Victorville Achieves Favorable Ruling Against Councilwoman

In a determination cheered by Victorville City Councilwoman Blanca Gomez’s political rivals and a sizable contingent of the employees at Victorville City Hall, Administrative Law Judge Stephen Tyler upheld the gist of a complaint filed by Victorville City Manager Keith Metzler in August that alleged Gomez engaged in unemployment fraud when she applied for unemployment benefits last May.
According to the city, it was required by the California Employment Development Department to put up $1,398 toward $4,952 in benefits Gomez received as a consequence of that filing.
According to the city, Gomez, who was first elected to the city council in November 2016 and was reelected in November 2020, is not now and never was a city employee.
On May 17, 2020, Gomez made an unemployment claim using the name “B Gomez.” Subsequently, she confirmed that she had been without work from May 17 until June 27.
It is unclear whether Gomez’s May 17 claim was made as the consequence of a lay off from employment she had with an entity other than the city, and whether that claim was precipitated by her employer having reduced its payroll in the immediate aftermath of the contraction in the economy following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Of the benefits provided to her, 28.23101 percent of what Gomez received was based upon income calculated to have come from the city. The remaining 71.7689 percent in benefits that were provided to her was calculated upon income she received elsewhere.
Within a week of Gomez’s filing of the claim, the state Employment Development Department contacted the city, at which point the city’s human resources division responded to Sacramento, informing the state that Gomez was an elected official rather than a municipal employee. Nevertheless, the Employment Development Department made a determination that Gomez was eligible to receive $233 per week. Information received but not confirmed by the Sentinel was that Gomez also received a weekly $600 per week federal unemployment benefit that lasted until July.
By August, city officials inquired of Gomez directly to ascertain if she had in fact made the application for the unemployment benefits. Reportedly, the city wanted to determine whether the application might have been made by some other individual engaged in identity theft who was using Gomez’s name or social security number. When she did not respond, Metzler sent a letter to state officials, outlining the city’s belief that Gomez had fraudulently made the application.
There were two elements to the accusation leveled at Gomez. One is that she is not and was never employed by the city. The second is that the city never ceased the payments it did make to Gomez.
Gomez received from the City of Victorville in 2019, according to Transparent California, total compensation of $23,314.00, consisting of regular pay of $11,314.00 and further pay of $1,800 for total pay of $13,114 plus benefits equal to $10,200. According to the city, the money and benefits provided to Gomez consist of a monthly stipend of $943 and benefits she is eligible to receive as an elected official plus a per-meeting augmentation she is provided for serving on adjunct committees or joint powers boards involving Victorville and other governmental entities.
Victorville’s counterclaim against Gomez went to the Unemployment Appeals Commission, which held hearings related to it in December 2020 and February 2021. Judge Tyler made a decision on March 4, 2021.
In his ruling, Judge Tyler held, “the claimant has received a stipend of $943 per month plus a slush fund of $850 per month. The claimant’s stipend was paid without the withholding of unemployment tax or disability tax. California Unemployment Insurance Code Section 1279(2)(c) states that wages do not include any payments, regardless of their designation, made by a city of this state to an elected official as an incident to public office. As a consequence, the claimant is ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits based on the fact that she is an elected official.”
According to Judge Tyler, “Additionally, there has been no break in the claimant’s payments and her service since 2016. The claimant’s application indicated that she has ceased working, which is not the case. Benefits were received as a result of this misrepresentation.”
Tyler added, “The department may consider investigating the claim of the claimant as being fraudulent as a result of her representation that she has ceased to receive remuneration.”
From shortly after the outset of her time in office, Gomez has been on the outs with most of her council colleagues, including former city councilmen Eric Negrete and Jim Kennedy, Former Mayor Gloria Garcia and current Mayor Debra Jones.
The open contempt the city has toward Gomez was evinced in a posting made to the city’s website, which in bold letters gloated, “Judge Rules Council Member Blanca Gomez May Be Investigated for Unemployment Fraud. Gomez falsely claimed a break in service and pay in order to receive unemployment benefits while continuing to receive monthly stipend from City.”
-Mark Gutglueck

Leave a Reply