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Oxnard corruption probe ends in reports of gov’t waste, but no arrests

By   /   Wednesday, April 18th, 2012  /   4 Comments

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More than two years after storming Oxnard’s city hall in a search for documents, Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten’s office has ended its corruption investigation without pressing charges.

In a 99-page report, the District Attorney’s office said it uncovered significant waste of taxpayer money by suspended City Manager Ed Sotelo, Mayor Tom Holden and other city officials but there wasn’t enough evidence to meet the standards of prosecution. In particular, the report described a lavish celebration for the opening of the city’s desalter plant that cost nearly $100,000, almost half of which went to a winery that the city had wrangled with over water pollution discharges but did not take sufficiently formal enforcement actions against until prodded by regional regulators.

“The lack of effective constraints, transparency, and oversight allowed certain of the city’s officials to spend city funds virtually at will,” the report said. “The very same policies and practices that permitted the conduct also prevented accountability, harming the taxpayers.

The report also found that the officials took trips on a private businessman’s jet to a resort town in Mexico and enjoyed a city-funded stay at a hotel in New York. They also took gifts.

“The investigation established that over a period of years, several Oxnard officials received gifts of expensive meals, rounds of golf, and a small number of event tickets,” the report’s conclusion reads. “The officials did not publicly disclose the gifts as required by law.”

The report said the failure to disclose the gifts did not “rise to the level of perjury” and that its findings had been referred to the Fair Political Practices Commission, which could choose to levy fines on the officials.

[Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated when Oxnard officials fined a winery in the city over water pollution and incorrectly identified jet trips and hotel stays as gifts. In fact, city officials exchanged fair value for some jet trips, but the evidence of payment for others was inconclusive. The New York hotel stay was, in fact, city funded and legitimate.]
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4 Comments

  1. Preston Davis says:

    I am glad to hear that several of the current city council members are running for mayor this next election. This will insure that the city will have new faces on the board and those current council members wont be able to continue to make stupid remarks and decisions. What an insult to the people of Oxnard!!!

  2. LarryStein says:

    Diverting public funds for personal benefits is illegal. Lying to investigators is illegal. These activities occurred within the statute of limitations. The CAFR’s (Comprehensive Annual Financial Report) for the City of Oxnard that were prepared by the same national CPA firm that audited Bell. The audit statement prepared by the CPA firm within the CAFR imply internal controls are in place, but the released report implies that the DA feels that the internal controls were so weak they could not prove that criminal activity took place.

    It is my opinion that investigators for the federal and state AG offices will review the reports and take action. I am equally confident that Mr. Totten reviewed with his personal legal advisors the report, before he released his findings. Hopefully, the citizens of Oxnard have not heard the last of this.

  3. jeffharing says:

    What’s the old saying? “Power Corrupts!” When will elected leaders start acting like the responsible employees that they pretend to be when trying to get elected? These people know better. You can’t tell me that they thought spending that kind of money on a plant opening is OK.

    It’s very sad….

  4. Gary says:

    Talk about a waste of Money, Oxnard City and Totten’s offices continues to make bad decisions at taxpayer expense. Elections are coming…….

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