Federal prosecutors have horned in on an unprecedented number of high profile political corruption cases that would otherwise be handled by the district attorney’s office in San Bernardino County. In some matters, the U.S. Attorney’s Office has wrested from district attorney Mike Ramos prosecutorial authority or has opened with the FBI parallel investigations into issues Ramos or the San Bernardino County Grand Jury have delved into without reaching a successful conclusion. In at least three matters, federal prosecutors and investigators have taken on probes or investigations of elected officials or political donors with whom Ramos was politically aligned.
In total, five matters in which current or former elected officials are alleged or suspected to have engaged in bribery or some other form of wrongdoing are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney or being reviewed for their prosecutorial potential by the FBI.
The U.S. Attorney’s Office in February and March 2011 obtained from a federal grand jury indictments in the Upland corruption case, in which former mayor John Pomierski, his appointee to the Upland Housing Authority, John Hennes, and their associates Anthony Orlando Sanchez and Jason Roy Crebs have been charged with participation in a bribery and extortion scheme allegedly involving using Pomierski’s authority at City Hall to shake down businessman with permit applications pending before the city. Pomierski and Ramos were political allies. Ramos endorsed Pomierski in his successful runs for mayor in 2004 and 2008. In 2010, Pomierski endorsed Ramos in his run for reelection for district attorney. Two days after Ramos held back two challengers in the June 8, 2010 election, the FBI and IRS served search warrants at Pomierski’s home and at Upland City Hall, seizing documents and other evidence used to convince a federal grand jury in Los Angeles to indict him a little less than nine months later. Part of the formula Pomierski and Hennes were allegedly able to apply in extorting money from their victims was the claim that Pomierski functioned under an umbrella of protection provided by the district attorney’s office. And indeed, Pomierski had enjoyed an uncommon degree of tolerance from San Bernardino County’s highest law enforcement authority in perpetuating his alleged depredations. Despite widespread whisperings heard as early as 2006 that Pomierski was on the take, Ramos went out of his way to endorse him in his electoral effort against councilman Ray Musser in 2008.
In addition to accusations that Ramos deliberately obstructed justice in curtailing the investigative and prosecutorial processes from running their course with regard to his political ally Pomierski, there is further information to suggest that Ramos acted to prevent the wheels of justice from churning through several top county officials who had been accused of bastardizing the function of the county hospital, which is intended to provide care for the county’s indigent population. Located in Colton and known as Arrowhead Regional Medical Center, the county hospital has allegedly been exploited by current and former hospital officials for their own personal and financial benefit, as well as by elected officials, who used their position of authority over the hospital’s administrators to obtain free medical care.
As early as 2007, Ramos, his public integrity unit and the grand jury were informed of a circumstance which involved the city of Colton in a highly questionable acquisition of an eleven acre parcel from Retail Development Group, an outfit owned by Gary Schafer. The $3.65 million purchase was championed by then-Colton assistant city manager Mark Nuami, who justified the acquisition as a strategic move that would satisfy the U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s requirements that habitat for the endangered Delhi Sands Flower Loving fly be preserved, and thereby allow other development in the area to proceed. But the property Colton acquired from Schafer was not prime Delhi fly habitat. Nor did the city do an adequate appraisal of the property, as was legally required, and instead, Nuami substituted a $3.8 million offer on the property, which was of unsubstantiated provenance, as justification for the sum paid. It would later turn out that the property was coveted by Dr. Dev GnanaDev, Arrowhead Regional’s medical director, who was looking to have the city of Colton write down the cost of the property and sell it to him so he could house his own surgical group’s operations there.
Dr. GnanaDev, who in addition to being the medical director at Arrowhead Regional, owns and controls Arrowhead Regional Surgical Group, Inc., with which the county hospital has a $1.343 million annual contract for the provision of administrative, supervision, secretarial and directorship services for the hospital’s general surgery division, including the trauma, otolaryngology, burn surgery, oral surgery, neurological surgery, plastic surgery, opthalmologic surgery and transplant surgery departments.
GnanaDev’s actions in his capacities as both medical director and provider of service to the hospital, like his involvement in the questionable land deal involving the city of Colton and Schafer, was widely perceived by doctors working at the hospital as improper, involving a conflict of interest they felt compromised the quality of medical care and patient safety at the institution. Like the land deal, that conflict became the subject of complaints to the district attorney’s office’s public integrity unit and the county grand jury.
According to doctors and other staff members at the hospital, Dr. GnanaDev not only wrote the contract for his own surgical group, he has his own medical billing company which he utilizes to divert large amounts of money from the operations at the institution into his own accounts. Some of those doctors maintain that GnanaDev improperly used his status as medical director and his domination of the man who is supposed to oversee his function for the county, Arrowhead Regional executive director Patrick Petre, to punish doctors who refuse to use his billing company by having those doctors’ contracts with the hospital terminated.
Doctors and other medical professionals allege that in his rush to enrich himself, GnanaDev compromised the quality of care, and his policies resulted in scores of lapses in professionalism and medicine jeopardizing the well being of the patients at the facility. On multiple occasions, that negligence and malpractice resulted in severe injury and death, they say.
A report consisting of a “stack” of 40 to 50 cases was prepared by several doctors at Arrowhead Regional and delivered to Petre, in which specific acts of medical malpractice involving the action of several doctors including those in the obstetrician unit and Dr Guillermo Valenzuela, the head of the ObGyn department, were alleged. Petre then turned the information over to Dr. GnanaDev, who, according to several doctors, attacked the doctors who had prepared the report. At least four of the cases involved patient deaths. After Petre took the matter no further, several of the doctors went to the district attorney’s office and the grand jury with the report.
Those doctors were frustrated in their quest, however, when the district attorney’s office and the grand jury, which is advised by a prosecutor from the district attorney’s office, took no action.
Doctors and other professionals at the hospital have pointed out that Dr. GnanaDev uses some of the proceeds from his business and work for lobbying and making sizeable contributions both directly and through others to members of the board of supervisors as a means of compromising them.
According to Arrowhead Regional personnel, high ranking county officials, including members of the board of supervisors and former county administrative officer Mark Uffer, who prior to being elevated to the senior administrative position in the county had served as the hospital director, received treatment at the hospital to which they should not have been entitled. Both Petre and GnanaDev facilitated this or allowed it to take place to ingratiate themselves with the county’s decision makers and benefit themselves and the institution, those doctors alleged.
According to those doctors, GnanaDev bent or broke hospital rules, protocol and the law when he provided free care to former supervisor Paul Biane, current board of supervisors chairwoman Josie Gonzales and Uffer and at least one other member of Uffer’s family. In addition, those doctors have alleged, GnanaDev instructed hospital personnel to generate no records with regard to this specialized treatment and no bills were sent. The treatment included MRIs and surgeries, the doctors said.
According to doctors, GnanaDev, who was president of the California Medical Association from October 2008 to October 2009, arranged to have Petre remove a clause from the contracts of full time physicians working at Arrowhead Regional which prohibited those doctors from working at other hospitals. While president of the California Medical Association, Dr. GnanaDev maintained his role as medical director and chief of surgery while spending no more than three to four days per month at the hospital, those doctors said. He delegated very few of his responsibilities to others, physicians reported, reducing oversight of the doctors working at Arrowhead Regional to a dangerously low level.
By allowing a large number of the physicians who were the heads of the various medical groups at Arrowhead Regional to work at other sites, doctors report, GnanaDev facilitated them in receiving hospital subsidy money directly. Those heads of the individual groups were then able to pay lesser-experienced physicians who work for them bottom dollar for their services, increasing the profitability of the head physicians, the doctors reported to the grand jury and district attorney, leading to an absence of physician presence and an absence of quality physicians at the county hospital. In this way, the doctors alleged, GnanaDev had shirked his responsibility as medical director to audit the work of the groups the hospital contracts with to ensure the hospital’s operating funds are properly dispersed and that the hospital was getting the quality of care taxpayers were paying for. This has led to a situation at Arrowhead Regional, the doctors alleged, where it is common for respiratory therapists, nurses, and other personnel to function like physicians throughout the hospital, practicing, on a daily basis medicine without a license. In some cases, the doctors charged, the unlicensed staff members were teaching the student and resident physicians how to take care of patients.
It was also alleged that Dr. GnanaDev allowed the doctors employed by his surgical group to monopolize most of Arrowhead Regional’s 19 operating suites, such that a large backlog of orthopedic and urology patients developed, so they had to wait months for their surgeries. This led to the state citing the hospital for the backlog of orthopedic patients awaiting surgery.
Doctors who complained to the district attorney and grand jury about GnanaDev were also critical of his policy of accepting all trauma patients even though Arrowhead is not equipped to handle pediatric and major chest trauma. Doctors said they had witnessed incidents in which Dr. GnanaDev, who is recognized as a surgeon of considerable skill, perform surgeries on children less than two years of age using adult laparoscopic equipment and on other occasions using adult equipment on very small children. Doctors said that GnanaDev resisted transferring pediatric patients to other hospitals that were better equipped to operate on them because he was seeking to enhance the earnings of his own surgical group. Having pediatric patients in Arrowhead Regional’s intensive care unit in many cases resulted in injury or damage to patients through improper management and improper care, doctors reported, and in some cases children with severe brain injuries or other trauma who were improperly treated at Arrowhead died.
Between 2004 and 2010, at least 95 complaints pertaining to Arrowhead Regional were filed with state regulators, of which 28 were determined to be substantiated.
Jorge Valencia, the official spokesperson for Arrowhead Regional, said attacks on Dr. GnanaDev alleging he puts profit above safety, utilizes equipment that is not suitable for the operations he or others are performing or does not adhere to professional medical standards are unfounded. Reports that GnanaDev is involved in any form of conflict of interest or being investigated along those lines is also inaccurate, Valencia asserted. Valencia further denied any relationship between Arrowhead Regional and GnanaDev’s billing company. And though Valencia did not dispute that a number of deaths had occurred at the county hospital, he insisted that “concerns regarding patient care are handled by the medical staff through the peer review process. He said that the review was “comprehensive” and “governed by the bylaws of the medical staff and various other rules and regulations.”
But in the perception of many of the medical professionals working under GnanaDev, there had been inexcusable deviations from medical standards driven by the profit motive that had resulted in deaths and injuries and crossed the line into criminal conduct.
It is believed by at least some of those knowledgeable about the situation that Ramos was reluctant to act with regard to these issues because one of those implicated in the scandal at Arrowhead Regional is supervisor Josie Gonzales, a key Ramos supporter on the board of supervisors.
In the late winter of 2010, after the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office had failed to take action on the matter, doctors approached the FBI, passing along much of the same information to the federal agents that had been provided to the district attorney’s office and the grand jury. On November 4, 2010, a team of FBI agents, armed with search warrants, swooped down upon the county hospital, seizing documents relating to its operation and GnanaDev’s role in overseeing the 456-bed facility, in particular.
As of this week, no charges have been filed in that matter.
In November 2006, after litigation between the Rancho Cucamonga-based development company Colonies Partners and the county over flood control issues at the company’s Colonies at San Antonio development in Upland had dragged on for four years, a three member majority of the board of supervisors – then supervisors Bill Postmus and Paul Biane and supervisor Gary Ovitt – voted to settle the case by conferring a $102 million payment on the company.
More than three years later, in February 2010, the district attorney’s office joined with the California attorney general’s office in obtaining an indictment against Postmus and his one-time political associate, Jim Erwin, which alleged a criminal conspiracy involving an effort by Colonies Partners’ managing principals Jeff Burum and Dan Richards to first extort Postmus and Biane, and then bribe them to obtain the settlement. Prosecutors alleged that Ovitt’s chief of staff, Mark Kirk, was also bribed. While Postmus and Erwin were criminally charged, Burum, Richards, Kirk, Biane and the Colonies Partners’ public relations consultant, Patrick O’Reilly, were identified as unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators.
In May of this year, less than two months after Postmus pleaded guilty as charged and then testified in April and early May along with 44 others before a specially-impaneled grand jury, Burum, Kirk, and Biane were indicted, along with Erwin, who was reindicted. That indictment alleged that separate $100,000 contributions Burum and Richards made in 2007 to each of three political action committees founded, controlled or secretly controlled by Erwin, Biane and Kirk were bribes, and two $50,000 contributions made to political action committees controlled by Postmus also constituted bribes made in return for the settlement vote. Burum, according to the indictment, had served as an aider and abettor in the delivery of the bribes.
At once, the timing of the indictments fell under question. The original case against Postmus and Erwin had not been filed for more than three years after the November 2006 vote. And the superseding indictment came nearly four-and-a-half years after the vote. A major technical legal issue in the case was the elapsing of the statute of limitations, an issue seized upon by the lawyer for Burum, former U.S. District Court Judge Stephen Larson, who pointed out in court papers that “the prosecution is improperly attempting to charge Mr. Burum under conspiracy and aider and abettor theories because the statute of limitations had run on direct charges of bribery,” which Larson pointed out, “if timely brought would not have been precluded under the allegations of this indictment.”
Thus, the more than four-year delay in obtaining the indictment against Burum appeared to be a trap door built into the charges that in time will bring about the collapse of the case.
While the district attorney’s office’s temporizing appeared inexplicable to many, an examination of Ramos’s campaign financing records provided a possible explanation of the delay which appeared to be a fatal flaw in the case. Burum, over the first six years Ramos was district attorney, was a major contributor to Ramos’s electioneering fund. On May 14, 2003, a little more than four months after Ramos became district attorney, one of Burum’s companies, Jeffrey Burum Enterprises, provided Ramos with a relatively modest $1,500. On September 10, 2003, Burum provided Ramos with another $1,000. On November 22, 2005, another of Burum’s companies, Diversified Pacific, donated $10,000 to Ramos’s political war chest. On July 13, 2007, Diversified Pacific endowed Ramos’s campaign fund with another $5,000. On May 27, 2008, Diversified Pacific provided Ramos with $7,000.
In addition, over the last eight years, the Colonies partners and Burum donated over $400,000 to the political action committee controlled by SEBA, the San Bernardino County Safety Employees Benefit Association, which serves as the union for San Bernardino County’s sheriff’s deputies and district attorney’s office investigators. In 2010, the SEBA PAC gave Ramos $42,947.41 toward his election effort that year.
Unwilling to simply allow Ramos’s office and the state attorney general to usher what was increasingly viewed as a flawed case through state courts, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in September obtained search warrants that targeted the offices and/or homes of Burum, Kirk, Biane, Erwin, and O’Reilly, as well as the home and office of former state assemblyman and state senator Jim Brulte, a Colonies Partners consultant whose aggressive lobbying of Postmus and Biane and other county officials in an effort to obtain the settlement had been overlooked by Ramos’s investigators. Those warrants were served on September 15, signaling that federal authorities are now second guessing the district attorney’s office and the state attorney general’s office with regard to the Colonies settlement case.
In Victorville, a series of actions widely characterized as mis- or malfeasance by public officials has garnered the attention of citizens for some time. In response to citizen complaints, the 2009-10 first took up a probe of that city’s handling of its finances, along with the mismanagement of an effort to build an electrical generating plant, the misapplication of sequestered project funds, securities fraud, and improprieties with regard to a foreign investment program. When the 2009-10 grand jury concluded its session without taking any action with regard to Victorville or delivering a report about its investigation, the 2010-11 grand jury took that matter up where its predecessor had left off. But at the conclusion of its term on June 30 of this year, the 2010-11 grand jury had not come to closure on any of the Victorville issues. Likewise, the district attorney’s public integrity unit, which had also been vectored into Victorville to look at the situation there, took no action. On October 31, 2011, Ted Burgnon, the foreman of the 2011-12 San Bernardino County Grand Jury, in writing informed Victorville city officials the current grand jury is extending the two-year running probe into city finances and actions.
Well before Burgnon’s announcement, however, it was known around Victorville City Hall that federal officials have taken an interest in reports of violations of the public trust that have allegedly occurred within its confines.
Victorville delayed for two years an audit pertaining to its 2007 operations, leading to suggestions that city officials were seeking to hide information that was embarrassing, incriminating or both. Upon release, that audit showed the city had mounting financial problems. Another audit, completed by the firm of Mayer Hoffman McCann and released in March of this year, indicated those problems had worsened, and its authors expressed “substantial doubt about the city’s ability to continue as a going concern.” According to Mayer Hoffman McCann, it uncovered tens of millions of dollars in internal loans that were never approved, three funds that were $180 million in the hole and dwindling cash reserves.
As of March 2011, Victorville’s utility fund was $78 million upside down, while cash in the water district had dropped from $15 million in 2009 to $8 million as of June 30, 2010 despite a $20 million loan made to the district from the Southern California Logistics Airport Authority, the entity that oversees the effort to convert the former George Air Force Base into a civilian airport.
City officials have now reluctantly acknowledged that Victorville has lost an amount approaching $200 million on two abandoned power plants, an outgrowth of the city’s effort to create an electrical utility division, the Victorville Municipal Power Authority.
The Foxborough power station, which the city initiated in 2004 as what was supposed to be a $22 million, 14-megawatt electrical generating plant that would bypass the state power grid to provide affordable energy to industrial users and thus attract employers to the city and spur economic growth, has cost the city a whopping $126 million without being completed. Mismanagement of the project came in multiple stages, first at the hands of community services director Richard Bunnell; then deputy city manager Doug Robertson; followed by Wayne Campbell, who was hired as the plant manager in 2005; and then Glen Casanova, who was hired to replace Campbell as municipal utilities director in 2007.
By October 2006 the price tag for the project had escalated to over $54 million.
Construction delays and changes in state law that mandated that at least 20 percent of all energy produced in California by 2010 come from renewable sources resulted in the city jettisoning earlier plans for gas-fired combustion turbines, the pricey components for which were already purchased, and substituting in even more costly generators capable of running on biodiesel. The unused original equipment had to be sold at a substantial loss.
In addition to the initial and then follow-on equipment acquisition and construction costs, the utility division in 2005 incurred an operating deficit for the plant of $4.5 million. That hemorrhaging of red ink increased each year thereafter such that it had reached an annual operating deficit of $8 million by fiscal 2007-08. By 2007, the city began borrowing from its general fund to shore up the project. The city council, as quietly as it could get away with, issued $90 million in bonds to cover the entire cost of Foxborough. By May 2008, all of the bond money had been eaten up by the Foxborough power plant project and another $5 million beyond that was consumed, bringing the total cost on the facility to $95 million even before the facility’s permanent turbines had begun to generate electricity. At that point the city abandoned its initial intention of having the plant bypass the state power grid and avoid the imposition of a ten percent energy delivery fee being tacked onto the price of the power. Instead, the project was then scheduled to be hooked up to the state power system, canceling in the process the delivery of low cost energy, which had been the justification for the project in the first place.
Seven years after the project was undertaken, the city has failed to see that project through to fruition and the city council abandoned it altogether, after having sunk $126 million into the project.
The city is currently in default on an $83 million bond for Foxborough.
The city was simultaneously pursuing the development of another, much larger power plant, dubbed Victorville 2. The city was assisted in developing that plant by Newport Beach-based Inland Energy, which had successfully developed the 830-megawatt High Desert Power Plant with Baltimore-based Constellation Energy Group a decade ago. The High Desert Power Plant is now referred to as Victorville 1. Inland Energy had also served as a consultant with regard to the development of the Foxborough plant.
In November 2007 the Victorville city council authorized a $173 million purchase of natural gas-fired turbines from General Electric for the 563-megawatt Victorville 2 plant.
The city, which owed $126 million to General Electric for equipment for the Victorville 2 power project, fell into arrears on its payments to General Electric and in May 2010, simply surrendered a $50 million deposit it had made with the company for components. The Victorville 2 project was originally scheduled to include a 513-megawatt natural gas-fired generating plant on 133 acres coupled with an adjohining 250-acre solar power field capable of producing 50 megawatts of electricity. The solar component of the project has since been entirely abandoned and the remainder of Victorville 2 shelved, although in recent months some discussion has taken place between the city and Massachusetts-based QGEN about that company taking on the completion of the project.
Robertson has since been promoted to Victorville city manager.
In the summer of 2010, the Securities and Exchange Commission opened an investigation focusing on Victorville’s issuance of bonds and how that bond funding was spent. In May of 2010, the board of supervisors acceded to a grand jury request that the county retain the forensic auditing firm of Kessler International to review the city’s finances. The board did so, authorizing $195,000 for that audit. Kessler has not said whether the audit is yet concluded.
In making his announcement on October 31, grand jury foreman Burgnon indicated the grand jury has retained the independent San Francisco-based auditing firm of Harvey M. Rose Associates to go over both the city’s books and those of the Victor Valley Economic Development Authority, a joint powers authority involving the county, Victorville, Apple Valley, Hesperia and Adelanto which is involved in the provision of infrastructure to support Southern California Logistics Airport. It is not clear to what extent the ground covered by Kessler will be revisited by Harvey M. Rose.
It is known is that more than $80 million of the $300 million in outstanding bonds floated specifically for airport operations actually funded city of Victorville operations or projects off Southern California Logistics Airport property, including $1.8 million utilized to acquire land for a city library. According to Mayer Hoffman McCann, at least $21.8 million was not spent in accordance with the bond covenants. Other airport money was used toward work on the Victorville 2 power plant. The city also loaned $20 million in 2007 airport bond proceeds to the water district to help build a wastewater treatment plant. Those expenditures were made without informing or getting the consent of the bonds’ insurer, Radian.
The Southern California Logistics Airport Authority (SCLAA) has accumulated debt of $102 million, twice the burden it had in 2009-10.
Mayer Hoffman McCann reported that Victorville officials have not properly documented and sought city council approval for the city’s numerous interfund loans. The city had nearly $90 million in outstanding interfund loans as of last June. But only $30 million in loans had been formally approved by the council, according to the audit report.
Another issue dogging Victorville is its now-dormant EB-5 program. The EB-5 program is a federal one that allows entities such as cities or redevelopment agencies to arrange for the provision of visas for foreigners who invest at least $500,000 in projects pre-qualified by the federal government. In April 2008, the city entered into a relationship with CMB Export, LLC to manage an EB-5 program for Victorville at and around Southern California Logistics Airport. The city, however, abrogated that contract in June 2008 and in December 2008 CMB filed a $33 million lawsuit against the city claiming breach of contract, fraud, unfair competition and business interference. CMB refiled the claim in February 2009, including charges of misrepresentation and fraud by former city manager Jon Roberts and former mayor Terry Caldwell.
In April 2010, the city settled that lawsuit with CMB for $200,000. The following month, however, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service suspended Victorville’s EB-5 program, stating that city officials had misrepresented the projects to be funded by the investment program. It was the first time the federal government had moved to terminate an entity’s EB-5 authority.
The U.S. Attorney’s office, alarmed at the wholesale squandering of financial resources in Victorville’s municipal operations as well as blunders with regard to federal law governing securities and its foreign investment programs and further dismayed by the inability of the local district attorney’s office and grand jury to take action, leapt into the breach and has now assigned FBI agents to examine Victorville with a scrupulously mean eye.
On September 21, 2011 the FBI served as the lead agency in serving search warrants at the headquarters of the San Bernardino International Airport Authority [SBIAA] and the Inland Valley Development Authority [IVDA], the joint powers agencies involving the county and the cities of San Bernardino, Colton, Loma Linda and Highland in the conversion of the former Norton Air Force Base into a civilian airport and the redevelopment of the surrounding property. Warrants were also served at the offices of the San Bernardino Million Air Franchise; three hangars, including Hangar 763, where two companies affiliated with the airport’s contract developer, Scot Spencer, Norton Aircraft Maintenance Services and SBAM Technics, are located. According to the search warrants, the authorities were seeking information regarding suspected misuse of federal funds, bribery, mail fraud, wire fraud and conspiracy.
Of interest to investigators were Spencer; SBIAA executive director Donald L. Rogers, who has since resigned; assistant SBIAA executive director Michael Burrows; aviation director Bill Ingraham; former SBIAA and IVDA director and current SBIAA and IVDA consultant T. Milford Harrison; San Bernardino International Airport Authority counsel Tim Sabo; San Bernardino mayor and SBIAA and IVDA board member Pat Morris; county supervisor and SBIAA and IVDA board member Josie Gonzales.
Spencer entered into the agreement with SBIAA and the Inland Valley Development Authority to oversee what was supposed to be a $38 million renovation of the airport’s passenger terminal and a $7 million development of its concourse. Spencer undertook that appoinment amid confident predictions that upon completion of those assignments the airport would attract at least one passenger carrier and as many as a half dozen airlines. The cost of the passenger terminal and the concourse escalated to $142 million and the airport has yet to host any commercial airlines, although corporate jets and other private pilots have been landing at the Million Air corporate aviation facility, for which Spencer is the franchisee, since last year.
The cost overruns for the terminal project, the failure of San Bernardino Airport to attract commercial airlines and Spencer’s relationship with Rogers, Harrison and SBIAA and IVDA counsel Timothy Sabo have raised eyebrows and brought SBIAA and IVDA under increasingly critical scrutiny.
On June 30, the San Bernardino County 2010-11 Grand Jury delivered a report that questioned several elements of Spencer’s performance and that of Rogers, calling into question what was characterized as lax oversight of the airport’s operations and favorable treatment accorded Spencer with regard to leasing arrangements.
Spencer’s influence over operations at the airport, where several companies he owns are housed, is increasingly perceived as being in conflict with and counterproductive to the goal of bringing in aeronautics oriented companies interested in remaining at the airport for the long term. In some cases, Spencer’s pursuit of his own imperatives conflicted with the corporate aims of others companies functioning at the airport, resulting in those companies departing.
Spencer now owes the county more than $604,000 in unpaid taxes on property and equipment at the airport since 2005. The county had made no effective effort to collect on those unpaid taxes until three weeks after the September 21 FBI raid.
The FBI’s action at the airport was taken as yet another indication of federal prosecutors’ lack of confidence in the San Bernardino County district attorney’s ability, willingness and resolve to aggressively act with regard to issues involving malfeasance on the part of local governmental officials.
At the San Bernardino County district attorney’s office, Ramos and other officials were reticent about what the federal government’s active interest in local political and public agency corruption cases signifies. “That sounds like a question for the FBI,” district attorney’s office spokesman Christopher Lee told the Sentinel. “We’re not going to speak about another agency’s handling of cases in our county.”
Lee said he could not say whether information churned up by the FBI will be used exclusively by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in any criminal cases it elects to pursue or whether the information might be provided to his office for potential prosecutions in state court.
“I don’t have that knowledge,” he said.