Theft Of Business Application Money Was Inspired By Top City Officials’ Graft

Word has reached the Sentinel that the internal investigation into allegations of theft by city employees within the Adelanto Municipal Water Department has turned up evidence that graft involving payoffs from cannabis business applicants to certain high ranking city officials poisoned the atmosphere at City Hall, eroding employee morale to the point that at least one employee and perhaps more lower down the chain of command felt pocketing public money was within the norm.
According to sources deep within City Hall, last spring an employee in the finance department noted discrepancies with regard to payments, whereupon an informal examination of the city’s books, including those in the water department, was quietly initiated. The preliminary results of that examination were shared with the city council, which on at least two occasions held closed session discussions of the matter. One upshot of those secret council discussions, the Sentinel has learned, was to contract for an investigation into the matter with firms capable of carrying out what was hoped would be a discrete inquiry.
Based on the investigators’ initial findings, three employees within the water department – Utility Service Manager/Water Conservation Specialist Tondalaya Goodwin, Customer Service Supervisor Laura Lowe and Customer Service Representative Anna Mosqueda – came under close focus.
At issue, according to the Sentinel’s sources, was that after money was paid for cannabis business applications and permits received at the counter within City Hall and before that money was deposited in the appropriate account the city had for those funds, something over $100,000 disappeared or could not be accounted for over the course of more than a year.
During further closed sessions after the investigation had begun in earnest, members of the city council, the city manager and city attorney were kept abreast of what was being learned.
While evidence was yet being accumulated but before a determination of whether it was just one, two or all three of the suspects identified who were responsible for the thefts, the investigation was compromised when Councilwoman Stevevonna Evans, who had a friendship with Goodwin, informed her of the ongoing investigation.
Goodwin was in charge of the department and was responsible for the final count of the funds. She was the last person touching the cash before it was deposited, the Sentinel was told. Lowe and Mosqueda were at some level called upon to also count the money, and the Sentinel’s sources said it is unclear what part Lowe and Mosqueda had in what occurred beyond the quantifying of the funds coming in. “They were either all in on the scheme, or the others knew something but didn’t speak up,” the Sentinel was told.
In June, Goodwin, Lowe and Mosqueda were put on paid administrative leave. As a consequence, there was almost immediate disarray within the water division, and the posting of bills to the water department’s customers was interrupted, resulting in bills for most customers not going out in July at all, such that by August the city was seeing a substantial downturn of revenue. The issue with regard to the delinquency in billing has yet to be fully addressed. An informed estimate is that between $200,000 and $300,000 in revenue that should have come into the city as water service payments is yet uncollected because of the billing delays.
The city’s effort to quantify the loss has created an expense that would otherwise not exist. The auditing and accounting team headed by Misty Cheng has been billing the city more than it was previously after it was tasked to take on assisting with the water department’s financial issues. Cheng’s bills to the city are now well above $500,000 for the year, although the entirety of that expense does not apply to water department billing and includes other financial fixes as well as audits.
The interruption of the investigation represents a further expense to the city and its taxpayers, as the firms carrying out the investigation in June lost the ability to monitor Goodwin’s, Lowe’s and Mosqueda’s activity without their awareness that they were being scrutinized. Thus, the investigation has dragged out without resolution, and with the firms responsible for the investigation continuing to bill the city for a probe that should have been concluded months ago.
Both MMJ Solutions and the law firm of Zweibach, Fiset and Coleman are shown in the city’s listing of check warrants to be carrying out investigations currently for the city, with MMJ having sent an invoice to the city dated September 23 for $4,559.47 and Zwibach, Fiset and Coleman having billed the city on August 16 for $2,800.
Goodwin, Lowe and Mosqueda remain on administrative leave, and there is yet a lag in water department billing.
It is Mayor Gabriel Reyes’ perception that Evans was responsible for the untracking of the investigation into the thefts. That, among other issues, prompted him to move, in August, to remove Evans as mayor pro tem and replace her with Councilman Gerardo Hernandez.
The Sentinel is informed that the pilfering of cannabis business application permit and licensing fees began prior to Reyes’, Evans’ and Hernandez’s assumption of their positions on the council last December following their elections to the council in November 2018. The prior regime in Adelanto consisted, in its most recent form, of then-Mayor Rich Kerr and then-Councilman John Woodard and Councilwoman Joy Jeannette with the somewhat irregular support of former Councilman Charley Glasper. While the Kerr-led council was yet in control of the city, cannabis-related business applicants were able to purchase favorable treatment for their businesses at City Hall, which included fast track approvals and the suspension of enforcement of regulations and codes at their operations together with the waiving of fees, in exchange for both political contributions to council members and money paid under the table as well as monetary inducements openly provided in the guise of legitimate-appearing payments or commissions. Prior to Jeannette’s tenure on the council, which began in June 2018, the ruling coalition that Kerr headed consisted of himself, Woodard and former Councilman Jermaine Wright, as well as the on-again off-again participation of Glasper. In January 2018, Wright was removed from the council, in accordance with California law, after he had failed to attend regularly scheduled meetings of the council for more than 60 days. His absence came about as a consequence of his arrest by the FBI on November 7, 2017 and his continued incarceration after he accepted $10,000 provided to him in two stacks of 100 $50 bills by an undercover FBI operative who had represented himself as an applicant seeking permits and licensing to operate a marijuana distribution business from a warehouse in Adelanto. Wright received the money in exchange for his commitment to intercede with the city’s code enforcement division to prevent city interference and regulation of the enterprise.
-Mark Gutglueck

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