Oxnard's tangled webs unravel in tumult
City officials left with daunting challenges
By Shane Cohn 06/07/2012
Details of the investigation revealed
While the Ventura County District Attorney’s two-year criminal probe of Oxnard resulted in no arrests, a glimpse at the district attorney’s unsealed search warrants reveals suspicious dealings between city officials and business counterparts, among other things.
District attorney investigator Jeff Barry executed a search warrant on October 22, 2010, directed at Chief Financial Officer James Cameron and Finance Resources Manager Mike More. In his declaration, Barry wrote that he believed Cameron and More used their professional standing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money to Los Angeles-based investment banking firm De La Rosa and Company to purchase and sell bonds on behalf of the city.
Both More and Cameron received expensive gifts from De La Rosa, which went mostly unreported. Barry wrote that he believed both men had violated conflict-of-interest laws and committed perjury.
Barry’s interrogation also shed some light on how City Manager Ed Sotelo, currently on paid administrative leave, instructed city staff to perform city work. Barry asked More if he had ever heard of the phrase “the three D’s.” More said he had, and that it stood for “dilly, dally and delay.” The phrase was used by the city manager, More explained, “to generally describe public sector work.”
Another warrant, dated April 28, 2011, shows that public funds were used to pay credit card balances for expensive meals, bar tabs, adult films in hotels and travel expenses by the city’s top officials.
Perhaps most glaring allegations show that in November of 2008, $195,194 of public funds was spent on credit card charges. The affidavit contained numbers and names of 134 employees, each with a credit limit of $30,000. In April of 2009, charges made by 121 employees totaled $138,746 of public funds. This affidavit did not include reasons for the apparent spending sprees in those months, though they may be revealed in one of the various search warrants being released to the public.
(link is: http://www.vcreporter.com/More_Cameron_searchwarrant.pdf)
(link is: http://www.vcreporter.com/CreditCard_searchwarrant.pdf)
The Big League Dreams debacle hits tipping point
Do not pass go. Do not collect . . . $400,000.
A recent letter from City Attorney Alan Holmberg to Oxnard City Council recommends the city no longer demand being repaid the $400,000 it paid as a license fee to Big League Dreams (BLD), a Chino Hills-based company that operates little league fields designed as replicas of famous ball stadiums.
In 2005, the city entered a maintenance and operations agreement with BLD that stated the city could terminate the license agreement and demand that BLD repay the $400,000 fee if the city could not secure financing “on reasonable terms and conditions” for construction of the facility, which past reports indicate carried a $27 million price tag.
In April 2011, after the city felt it had exhausted all funding options, Council instructed Holmberg to send a letter to BLD terminating the MOA and license agreement, and requesting a refund of the $400,000 license fee.
But BLD has since responded, saying that Oxnard has not exhausted all reasonable possibilities for funding, and that contract termination was more likely a result of the change in community support and in Council members. Additionally, the city would expose itself to potential litigation “for profits that BLD would have made had the MOA not been terminated, which would amount to millions of dollars, based on the 30-year term of the MOA.”
“The city should still get the $400,000 back, and potential threat of lost revenues is a bunch of hot air and steam,” said Councilman Tim Flynn, who has long opposed BLD in Oxnard. “That money is our money. I don’t think we have violated the contract, and they should pay it back to us.”
Holmberg’s letter, however, advised the city to discontinue its efforts to recoup the license fee to avoid the risk of a multimillion-dollar counter-suit over the alleged breach of contract.
“The city attorney and city manager negotiated this contract,” said Bert Perello, who will be running for a seat on the Council in the fall. “If the city attorney and city manager didn’t know what they were negotiating, what does that say about the city of Oxnard?”
The City Council will discuss the issue at the next meeting on June 12.