By Mark Gutglueck
Panicked paralysis has gripped Rialto City Manager Marcus Fuller and Rialto City Attorney Eric Vail, as they are dealing with a thorny issue involving their political masters and unsuccessful candidates for the city council going back nearly two decades.
Central to the matter are blackmail and election-swaying efforts by members of the fire and police departments who were seeking to gain leverage in contract negotiations with the city. It is further alleged that former high ranking city officials were knowledgeable of and perhaps even involved in the extortion and efforts to impact voting in Rialto’s municipal elections and votes made by the city council.
Fuller and Vail are furiously seeking to bring the matter to a quiet close before it breaks into a full-blown scandal. A public airing of the seamy details of what occurred, Fuller and Vail fear, would carry with it a substantial possibility that the city’s taxpayers will take an estimated $25 million to $30 million hit.
At the basis of the contretemps is that Rialto Councilman Ed Scott, who is currently the city’s mayor pro tem, has filed claims totaling $1.15 million against the city where intermittently over the last quarter of a century he has been a member of the city council for nearly 19 years, including the last seven.
According to one of those claims, Rialto police officers and & firefighters have accessed the State of California’s law enforcement database on multiple occasions to obtain confidential information which was used in an attempt to prevent his election and reelection to office as well as for political purposes in opposing the electoral or re-electoral efforts of other members of the city council.
Additional information gleaned by the Sentinel indicates that others competing for berths upon the Rialto City Council or the mayor’s position were similarly subjected to having their profiles and personal information contained in what is supposed to be a restricted governmental data base accessed and used for either political purposes or to dissuade them from engaging in public advocacy or taking certain official actions.
The allegations made by Scott came in one of the two claims for damages he filed with the city this year, and which exists in the form of a sworn statement together with a narrative submitted as an attachment to the claim lodged with the city.
In Rialto, as is the case with all other cities or governmental entities in California, an individual who has suffered damages as a consequence of the action or negligence of the city or governmental entity or its employees must lodge a claim with that entity before initiating legal action against it. The governing board of the jurisdiction, as in the case of a city its city council, can then acknowledge the claim as valid and pay either the claimed amount of damages or a negotiated amount to settle the claim and avoid a lawsuit. Once a claim is rejected, the claimant has six months to file a lawsuit against the city. In the vast majority of cases, claims against cities are rejected, and in the vast majority of the cases where rejections are made, the claimants do not follow up with a lawsuit.
Scott filed two claims against the city, one pertaining to police department and fire department personnel accessing information pertaining to him in the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System and another unrelated claim which hinges on the city’s issuance of a permit for what Scott maintains was botched work on an electrical connection on property he owns in the city. The city council acknowledged receipt of the two claims, but neither accepted nor rejected them. Instead, the claims have been passed along to Eric Vail, Rialto’s interim city attorney who has been serving in that capacity since the departure of Fred Galante as city attorney in March 2020.
According to the narrative attached to one of Scott’s claims, filed on August 13, “On February 16, 2021 I made a verbal complaint to Rialto Police Chief Mark Kling that I had been informed that a confidential informant, a whistleblower who is a current employee of the City of Rialto, had been told by a member of the Rialto Fire Department that he had been involved in investigating myself to determine my residency and property I owned in Kernville, California and other information related to my personal life and background. In addition, I informed Sean Greyson, acting city manager and fire chief, that such an allegation had been made about the Rialto Fire Department.”
According to Scott’s narrative, Greyson spontaneously identified for him “the only person in the fire department who would have CLETS [California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System] access and would have done this. The name of this person shall not be disclosed at this time; however, the whistleblower has named the same individual as the person who told them they had done this. I have direct knowledge that for a person in [the] Rialto Fire Department to have been able to run my information [he] would [have] had to [have] requested it be done by going to a Rialto police sergeant [or individual of] higher rank or another agency. Additionally, it can only be done for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and have a case number assigned to it. None of this exists.”
Scott’s narrative attached to the claim continues, “Since making a complaint, I have been advised by the Rialto Police Department that there is an ongoing investigation into this and that in fact my information has been run several times for reasons not for legitimate law enforcement purposes, under my various names and nicknames and that it has been referred to the district attorney of San Bernardino County. These acts, while unknown specifically to me until a whistleblower came forward on February 16, 2021 and later confirmed by the Rialto Police Department, were illegal acts [perpetrated] under a previous police chief and administration. Based on information I have received I believe that other members of the city council may have had similar acts committed against them.”
Scott wrote, “I believe this behavior to be in violation of my civil rights under the Constitution [of the] United States and the Constitution of the State of California and its codes. I also believe that it was done for the intended purpose of manipulating elections and contracts negotiated by City of Rialto management and then ratified by the Rialto City Council. This is a pattern of conduct which has not been uncommon in the City of Rialto and was discovered in prior years by the FBI as a result of improper acts within the Rialto Police Department. Additionally, these illegal investigations may have been used to attempt to influence lawsuits against the City of Rialto.”
Scott stated, “These illegal acts have created a hostile environment for me and others. Additionally, being a person with severe health problems it has caused my life to be stressful and created an environment of fear. As a result of this behavior, I have been hospitalized on several occasions.”
The claim alleged Scott had suffered $1 million in damages.
Four months and three weeks prior to the lodging of that claim, on March 22, 2021, Scott had filed another claim, one related to misfeasance in the city’s building department.
According to the narrative submitted with that claim, “On September 24, 2020 Chief Building Official Trang Huynh sent a letter to Daniel Courtright at 142 S Riverside Ave, Rialto California 92376 stating that construction activity had occurred at the above address, which is owned by myself G Edward Scott. The installation of a new electrical service was done with the owner’s (G Edward Scott) approval. Additionally other work was performed without owner’s approval of permits or engineering, including but not limited to new air conditioning and electrical work and piercing a shear wall. The City of Rialto issued a permit for new electrical service 100 amps to 200 amps without owner’s approval or engineering and allowed substandard and unsafe installation work to be performed in violation of [the] state building code. The City of Rialto allowed an untrained and uncertified permit technician to issue permits and the former chief building official failed to properly supervise that employee and failed to follow California building codes. Additionally [the] building inspector failed to require permits for [the] air conditioner which was connected to [a] new electrical panel. On September 25, 2020 the City of Rialto red-tagged 1425 Riverside Ave for failure [to] correct and unsafe conditions.”
The narrative goes on to state, “These damages have created a situation where owner is unable to make corrections and repairs as he does not have possession of [the] building and the inability to market and sale [the] building at market rate.”
The claim seeks a total of $150,000, $75,000 to, according to Scott “bring the building back to code” and $75,000 for “lost market value.”
The claim filed on March 22 was considered by the city council at its April 13 meeting. The claim filed on August 13 was considered by the city council at its September 14 meeting.
The minutes of the March 22 and September 14 meetings leave unclear what action the council took regarding Scott’s claims. According to Rialto City Clerk Barbara McGee, the council received the claims but did not accept them nor reject them. She referred further questions with regard to the status or processing of the claims to acting City Attorney Eric Vail.
In response to a host of questions the Sentinel posed to him, Vail in an email wrote, “I am not able to offer comments on open claims, investigations or ongoing legal actions.”
With his terse response, Vail bypassed the substance of the Sentinel’s inquiry, including where he now stands in laying out for the city council how it should ultimately respond to the claims, the actions cited in them, in particular those pertaining to the unauthorized use of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, and the validity of the claims.
That the city has not processed the claims after the time that has elapsed since their filings is an indication that there is some validity to the contents of each, and that their substance is both engaging and troubling. An alternate reading of the delay is that Vail’s faculties as city attorney have been overmatched by the consideration that the claim was filed by one of his political masters.
The Sentinel’s inquiry of Vail included if his examination of Scott’s August 13 claim had determined whether information relating to Scott contained in the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System was accessed by members of the Rialto Police Department on multiple occasions and if that access had been made as the consequence of a legitimate investigation or legitimate investigations. The Sentinel asked Vail how many investigations of Councilman Scott there had been, what issues they had delved into and what the parameters of that investigation was or those investigations were. Vail was also queried as to who had accessed the database, whether more than one of the department’s officers had accessed the system with regard to Scott and if any of the investigations into Councilman Scott were legitimate.
Vail’s response to the Sentinel foreclosed answers to those questions, as well as to how high within the police department knowledge about the investigation or investigations into Councilman Scott went, whether the police chief had knowledge of the investigation or investigations and whether the police chief had given a green light to the investigation[s]. Vail’s non-response further left unanswered what the outcome[s] of the/those investigation[s] had been and whether Scott was determined to have been engaged in some form of illegal action/activity/comportment that would have warranted criminal charges being filed against him or whether he had been cleared by the investigation[s]. Vail additionally left unanswered whether any report with regard to the investigation or investigations had been generated and provided to the district attorney’s office.
Ultimately, Vail’s determination of the validity of Scott’s claims, in particular the one relating to the alleged misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System data bank, could have tremendous consequence for the city and its taxpayers.
If Vail ascertains that Scott’s claim is essentially accurate and on that basis advises the mayor and city council to settle the claim in Scott’s favor, given the indication in the claim that other members of the city council were likewise the victims of city employees’ misuse of the confidential information compiled with regard to them in the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System, a settlement with Scott might very well invite claims from the other members of the council. Thus, if Scott comes in for a $1 million payday, so too could Mayor Deborah Robertson, Councilman Rafael Trujillo, Councilman Andy Carrizales and Councilwoman Karla Perez.
Further, if as the circumstance and Scott’s claim suggest, the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System was being used by city employees for political use and to influence the outcome of city elections, the number of those whose constitutional and privacy rights were violated could extend to 28 others yet living going back two decades, those being former Rialto council members and mayors as well as those who vied for those offices. Those would include Mayor Grace Vargas, Councilman Joe Baca, Jr., Councilman Ed Palmer, Councilwoman Winifred Lee Hanson and Councilman Kurt Wilson, as well as candidates Andrew Karol, Theresa Schneider, Michael Taylor, Stacy Augustine, Ana Gonzalez, Nicholas Nieblas, Lynn Hirtz, Jesse Aguayo, David D. Phillips, Lindsey Fretter, Kevin Moore, Joe Britt, Steve Miller, Sarmad Syed, June Hayes, Joe Sampson, John Sanchez, Big Mark Ferretiz, Clifford Friedeck, Dale Estvander, Pamela Whyte, Albert Roman and Victor Edinburgh.
The timeline on the alleged misuse of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System is not clear. Scott was first elected to the city council in 1996. He left the council in 2000 as a consequence of his unsuccessful run for county supervisor that year. He returned to the council in 2004, was reelected in 2008, and left the city council in 2012 as a consequence of his unsuccessful run for mayor against Robertson. He was elected to the council in 2014 and reelected in 2018.
Using the $1 million Scott is seeking as a baseline, the city would conceivably be on the hook for $33 million if his claim succeeds and evidence surfaces to show that city employees, either on their own or in conjunction with union activity, made consistent use of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System in researching Rialto’s politicians. A city effort to bar recovery by former officeholders or council/mayoral hopefuls on the basis of the statute of limitations could be overcome if those seeking such recovery demonstrate that the discovery of the violation of their rights and privacy did not come until Scott’s current uncovering of what had occurred.
Many consider Scott’s claims against the city of which he is a councilman of long standing and currently the mayor pro tem to be in poor form. Indeed, as one of the city’s highest ranking officials responsible for its oversight and monitoring how it is run, his claim in some respects can be seen as an acknowledgment of his own lack of diligence. Moreover, that he made such a claim against the city could be used against him politically next year, when his current term expires and he must stand for reelection to remain in office. Given the health issues he referenced in his claim, he may not seek reelection in 2022. Whatever his future political intent, with his claim relating to the police department’s/fire department’s use of the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System to violate his constitutional and privacy rights, he appears to have opened a can of worms that from the standpoint of City Hall and the interest of Rialto’s taxpayers might better have remained sealed.
Within the circle of those involved in civic affairs in Rialto there is discomfiture with the manner in which Vail has not moved decisively to foreclose Scott’s claims by advising the council to simply reject them. In the view of at least some, Vail showed more deference for Scott’s political status than was prudent by holding off on and continuing to delay a decision on the matter of the claims. One individual aware of the circumstance characterized the temporizing that has gone on with regard to the claims as “gutless,” saying that Vail should have long ago managed the crisis by seeing that the claim relating to the California Law Enforcement Telecommunications System was rejected, thereby putting the burden on Scott to marshal whatever proof he believes he has, which would include exposing those who have provided him with the information upon which his claim is based.
The Sentinel this week made an effort to obtain from Scott further detail with regard to the claims and the narratives contained as attachments in them. Scott had not responded by press time.
By Mark Gutglueck