Tafoya, Tied To Pacheco & Taylor In Graftfest Spread From Baldwin Park To Rialto, To Leave WVWDs

With the fuller implication of the political corruption scandal that consumed Ricardo Pacheco registering across Southern California, Robert Tafoya, who was a key player in the depredations engaged in by the former Baldwin Park Councilman, is now being drummed out of one of his last remaining public agency positions, that of general counsel to the West Valley Water District.
As the details of what was ongoing both behind the scenes and in the full light of day over the last five-and-a-half years are being revealed, questions are being raised about the integrity of governmental processes and some are clamoring for stricter oversight of public processes. Meanwhile, political operatives who had provided essential support to the corrupt political regime in which Pacheco and Tafoya flourished are seeking to use the specter of the scandal to attack two of the newly sprouted public officials who are the ones sweeping the last vestiges of the elements of what Pacheco represented in San Bernardino County from office.In the simplest terms, beginning with the 2017 election cycle, three Baldwin Park officials – Pacheco, who was then one of that city’s councilmen; Robert Tafoya, who was then Baldwin Park’s city attorney; and Mike Taylor, who had been from 2014 to 2016 and would again become from late 2017 until late 2018 Baldwin Park’s police chief – imported the political graft that all three were involved in within the 6.79-square mile Los Angeles County city to an 25-square mile jurisdiction within the San Bernardino County communities of Fontana, Rialto, Bloomington, Colton and patches of unincorporated county area and a  strip of north Riverside County known as the West Valley Water District, which serves as the water purveyor to roughly 89,000 households and businesses.
Taylor was a resident in the most upscale neighborhood in Rialto, where he had made the acquaintance and then developed a friendship with Dr. Clifford Young, a former San Bernardino County supervisor who beginning in 2013 had been a member of the West Valley Water District Board of Directors. Taylor had run, unsuccessfully, for a position on the board in 2015. In 2017, when Young was due to seek reelection, Taylor joined him as a candidate for the board.
It was at that point that Taylor, Pacheco and Tafoya cut a deal. Earlier that year, Pacheco had entered into a corrupt bargain with at least two would-be commercial marijuana entrepreneurs, promising, in exchange for bribes, to obtain for them permits to operate within Baldwin Park, a 6.79-square mile city located at the confluence of the 10 Freeway and the 605 Freeway west and north of West Covina and west and south of Irwindale, east of El Monte, south of the Santa Fe Dam Recreational Area and north of the unincorporated Los Angeles County community of Bassett some 35 miles west of Rialto along the 10 Freeway. Tafoya, to advance that scheme, authored an ordinance passed by the city council at Pacheco’s encouragement and with his support that in essence conferred monopolies or near monopolies on three companies dealing in marijuana or cannabis products operating within Baldwin Park. In return for Tafoya authoring “hit pieces,” i.e., negative campaign mailers targeting Young’s and Taylor’s political opponents in the 2017 West Valley Water District race and Pacheco hitting up the marijuana entrepreneurs who were paying him off for money to finance Taylor’s campaign, Taylor agreed to arrange for Tafoya to be hired as the West Valley Water District’s general legal counsel once he was on the board and to find an equally lucrative position for Pacheco as an administrator/manager with the district. Thrown into the bargain was that Pacheco and Tafoya working together would see to it that Taylor was brought back to serve as Baldwin Park police chief.
According to the FBI, Pacheco steered additional money from the marijuana entrepreneurs who were lining his pockets in exchange for approval of their operations in Baldwin Park into Taylor’s water board 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. Barshatski provided Taylor with $10,000 for his campaign. Furthermore, Pacheco used money that had been provided to him by the cannabis-related business interests and “laundered” through a political action committee he controlled, the California Education Coalition, known as CEC for short, to make a $7,000 donation to Taylor’s campaign on September 26, 2017.
Young was reelected and Taylor was elected in the November 2017 race, and their ally, Kyle Crowther, was successful as well in a specially held election to select a replacement to serve the final two years on the term of Alan Dyer, who had defeated Taylor in the 2015 election but who had resigned in July 2016, a little more than eight months into what was supposed to be his four-year tenure.
Less than two weeks after Taylor had won that election, Pacheco supported the rehiring of Taylor as Baldwin Park police chief, 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.
Taylor successfully lobbied his board colleagues to hire Pacheco as the water district’s assistant general manager in March 2018.  The councilman did not have the technical expertise to fill that position, which 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. Despite their best efforts, federal agents were unable to catch Pacheco red-handed taking money from those who were bribing him. The FBI devised a strategy whereby they employed two Baldwin Park police officers to dialogue with Pacheco over the city’s ongoing employment contract negotiations with 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.
Rather than immediately acting upon having established that Pacheco was accepting bribes, the FBI 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, the Sentinel has independently learned that he, Tafoya and Taylor had been and were continuing to communicate by means of a series of inexpensive and prepaid cell phones, commonly referred to as “burner phones,” they would discard after a few months of use. It is not clear whether Pacheco disclosed to the FBI that he was using such devices or the information contained thereon.
Relatively soon after Pacheco had been hired into the assistant general manager’s position at the West Valley Water District, it was recognized generally throughout that organization that he had no qualifications for the post and that he had been provided with the job as a sinecure, what was an essentially do-nothing and highly lucrative position, 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 from the district. 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. In this way, Pacheco was paid more than $525,000 for doing nothing.
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.
The FBI was extremely discrete in serving the search warrants on and conducting its raids regarding Pacheco, his home, vehicle and office. In this way, both the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office 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, holding out the possibility of leniency, or relative leniency, if he was able to implicate others and allow the FBI to document that activity. The initial FBI focus on Pacheco within the context of Baldwin Park’s permitting of marijuana-related businesses expanded to include the companies involved paying off politicians elsewhere, such as in Compton, and it followed Pacheco’s, Tafoya’s and Taylor’s trails to the headquarters of the West Valley Water District at 855 West Base Line Road in Rialto. The FBI scrutinized the situation to see if Pacheco’s colleagues on the Baldwin Park City Council were being greased as well 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.
The FBI was heavily focused on Tafoya’s degree of involvement, as he was 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, ordinances and regulations. The FBI’s suspicion fell on Tafoya because of the manner in which his drafting of the ordinances conferred out-and-out monopolies or overwhelming advantages on those entities bribing Pacheco. Taylor’s involvement in the processes was more subtle and indirect. Complicating the FBI’s effort to capture a clear picture of the plotting that was ongoing among “the big three,” as Pacheco, Tafoya and Taylor came to be known, was their use of the burner phones.
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, assistance which 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 participation 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.
For anyone paying attention, on October 28, 2020 it became clear that there was something amiss, as on that day 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. Then, three months later, that reality was spelled out in explicit terms 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.”
Taylor, who left as Baldwin Park police chief in late 2018, in November 2020 made an unsuccessful run for a position on the Rialto City Council. Following the 2019 election, the West Valley Water District transitioned from board election in odd-number years to even number years, extending all of the incumbents’ terms by one year. In December 2021, Kyle Crowther, having been provided with an out-of-state job offer, resigned as a West Valley board member to accept the job. Early the next month, Clifford Young, in the aftermath of his wife’s death and facing a health challenge of his own, resigned. In late May 2022, Taylor, concerned with the extent of the yet-ongoing federal investigation into matters touching on both Baldwin Park and the West Valley Water District, tendered his resignation. In July, he moved to Arkansas. In August, Clifford Young died.
Last month, on October 7, 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 the methodology by which the cannabis companies hid and laundered the kickbacks Pacheco 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.
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.”
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 CEC [the California Education Coalition, a political action committee controlled by Pacheco] and a $10,000 check to Person 2’s campaign.”
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.
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 is at a variance with what Taylor told members of the board and senior management employees at the West Valley Water District at the time of the announcement of Pacheco’s guilty plea in 2021, which was that he had known nothing of the FBI’s action targeting Pacheco.
In the immediate aftermath of 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, Mark Werksman, Tafoya’s attorney, denied suggestions that his client had acted inappropriately, saying that Tafoya was being tarred by association with “corrupt” elected officials who headed the governmental agencies he worked for. On October 12, however, Tafoya resigned as Baldwin Park city attorney and that evening the city council accepted that resignation.
Simultaneously, there were reports that both Tafoya and Taylor, who had returned to Southern California from Arkansas as of October 7, the day Chavez’s plea arrangement had been announced, 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.
Yesterday, November 3, the West Valley Water District’s board of directors, at its first regularly-scheduled meeting this month, considered an item in closed session that pertained to, according to the meeting agenda, the “appointment, employment, evaluation of performance, discipline, or dismissal of a public employee – general counsel.” That closed session ended without any announced official action.
Nevertheless, the Sentinel is reliably informed, Tafoya’s official dismissal has been delayed only for a specific purpose that will not be announced. His resignation is due within a fortnight, the Sentinel was told.
Three-fifths of the board – Angela Garcia, who replaced Crowther by appointment; Kelvin Moore, who replaced Clifford Young by appointment; Dan Jenkins, who replaced Taylor by appointment – were not in place at the time or involved in any of the various quid pro quos involving Pacheco, Tafoya and Taylor. Both Jenkins and Moore, to remain in office are now vying for election in the November 8 contest. Jenkins, who represents the district’s Division 2, is being challenged by Carolina Verduzco and Darren Luter. Moore is in a race against Ken Boshart. The two incumbents have been assailed by an independent expenditure committee headed by Phil Cothran Sr, a Fontana resident who is currently chairman of the Republican Central Committee. Cothran was previously a supporter of Taylor and Crowther. The attacks Cothran Sr. has formulated against Jenkins and Moore suggest that they are responsible for the district’s association with Pacheco, a demonstrable falsehood, which is galling both Jenkins and Moore.
Already dismayed at the manner in which the district is being badmouthed because of the episode involving Pacheco, Jenkins and Moore are resentful of the disingenuous effort to hurt them politically by tying them to Pacheco. Given Tafoya’s connection to Pacheco as documented by the FBI’s investigations that precipitated the Pacheco and Chavez prosecutions, they and the remainder of the board are determined to see the district severe its connection to Tafoya.
Neither Tafoya nor Werksman nor Taylor could be reached for comment.
-Mark Gutglueck

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