco Leal’s law firm gave over $8,000 to Gascón’s 2020 campaign for District Attorney. 

Several emails to the Times’ article’s authors, reporters Ian James and Dorany Pineda, went unreturned.