Lawyer Casts Aside Valdivia’s Denials As So Much Political Rhetoric

The attorney representing five former San Bernardino city employees who are suing Mayor John Valdivia and their former employer over treatment they were subjected to by Valdivia this week rejected as political rhetoric assertions by Valdivia’s re-election campaign that those claims were politically motivated ones.
Tristan Pelayes is representing Mirna Cisneros, Valdivia’s one-time constituent service representative; Karen Cervantes, his former special assistant; Jackie Aboud and Don Smith, two of Valdivia’s field representatives; and Matt Brown, Valdivia’s former chief-of-staff. The three women have claimed that while working for the city, Valdivia pressured them to have sex with him. Cisneros related how Valdivia had solicited and received bribes. She also laid out how he used city money to travel nationally and internationally on business unrelated to the city, which included raising money for himself or his future political campaigns. Aboud has claimed Valdivia used his authority to deny municipal services to those areas of the city where he did not fare well during his 2018 election and where voters elected his rivals on the city council. Smith offered an account of Valdivia accepting bribe money. Brown claims he fell out with Valdivia for resisting the mayor’s efforts to demonize and discredit his staff members who were willing to speak out about his misuse of the mayor’s post.
To remain in office, Valdivia is seeking reelection this year. His campaign has dismissed Cisneros, Cervantes, Aboud, Smith and Brown as malcontents whose criticisms of and observations about the mayor are self-serving utterances which should not be believed by the city’s voters.
Pelayes characterized what was being said about his clients as campaign rhetoric that bordered on libel and slander. He further charged that one of the candidates competing in the race against Valdivia, former San Bernardino Human Resources Director Helen Tran, had enabled Valdivia in the depredations he had engaged in against the employees of the city he is now suing on behalf of.
Cisneros, Cervantes, Aboud, Smith and Brown were all, Pelayes said, “victimized in various forms by the current mayor, John Valdivia.”
Pelayes said that his clients had been subjected to “sexual harassment and bullying” as Valdivia engaged in “creating a hostile work environment.” Ultimately, the lawyer said, his clients lost their jobs or resigned from them because “They refused to comply with his inappropriate demands.”
That Valdivia and his campaign consultants are claiming political motivation in what Cisneros, Cervantes, Aboud, Smith and Brown are saying is preposterous, Pelayes said.
“It’s been more than two years since the first claim was filed in early 2020 and three years since the proven documented acts by Mayor Valdivia began to occur,” Pelayes said. “It is important to note those timelines. The timeline refutes the political motivation angle of claims being falsely spread due to the upcoming election. The harassment included sexual advances towards my clients and vulgar comments and messages about various women and his sexual activity and desires.”
Pelayes pointed out that “On numerous and separate occasions the mayor told the female victims they needed to spend more time alone with him after hours in order to be successful and secure their employment and when they didn’t, he mistreated them and insinuated that their jobs were in jeopardy.”
Beyond his caddish behavior, Pelayes said, Valdivia demonstrated an intrinsic dishonesty and untrustworthiness that his client’s repeatedly came face to face with.
“The mayor repeatedly hid and misreported financial activities, which is a violation of the law and is being independently investigated,” Pelayes said. “As a matter of fact, at least three of my clients have given statements to the FBI and the district attorney’s office. That is still ongoing. Mayor Valdivia routinely used his consulting company to do business with companies with proposals and contracts pending before the city council, which is consistent with his pay-to-play model for doing business within the city.”
City officials have had to reluctantly come to terms with what Valdivia did, though it is in their financial interest as the lawsuits proceed for them to minimize what the mayor did, Pelayes said.
“The city’s independent investigation – their own investigation – confirmed some of the allegations but they have refused to release the detailed findings of the investigation, which is cause for suspicion,” Pelayes said.
According to Pelayes, the accusations against the mayor are consistent from the bottom to the top.
He said that Valdivia’s handpicked senior staff member, Brown, confirms what those serving at all of the staff levels within the mayor’s office have recounted.
“Matt Brown was retaliated against by Valdivia for declining to provide false written statements and write fake poor work evaluations for Myrna Cisneros and Karen Cervantes after they filed their claim,” Pelayes said. “From 2018 until 2019, Valdivia was served letters by the city warning him about liability surrounding his creating a hostile work environment and interfering with the administration of the city in violation of the city municipal code by using his position and staff to push his personal motives. He was also formally warned about having Mirna Cisneros work out of class by repeatedly assigning her to work various after hour events, which were not within the scope of her duties and also a Wages and Fair Labors Standards Act violation.”
The claims by the plaintiffs in the five lawsuits filed against Valdivia and the city are “backed by witness statements, numerous text messages and investigative findings,” Pelayes said. “Facts refute the recent lies being put out by the mayor and his attorney. You might have seen some of the campaign flyers he’s put out lately. The mayor states that the claims are political slander and a smear campaign meant to negatively impact his current campaign efforts. If you recall the timeline, these issues date back to 2018, long before the mayor’s race and before he even became mayor. Further, these issues were reported long before they left the city and filed their claims. This obviously makes the claims by the mayor false. The mayor’s attorney states the testimony by the victims is inconsistent, conflicting and made up. Their documented, independent testimonies actually depict consistent patterns of behavior backed by witness statements, messages and the city’s own documentation. I also would like to add that when it came time for the mayor to participate in his deposition and provide sworn testimony, he failed to appear. He was issued a several thousand dollar fine and ordered by a judge to appear at a later date, coincidentally, after the primary election on June 7. He was ordered to appear for his deposition, come July 12 and July 14. He can’t escape anymore.”
Just as Valdivia did repeatedly during his first 18 months in office as mayor, Pelayes said he is again using the “disgusting angle of lying” which Pelayes said is the mayor’s ‘go to tactic’ of bullying those who get in his way. Valdivia is claiming all five plaintiffs he is representing “were simply disgruntled employees who either resigned or fired,” which he said was “another ridiculous claim refuted by documentation, evidence and the timelines. His customer service representative, two field reps, his own chief of staff: these are the people accusing him, and now he is claiming it was done for a political reason. None of these people wanted to go after the mayor’s job and they have no political aspirations whatsoever.”
Continuing, Pelayes said, “Something needs to be done. Valdivia’s history of abuse and power has cost my clients their jobs, has cost the community millions of dollars in litigation, not just in these cases, but others that the mayor has been involved in.”
Valdivia’s continuing in office, Pelayes said, “is a complete disservice to the residents of the city who are in dire need of real leadership.”
The campaign ploy of touting Valdivia as “’The People’s Mayor’ is just a farce and unfortunately you are all paying the price,” Pelayes said.
The behavior Valdivia engaged in, Pelayes said, reflected poorly upon Helen Tran, another candidate in the race who previously oversaw the city’s personnel in her capacity as human resources director during the first year of Valdivia’s tenure as mayor. Tran has since left San Bernardino to become the human resources director with the city of West Covina.
“She was there from 2018 to 2019,” Pelayes said. “Sworn testimony has come out indicating that my clients reported all the allegations I just described to human resources. Whether Helen Tran is now claiming she was out on an injury or not, from my perspective, she was in charge of the department. I hold the department and the city responsible.”
Pelayes said the city, including Tran, failed to act forthrightly in the aftermath of what Valdivia was doing.
“The investigation obviously was slanted on behalf of the city from Day One,” Pelayes said. “I asked the city to allow us to participate alongside the city’s hired investigator.” That offer was spurned, he said.
“The investigation was concluded and to this day they refuse to release the entire findings,” Pelayes said. “What they did instead is cut and pasted the quote unquote executive summary about what they felt were the findings. We are currently fighting to get the actual investigation.”
On her campaign website, Tran makes no criticism of Valdivia. The website states, “Helen Tran is a public servant, non-profit leader, and mother of three. The daughter of Vietnamese refugees in search of the American Dream, Helen grew up in San Bernardino. In 2006, Helen began working for the City of San Bernardino as the executive assistant to the director of human resources. Ten years later, Helen became the youngest director of human resources for the City of San Bernardino.”
Pelayes said that as inadequate as the city’s investigation was, it still documented enough to establish that his clients had been abominably treated.
“Even with the executive summary that they did provide, they sustained a bunch of the allegations against Mayor John Valdivia,” Pelayes said. “He refused to participate himself in that investigation and was never interviewed, though my clients were threatened to participate, even though some of them were still current employees under threat of being disciplined for insubordination.”
According to Pelayes, “Nineteen out of 42 claims were substantiated. The reasons cited for not being able to substantiate those allegations are the lack of witnesses, some of those witnesses being the mayor’s secretary, the mayor himself and Matt Brown and some of the other people who were not asked the questions that would have substantiated the allegations that ended up being inconclusive.”
Valdivia, in conjunction with his lawyer, Rod Pacheco, and his campaign, is doing everything that can be done to duck the issues the five lawsuits have raised, Pelayes said.
“We’re on the third or fourth judge now because both combined the city and Mayor Valdivia filed various motions to get these judges disqualified, basically when they [received] rulings they didn’t like,” Pelayes said. “From the inception of these cases, Mayor Valdivia and the city ha[ve] filed every conceivable motion that you can imagine to that the case is either dismissed, thrown out or gutted. And they were, so far, unsuccessful. So, when you see those campaign flyers saying that the cases are done or that there is evidence that these cases are going nowhere, that is a complete lie.”
Whatever the outcome of the election, Pelayes said, he is angling to demonstrate Valdivia is a crook and a prevaricator. And he will take no prisoners in doing so, he said.
“I plan to call Helen Tran,” Pelayes said. “Obviously the main deposition is that of Mayor John Valdivia himself, and that has been ordered by the court.”
Valdivia’s reputation will take more of a shellacking than it already has, Pelayes said.
“I wanted to take the deposition of Rene Brizuela,” the attorney said. “Rene Brizuela was the mayor’s executive assistant, his right-hand woman, who has herself been the subject of abuse by the mayor for years. For whatever reason, I got a text message or an email from the city’s lawyers saying she is unavailable to them. Somehow, for some reason, now she’s out. I cannot confirm that is a medical emergency or she chose to quit, or they fired her. They won’t give me any information. But obviously, through the court system, we’ll flesh that out.”
According to Valdivia, he is the people’s mayor and San Bernardino’s first working class mayor in a generation. He works hard, Valdivia says, and does not make excuses and takes responsibility while focusing on results. He holds other politicians accountable, he says.
His words and actions have been twisted by his political enemies against him, Valdivia said.
Those who criticize him and newspapers that report on things unfavorable to him or about him, such as the San Bernardino Sun and the San Bernardino County Sentinel, are racist and despise Hispanics and want to protect the city’s old guard. Similarly, Pelayes, has a political bias against him, Valdivia maintains. The residents of San Bernardino are too savvy to be fooled by the propaganda disfavorable to him, Valdivia says.
With the support of the good people of San Bernardino, Valdivia said, “I will continue to stand strong for the people of my hometown and lead our city with vision toward a better future.”
-Mark Gutglueck

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