June 23, 2024
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Oxnard corruption probe ends in reports of gov’t waste, but no arrests

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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.]