Further Graft And Croneyism Allegations Raised At The West Valley Water District

Former San Bernardino County Supervisor and current West Valley Water District Board Member Dr. Clifford Young in conjunction with West Valley Water District’s chief financial officer and its assistant board secretary have filed a whistleblower lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court alleging the district has traded lucrative employment opportunities at the district in return for bribes and the delivery of campaign contributions intended to perpetuate the hold that two of the district’s board members have on their elected positions.
The legal action is bringing into sharp relief the common practice within a wide cross section of governmental entities in San Bernardino County in which criminal conflicts of interest abound while elected officials with one agency or municipality are employed with other agencies and municipalities, which in turn are governed by office holders who themselves hold high paying positions with other public agencies. Many consider the focus this lawsuit is bringing on this this circular tangle of incestuous relationships between public agencies as long overdue. Critics of local government in San Bernardino County believe such arrangements have created a multiplicity of make-work assignments in which the holders perform tasks or occupy positions that contribute little or nothing to the public benefit or the underlying purpose of the agencies involved, increase personnel costs and detract from the pool of money that otherwise might be available to be budgeted for legitimate operations related to municipal or agency responsibilities. Moreover, the inflated salaries provided to these office holders in one jurisdiction who are given sinecures with other jurisdictions result in across-the-board inflation in the compensation provided to public employees in general, analyses of public employee remunerations demonstrate.
The lawsuit in which Young and West Valley Water District Chief Financial Officer Naisha Davis and West Valley Water District Assistant Board Secretary Patricia Romero are plaintiffs names as defendants West Valley Water District General Counsel Robert Tafoya, who serves as the city attorney in Baldwin Park, and his law firm, Tafoya & Garcia;  West Valley Water District Special Counsel Clifton Albright and his law firm, Albright Yee & Schmit; West Valley Water District Special Counsel Martin Kaufman, and his law firm Kaufman Law Firm; and West Valley Water District consultant Robert Katherman.
Named as co-conspirators in the suit are Michael Taylor, president of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors and the former Baldwin Park police chief; current Baldwin Park City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco, who acts as the West Valley Water District’s assistant general manager, West Valley Water District Board Vice President and Fontana School District Police Officer Kyle Crowther and West Valley Water District General Manager Clarence Mansell.
Young, Davis and Romero are represented by attorneys Rachel Fiset and Erin Coleman of the law firm Zweibach, Fiset & Coleman.
The lawsuit alleges that Taylor, who was chief of the Baldwin Park Police Department from 2013 to 2016, had been terminated by the Baldwin Park City Council. He was subsequently re-hired to a one-year contract to again serve as Baldwin Park police chief on December 1, 2017. That contract, drafted by Tafoya, raised Taylor’s pension by $25,000, and further barred him from being fired unless he committed a felony, and dispensed with the requirement that Taylor be subject to performance evaluations.
Six days after Taylor was reinstated as police chief under the deal Tafoya drafted, Taylor on December 7, 2017 acted as a newly-elected member of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors to effectuate hiring Tafoya as the district’s general counsel on a contract with no end date, according to the lawsuit. Tafoya’s firm has billed the West Valley Water District approximately $395,000 since being hired in December 2017.
Less than four months later, Baldwin Park City Councilman Pacheco, who had voted for Taylor’s reinstatement as police chief, was hired by the West Valley Water District as the “assistant general manager of external affairs.” He was later moved without board approval to the newly created position of “assistant general manager,” earning a salary of $192,000 per year. Since his hiring, Pacheco and the California Education Coalition PAC he controls have donated a total of $8,000 to Taylor’s campaign and $1,000 to West Valley Water District Board Vice President Kyle Crowther’s campaign.
According to the suit, in 2018, Taylor spearheaded the effort to hire his associate, Mansell, as the West Valley Water District’s interim general manager and subsequently as the permanent general manager, at an annual salary of $225,000. Mansell was hired by a 3-to-2 board vote without a recruitment effort, background checks, or other standard hiring reviews.
In 2017 and 2018, Tafoya paid for Taylor to travel and stay in Mexico and Las Vegas, trips that Taylor did not disclose on economic interest disclosure forms he was required to fill out as an elected official. In September 2018, Tafoya paid for Taylor, Crowther and Young to attend an Arizona Cardinal’s football game in Arizona. Tafoya paid for airfare, hotels, game tickets and meals on the trip. Taylor and Crowther did not disclose the trip on required filings, according to the suit. Tafoya paid for Crowther’s airfare to Miami and for football tickets to Miami Dolphins football games on at least two occasions in 2018. Crowther did not disclose the tickets or airfare on required filings. Tafoya contributed $500 to Taylor’s campaign and $1,500 to Crowther’s political action committee, Kyle Nelson Crowther for West Valley Water District 2017, and he hosted an August 2018 fundraiser at the Los Angeles Athletic Club for Crowther.
In September 2018, Tafoya told West Valley Water District Director Clifford Young that Clifton Albright of Albright, Yee & Schmit should be hired to handle new litigation against the West Valley Water District, and, in exchange, Albright would donate $2,000 to Young’s campaign. Although Young declined, the district ultimately engaged Albright, whose firm had worked for the City of Baldwin Park. Albright made $1,000 in campaign contributions to both Taylor and Crowther. His firm has invoiced West Valley Water District approximately $222,000 for its services.
At Tafoya’s request, the West Valley Water District Board hired Martin Kaufman and the Kaufman Law Firm of Ontario as special counsel to the district in March 2018. Kaufman regularly provided some board members and Tafoya with trips, event tickets and expensive meals and gifts, and paid for Taylor, Tafoya and Crowther to attend the Los Angeles Rams vs. Los Angeles Chargers football game in 2018, according to the suit. Kaufman contributed $2,500 to Taylor’s campaign after his firm’s contract was approved. The firm has invoiced at least $97,945 to the West Valley Water District since March 2018.
In February 2018, Robert Katherman began consulting for the West Valley Water District on water issues without a contract or board approval. Katherman paid for gifts and entertainment for Taylor, including bottles of wine valued at $500, boxes of cigars, and meals which Taylor did not disclose on required forms, according to the lawsuit. “Katherman has contributed $500 each to Taylor’s and Crowther’s campaigns since being hired, and the West Valley Water District has paid him at least $40,000,” the suit states. “Over the past year, defendants and their co-conspirators named in this complaint – including, but not limited to Board of Director Michael Taylor, the district’ s general counsel, Robert Tafoya, the district’s assistant general manager, Robert Pacheco, Board of Director Kyle Crowther, the district’s general manager, Clarence Mansell, the district’s human resources and risk manager, Deborah Martinez, and other law firms and consultants connected to Taylor and Tafoya – have engaged in illegal kickbacks and bribes to ensure contracts with the district and subsequent approval of invoices for payment. These illegal kickbacks were in the form of payments for personal travel, expensive meals, campaign contributions, and entertainment for board members and staff. Defendants and their co-conspirators also engaged in unlawful bribes as these expenditures were also made in exchange for continued business to be directed to defendants and for the board to approve their invoices.”
According to the lawsuit, “Mansell has improperly contracted with vendors (who are friends, former coworkers, or affiliates at Baldwin Park and or the named defendants (particularly Tafoya and co-conspirators) based on kickbacks or bribes to Taylor or a co-conspirator within the district. Specifically, (1) Monsell and Tafoya routinely identified a contractor, wrote a contract and issued a purchase order; (2) the contractor would allegedly perform the work and invoice the district; (3) Mansell received the invoice and signed the invoice to approve payment; and (4) Taylor and Crowther would co-sign the checks for payment.”
The lawsuit continues, “Mansell would approve purchase orders up to $25.000 even if the contract was for a lower amount. Further, the payment of the invoices on these contracts has come from district funds not allocated for payment on the contracts resulting in a misappropriation of district funds. Mansell also failed to procure at least three requests for qualifications/proposals for these contracts in violation of the district’s procurement policies and procedures. The district’s professional services purchase orders have increased since Mansell’s appointment as general manager. For example, in September 2018, Mansell approved seven professional service purchase orders totaling $80,900. compared to no professional service purchase orders approved in September 2017 prior to his tenure. Tafoya has signed-off on these contracts and Taylor and Crowther subsequently signed checks for payment since October 2018. In doing so, Tafoya has violated his contract with the district, stating that “Tafoya & Garcia will not …retain the services of any outside investigators, consultants, or experts to be hired only after consultation with the district.”
Also, according to the lawsuit “on December 12, 2017 Martinez was appointed human resources manager of the district at the recommendation or Tafoya and Taylor. Prior to her appointment, Martinez and her husband contributed to Taylor’s campaign, and since her appointment, Martinez and her husband have contributed to Taylor’s campaign. Taylor did not recuse himself in voting for Martinez’s appointment as required by district policy. Since her appointment, Martinez and her husband have also paid for trips and meals for Taylor, including, but not limited to, trips to Mexico, Laughlin, Las Vegas, and Florida on numerous occasions.”
The suit further alleges that “Pacheco, a councilman at Baldwin Park, was hired in a newly created position as assistant manager of public affairs… at a salary in the amount of approximately $192,000 (which is more than the prior assistant general manager) plus a car paid by the district … to acquire state and federal grants for the district but to date no grants have been awarded to the district. Pacheco does not actually perform work on behalf  of the district but instead manages Baldwin Park matters on the district’s time and resources.”
Further, according to the suit, “Pacheco has maxed out his credit cards paid by the district for non-district entertainment expenses including, but not limited to hotels, casinos, and expensive meals. Furthermore, Pacheco patronizes strip clubs during working hours unrelated to district business. Pacheco has asked other District staff members for use of their credit cards to pay for expenses.”
Fiset said, “In a web of corruption reminiscent of the City of Bell scandal, the players in this conspiracy employed kickbacks, bribes and fraud, swapping lucrative contracts that generated over $1 million in fees and salaries in return for campaign contributions, free trips, gifts and NFL tickets. Our clients are shining the light on this conspiracy to hold those involved accountable to the public. A pattern of illegal kickbacks in the form of free travel, expensive meals, campaign contributions, entertainment and gifts shows how these defendants and their co-conspirators acted unlawfully to enrich themselves at the public’s expense,” Fiset said. “Our clients’ goal is to bring this rampant fraud, misappropriation of public funds and violation of the public’s trust to an end.”
Naseem Farooqi, the public affairs manager for the West Valley Water District, in response to a request for a response to the issues raised in the suit told the Sentinel, “The District will not be commenting further on pending litigation.”
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply