Three top city officials fined for violations

The California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) has found three Oxnard city officials in violation of state law.

On the agenda for the Aug.16 commission hearing, FPPC staff is recommending fines of $12,500 for City Manager Edmund Sotelo, $10,500 for Mayor Tom Holden and $4,000 for Community Development Director Curtis Cannon.

The fines still must be approved by the Commission, which the city officials have already agreed to pay.

The agenda for the Aug. 16 hearing shows that FPPC staff determined that Sotelo and Holden received gifts exceeding the reporting threshold of $50 in 2007, 2008 and 2009 and failed to report these gifts on their annual Statements of Economic Interests. Staff also determined that Sotelo received gifts exceeding the applicable gift limit from one source in 2007 and two sources in 2008; and Holden received gifts exceeding the applicable gift limit in 2007 and 2009. (The amount of the annual gift limit has varied, ranging from $390 in 2007 to $420 in 2012.)

Sotelo, staff suggests, impermissibly made, participated in the making, or influenced a governmental decision by approving a Revised Development Schedule regarding the RiverPark Project, an affiliated entity of J.F. Shea Co. and affiliated companies, the source of a gift that exceeded the annual gift limit.

Sotelo is currently on an unexplained paid leave from his duties, with a total compensation package worth about $411,850 a year.

Holden, the agenda reads, voted to approve an ordinance to authorize the location of a theater in a specific plan and voted to grant authority to himself to approve a memorandum of understanding with J.F. Shea Co., and affiliated companies, again the source of a gift that exceeded the annual gift limit.

Cannon also received gifts exceeding the reporting threshold of $50 in each of the years 2007 through 2010, and failed to report these gifts on his annual Statements of Economic Interests.

“I have cooperated with the FPPC and accept responsibility for the inadvertent mistakes made,” said Holden. “I am glad that the lengthy investigation has come to an end. As I have said before, this was a political investigation and not criminal, and it is time to move on and focus on the city’s business.”

A number of city officials, like Holden, are looking to put the past several years of legal limbo behind them.

Pursuit of criminal charges against city manager, former city attorney

The VCReporter has learned that a complaint has been made to the United States Attorney General’s office asking for indictments of Sotelo and former City Attorney Gary Gillig for violations of law as identified in the DA’s report.

The three-page complaint, signed by about 50 Oxnard residents, disputes the interpretation by DA investigators of the statute of limitations and challenges the nearly two-year investigation that identified criminal activity by city officials but, as the April 2012 report detailed, did not find enough evidence to prosecute.

“The DA is not all-powerful, so to speak,” said mayoral candidate Don Thibeault, who also signed the complaint. “People have the right to disagree, and if so, take it to a higher authority.”

DA investigators found that Sotelo twice violated the law by giving himself a $10,000 loan of public funds — signed by Gillig — without  the approval of the City Council and by creating a $300-a-month for life retirement perk for top managers, known as the “supplemental post retirement benefit checks” (SPRB). But the DA states that the statute of limitations ran out on these crimes because they were discovered more than four years ago.

The complaint puts forward California penal code 801.5, which says prosecution may also commence “within four years after the completion of the offense.” Since payments from Sotelo’s SPRB program — made retroactive to 2003 — were continually paid until May 8, 2012, when Council terminated the program, each payment within the last four years was a new violation of law, the complaint states.

“Based on my analysis, he doesn’t commit a new crime with every payment via the payroll system,” said Chief Deputy District Attorney Chuck Hughes. “The unauthorized benefits program was set up in 2003, so the offense would be complete when he (Sotelo) sets it up and publicizes it and it goes into effect.”

The complaint also suggests that the Ventura County District Attorney has a conflict as a law enforcement officer because he has received a continuing contract paid by the city of Oxnard “to assign one full-time deputy district attorney to the Oxnard project specializing in the prosecution of gang members.”

Hughes said he doesn’t believe there is a conflict of interest.