Pacheco, Tafoya & Taylor Used Burner Phones In WVWD Plotting

Three of the principals caught in the City of Baldwin Park/West Valley Water District political corruption scandal were utilizing burner phones in much of their communication with one another at least as early as 2018, the Sentinel has learned.
Beginning in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, then-Baldwin Park City Councilman Ricardo Pacheco arrived at an understanding with two entities interested in establishing marijuana-related enterprises in Baldwin Park that he would champion their cause, including obtaining the necessary two other votes on the council to approve their operating permits within the 6.79-square mile city, in exchange for kickbacks.
Assisting Pacheco in that arrangement, according to the FBI, were two key Baldwin Park officials, City Attorney Robert Tafoya and Police Chief Michael Taylor.
Through an elaborate set of deals and exchanges involving all three utilizing their official authority and capacities, Tafoya drafted the Baldwin Park city ordinances that allowed Pacheco, participating as part of the city council majority, to award commercial marijuana operating permits to the companies that were bribing Pacheco, according to the FBI.The FBI further maintains that Pacheco steered additional money from the marijuana entrepreneurs who were paying him off into the campaign finance coffers that helped to fund Taylor’s victory in the November 2017 election for a position on the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. Particularly helpful in that regard was Sharone Barshatski, the principal in a marijuana-related company that ultimately obtained an operating permit in Baldwin Park, who provided Taylor with $10,000 for his campaign.
Pacheco supported the rehiring of Taylor as Baldwin Park Police Chief less than two weeks after Taylor had won that election, the FBI maintains, and Tafoya wrote up the contract that spelled out the terms of Taylor’s rehiring.
Taylor, upon assuming office as a member of the West Valley Water District Board in December 2017 persuaded his board colleagues to hire Tafoya as the water district’s general counsel.
In March 2018, Taylor successfully lobbied his board colleagues to hire Pacheco into an assistant general manager’s position with the water district the councilman did not have the technical expertise to fill that paid the city councilman just shy of a quarter of a million dollars a year in total compensation. Thereupon, at Tafoya’s suggestion, Taylor abstained from the vote ratifying Pacheco’s employment contract.
Even before 2017 had ended, Pacheco’s activity and interaction with elements of the nascent marijuana industry had registered on the FBI’s radar screen, resulting in him falling under intense scrutiny even as he was accepting at least $280,000 in under-the-table payments from various principals in marijuana-related enterprises that were seeking permits to transact business in Baldwin Park. At that point, however, federal agents were unable to catch Pacheco red-handed taking money from those who were greasing him. They hatched a strategy whereby they employed two Baldwin Park police officers to dialogue with Pacheco over the city’s ongoing police officers’ employment contract negotiations between the city and the Baldwin Park Police Association. Ultimately, in exchange for Pacheco’s promise to vote in favor of the contract that had been worked out between the police officers’ bargaining unit and the city, which Pacheco made good on during a city council meeting in March 2018, the officers paid or made arrangements to convey $37,900 in bribes to the councilman from January through October 2018.
That money included $17,900, which was distributed through checks made out to Pacheco’s church and to what the U.S. Attorney’s Office referred to as “sham political committees” under the names of other people but controlled by Pacheco, as well as an envelope with $20,000 in cash that one of the officers slipped to Pacheco at a Baldwin Park coffee shop.
The FBI did not immediately act upon having established that Pacheco was accepting bribes, but continued to observe his interactions with a host of others, monitoring his communications and scrutinizing his official actions.
In December 2018, the FBI without fanfare served a search warrant at Pacheco’s home, during the course of which agents confronted him with some of the evidence that had been accumulated against him. During that search, the FBI found, or was led to by Pacheco, $83,145 in cash, including $62,900 the councilman had had buried in his backyard in two locations. Thereafter, Pacheco cooperated with the FBI, regularly turning over to federal agents and the U.S. Attorney’s office his cell phones and computers, or otherwise allowing them to monitor his phone calls, text messages and emails.
While it is now well documented that Pacheco was forthcoming in providing federal authorities with access to the standard devices he routinely used and the information they contained, it is not clear whether he disclosed to the FBI at that time that he, Tafoya and Taylor had been and were continuing to communicate by means of a series of inexpensive and prepaid cell phones they would discard after a few months of use.
Relatively soon after he had been hired into the assistant general manager’s position at the West Valley Water District, it had become clear to Taylor’s board colleagues and senior staff at the district that Pacheco had no qualifications for the post, which was of little consequence, as the job he had been provided with was an essentially do-nothing assignment, meant as a highly lucrative sinecure arranged for him as a political favor. From the time of his hiring at the end of March 2018 until March of 2019, Pacheco made sporadic appearances at West Valley Water District headquarters. As of April 2019, he was a complete no-show at the district offices. In May 2019, it was announced that Pacheco was on paid administrative leave, though he continued to draw his full pay until November 2019, a total of more than $135,000 over the nearly eight months he was in total absentia. In November 2019, Pacheco’s employment with the district was terminated, at which point he was provided with a $146,459.82 severance equal to nine months’ salary.
Throughout 2019, the ongoing FBI investigation into the corruption at Baldwin Park City Hall was spreading across the landscape of Southern California from Los Angeles County and into San Bernardino County, primarily because of the connection to the West Valley Water District involving Pacheco, Tafoya and Taylor.
Oftentimes, the FBI in serving search warrants and conducting raids does so in an open and obvious fashion, with large numbers of agents wearing dark windbreakers emblazoned with the prominent white lettering “FBI,” such that any passersby are immediately alerted to what is ongoing. In dealing with Pacheco, however, the U.S. Attorney’s office had insisted that federal investigators be far more discrete. The FBI had managed to encircle the Baldwin Park councilman and slowly over time reduce the circumference of the investigative parameters around him, squeezing him into a compliant attitude of cooperation with the ongoing investigation into just who was involved in corrupting the wheels of government. Initially, the agents’ focus had been exclusively on what was ongoing in Baldwin Park in terms of the permitting of marijuana-related businesses, which under California law were a permitted use but which were yet considered illegal under existing federal statutes. That Pacheco was being paid off to approve those operations was a given; yet undetermined was whether any of his council colleagues were likewise on the take or whether they had merely been beguiled by Pacheco and the business applicants into thinking that allowing such operations to set up in Baldwin Park would provide the cash-strapped municipality with much needed revenue in terms of permitting fees and taxes on the product to be grown or sold.
Less than clearly defined by the circumstances, at least initially, was the degree of involvement by Tafoya, who was overseeing the legal aspect of the city setting up the ground rules by which applicants for permits would compete for what in the end would be a limited number of marijuana cultivation and retail opportunities in Baldwin Park, and Taylor, who as police chief would have at least some say in the police department’s enforcement of the city’s rules and ordinances and enforcement of those regulations. While suspicion would fall on Tafoya relatively early because of the manner in which the drafting of the ordinances he was responsible for conferred out-and-out monopolies or overwhelming advantages on those entities that were bribing Pacheco, Taylor’s involvement in the processes was far more subtle and indirect. In this way, the use of the burner phones, which prevented the FBI from capturing a window on the plotting that was ongoing among “the big three,” as Pacheco, Tafoya and Taylor came to be known, allowed the graft-encrusted relationship between the top echelon of governance in Baldwin Park and the political and administrative leadership in the water district to continue.
Almost immediately after the raid at his home had taken place, Pacheco informed Tafoya and Taylor of what had occurred. Tafoya and Taylor, circumspectly, advised Pacheco on what he should say to the agents and how he should say it. The burner phones, which provided the three with a means of communicating that was not compromised in the way that Pacheco’s use of his other phone and computers were, facilitated this. Simultaneously, Pacheco had quietly agreed to cooperate with the FBI, assisting its agents in determining the depth of corruption in the City of Baldwin Park’s transition to a community that hosted marijuana-based commercial activity. That cooperation included allowing agents to set up points of vantage with regard to a whole host of interactions he was having, while he was yet a councilman and mayor pro tem in Baldwin Park, with businessman, other politicians, political operatives and community leaders.
In March 2020, the U.S. Attorney’s Office under seal filed criminal charges against Pacheco, at which point the councilman simultaneously entered a plea to those charges. The case and plea arrangement were kept secret to allow the FBI’s investigation of public corruption to continue, and the councilman’s participating as a confidential informant was extended. In June 2020, Pacheco, in keeping with the terms of the plea arrangement, resigned from the council. To protect the yet ongoing investigation, no disclosure of the plea arrangement was made by the U.S. Attorney’s Office, and Pacheco publicly stated that he had resigned so he could spend more time with his family and pursue other professional endeavors. Obscuring the matter further were reports that Pacheco’s resignation had come shortly after Baldwin Park officials had come across indications that he had used a city-issued credit card at strip clubs and amid talk that he had asked for inappropriate favors from the police department, including fixing traffic tickets.
There were, for those paying close attention, yellow caution lights glaring all around Pacheco. His out-of-the-blue resignation from the council was, at least, a rather curious development. In September 2020, recently retired Baldwin Park Police Lieutenant Christopher Kuberry, who had overseen the city’s cannabis businesses inspections, filed a sworn declaration in which he said three different operators of commercial marijuana-related concerns told him they were put in the position of “having to pay $250,000 in a brown paper bag to city officials.” Disclosed was that under the city’s licensing program, a company, Rukli Inc., was given an exclusive franchise as the city’s sole transporter/distributor of marijuana in the city, such that cultivators and manufacturers had to use Rukli to transport their product. It was widely believed that Pacheco was in the thick of that untidiness.
Some turned a blind eye to the obvious indicators, but further maintenance of the fiction that there was nothing amiss with Pacheco became impossible on October 28, 2020, when the FBI served search warrants at the home of Compton City Councilman Isaac Galvan, the downtown Los Angeles law office of Robert Tafoya and the Upland home of San Bernardino County Planning Commissioner Gabe Chavez.
An analysis of the search warrants and the entire circumstance led those whose premises had been searched to the inescapable conclusion that Pacheco was an FBI informant. Any others who had failed to fully grasp that reality had it spelled out for them in explicit terms three months later when the U.S. Attorney’s Office in January 2021 publicly announced Pacheco’s June 2020 guilty plea and the details relating to his acceptance of bribes from the officers with the police union, revealing the charges against him and partially unsealing the plea agreement by which Pacheco had agreed to fully cooperate in ongoing public corruption investigations. The redactions in the document were intended, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said, “to protect the integrity of ongoing aspects of those investigations.”
More recently there were further revelations when the U.S. Attorney’s Office announced charges and a plea agreement pertaining to Chavez’s use of his Claremont-based internet marketing company, Market Share Media Agency, to launder $170,000 in payoffs to Pacheco that had originated with two companies that had received marijuana-related commercial operating permits in Baldwin Park.
In conjunction with that announcement, the U.S. Attorney’s Office unsealed a set of documents, including the charges against Chavez, Chavez’s plea agreement and Pacheco’s plea agreement. Those documents detailed the activity Pacheco was involved in, including his interactions with the commercial marijuana companies that obtained permits to operate in Baldwin Park as well as those he had with Tafoya, Chavez and Taylor, among others. Pacheco’s plea agreement was augmented with an exhibit, the “Factual Basis” provided to the court to support Pacheco’s guilty plea. Revealed in that document was how Tafoya behind the scenes instructed Pacheco, Taylor and Chavez to comport themselves in carrying out the activity they were engaging in, including formulating the consulting agreement between Chavez’s marketing firm by which the cannabis companies used that company to serve as a vehicle for Pacheco to hide and launder the kickbacks he was receiving for approving those applicants’ operating permits in Baldwin Park.
In the “Factual Basis” narrative generated by the FBI, Tafoya is referred to as “Person 1” and Taylor is referred to as “Person 2.”
According to the “Factual Basis” narrative, Tafoya assisted Pacheco not only in devising a strategy to shake down would-be marijuana entrepreneurs looking to set up operations in Baldwin Park, he accompanied him to some key meetings early on with those businessmen and assisted in the shake down.
The narrative states, “[I]n approximately August 2017, defendant [Pacheco] and Person 1 [Tafoya], a public official, approached PC-1 [political consultant 1] and Marijuana Company 1 and solicited donations in the amount of $10,000 each for defendant’s church, CEC and for the campaign of Person 2 [i.e., Taylor], a public official, for board of the West Valley Water District. At the time, Marijuana Company 1 was seeking a development agreement from the city to be the sole distributor of marijuana in the city. Marijuana Company 1’s owner, Person 3, provided a $10,000 check to to CEC and a $10,000 check to Person 2’s campaign.”
The CEC is the California Education Coalition, a political action committee controlled by Pacheco. The Sentinel has identified PC-1 as David Morgan, who did political work for Pacheco and served as Taylor’s 2017 campaign manager. The Sentinel has identified Person 3 as Sharone Barshatski. After Barshatski provided a $10,000 check to Pacheco’s California Education Coalition, Pacheco arranged for the California Education Coalition to make a $7,000 donation to Taylor’s campaign on September 26, 2017.
According to the FBI narrative, “Beginning in at least June 2017 and continuing through at least December 2018, defendant entered into an agreement with Person 4, defendant’s “fundraising guy,” in which Person 4 would solicit “consulting” contracts from Marijuana Companies 3 and 4, both of whom were seeking city marijuana cultivation and manufacturing development agreements.”
The Sentinel has identified Person 4 as Gabe Chavez
“The development agreement for Marijuana Company 3 was worth well in excess of $220,000, and the development agreement for Marijuana Company 4 was worth well in excess of $198,000,” the FBI narrative continues. “Defendant and Person 4 agreed that Person 4 would charge Marijuana Companies 3 and 4 $150,000 each in consulting fees, which would be paid to Person 4’s company, Consulting Company 2. Of the $150,00, defendant would receive 60 percent of those fees and Person 4 would receive 40 percent of the fees. Person 4 would withdraw cash from his consulting Company 2 account and provide defendant his payments in cash in order to conceal the transactions. In exchange, defendant would vote for and support Marijuana Companies 3 and 4’s city development agreements.”
The narrative continues, “At some point in 2017, after this conversation, Person 1 [i.e., Tafoya] provided defendant a physical copy of sample ‘consultant agreement’ that Person 1 told defendant he would have his intermediary use when approaching companies seeking cultivation development agreements. At the bottom of the sample agreement, it said to call Person 1 for any questions. Defendant provided that agreement to Person 4 who served as defendant’s intermediary with two companies seeking marijuana cultivation and/or manufacturing development agreements.”
According to the FBI narrative, “On December 13, 2018, FBI special agents executed a search warrant on defendant’s [Pacheco’s] residence and vehicle. Once the search had finished and on the same day, defendant met with Person 2 [Taylor] at a city event and told him about the FBI’s search of his home.”
The FBI document continues, “Between March 2019 and April 30, 2019, defendant spoke with Person 2 and detailed evidence the FBI had gathered concerning the police association scheme. Person 2 then provided defendant false exculpatory statements that Person 2 suggested defendant could tell the FBI, such as falsely stating that the cash he accepted from PO-1 [police officer 1] were merely campaign contributions.”
The revelation that Pacheco had immediately informed Taylor about the December 2018 FBI raid on his premises clashed with Taylor’s representations to members of the board and senior management employees at the West Valley Water District made at the time of the announcement of Pacheco’s guilty plea in 2021 that he had known nothing of the FBI’s action targeting Pacheco.
While Pacheco did provide the FBI with access to his computer and his personal communication device as well as the devices he had been issued by the City of Baldwin Park and the West Valley Water District, it is most likely that he withheld from federal investigators the burn phones he had used during his 2018 communications with Tafoya and Taylor and which he might have been using in his telephonic and text contact with them as early as 2017 and as late as 2019 and into 2020.
Shortly after the announcement of the filing of charges against Chavez and Chavez’s plea arrangement and the simultaneous release of Pacheco’s plea agreement and its factual basis, Tafoya resigned as Baldwin Park city attorney. Taylor, who had resigned his position on the West Valley Water District Board of Directors in late May and had moved to Arkansas by July, had returned to Southern California as of October 7, the day Chavez’s plea arrangement had been announced.
Amid denials by Tafoya’s attorney, Mark Werksman, there were recurrent reports that both Tafoya and Taylor were in negotiations with the U.S. Attorney’s Office with regard to plea arrangements pertaining to criminal charges against them under contemplation and/or preparation by the U.S. Department of Justice. The Sentinel has been unable to confirm over the last two weeks the reports of pending charges and/or pleas by Tafoya and Taylor.
The Sentinel did, however, learn from an entity close to the situation that despite Pacheco’s cooperation with the FBI in providing some inculpatory information relating to Tafoya’s and Taylor’s involvement in facilitating his bribetaking from entities seeking and obtaining commercial marijuana operation permits in Baldwin Park, he also actively withheld further evidence of the same by continuing to use throwaway cell phones throughout 2018 and into 2019. It is unclear whether the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office ever learned of that obfuscation on Pacheco’s part.
-Mark Gutglueck

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