D.A. Investigating Bell Gardens Councilman

D.A. Public Integrity Division reviewing city records.

By Nancy Martinez, EGP Staff Writer

A Bell Gardens councilman who simultaneously serves as a director on the local water board is being investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office, which requested records of all transactions related to the city’s water services.

The D.A.’s Public Integrity Division made over a dozen public records requests last week, demanding copies of payments, invoices, agreements, budgets and any documents related to the city’s water services since 2012. The district attorney also singled out Councilman Pedro Aceituno, requesting all documents related to his campaign finances, compensation, stipends, reimbursements and benefits while serving as councilman.

“The Public Integrity Division is reviewing a matter related to Bell Gardens. However, we do not comment on the nature or the extent of the review,” the office said in a statement to EGP.

The D.A. seems to be particularly interested in any agreement “that restricts or prohibits Bell Gardens from purchasing its water from any other entities.”

In an email sent to EGP Wednesday, Bell Gardens City Manager Phil Wagner said the city council and staff intend to fully cooperate with the District Attorney’s request to review certain public records.

“The demand is very broad in scope and it will take some time to gather the documents, however, we will respond in as timely a manner as possible,” he wrote.

The investigation comes just weeks after Councilwoman Jennifer Rodriguez requested that the city attorney look into the legality of Aceituno serving as both a city councilman and a member of the Central Basin Municipal Water District Board of Directors, a position he was elected to in November 2016.

Rodriguez is at odds with her fellow council members, who recently took legal action to remove her from her council seat on grounds that she was absent from over half of all city council meetings held in 2016, effectively “vacating” her office. In response, she accused Aceituno and Councilwoman Priscilla Flores of political wrongdoing, and called for Aceituno to be investigated.

Aceituno currently serves as board vice president and represents Division 1, which covers the cities of Bell Gardens, Downey, Montebello, Pico Rivera, West Whittier-Los Nietos, and unincorporated areas of Los Angeles County.

 

Bell Gardens Councilman Pedro Aceituno is being investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. (EGP photo Archive)

Bell Gardens Councilman Pedro Aceituno is being investigated by the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. (EGP photo Archive)

 

The D.A.’s public record’s request includes all documents related to the city’s interactions with its two water suppliers, Park Water Service Company and Golden State Water Company, including all contracts, invoices, payments, rate increases, water quality reports and any complaints from residents or businesses objecting to the costs or quality of the city’s water. It all asks for all communication between the city’s administrators, city attorney, councilmembers, staff or its water suppliers and the Central Basin Municipal Water District.

Central Basin received a similar request from the D.A.’s office last week, asking for any documents that relate to water services, water costs, water quality or water conservation that impact Bell Gardens. The D.A. was also interested in any documents related to the election of Aceituno, his compensation and any benefits he may receive, including life insurance, retirement, medical, car allowance and computer or technical allowance.

In a statement to EGP Thursday, a spokesperson for Central Basin assured the agency is working on responding to the D.A.’s request.

While it’s not clear what prompted the D.A.’s action, the items requested seem to suggest the integrity unit is investigating whether Aceituno should be barred from holding two offices or if he used his position on the council to approve favorable contracts with the city’s water wholesaler.

Under state law, an elected official may not hold two different public offices simultaneously if the offices have “overlapping and conflicting public duties.”

Bell Gardens City Manager Phil Wagner previously told EGP there was no legal reason for Aceituno to step down from office since the D.A. had not raised an issue. He went on to explain that Aceituno did not deal with the day-to-day activities involving the water wholesaler and that the councilman has always taken precautions to avoid conflicts, often abstaining from votes or even leaving the room during a vote that could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

During his campaign for the water board campaign, Aceituno touted his experience dealing with water issues. In 2007, he was recognized by Central Basin for his role making Bell Gardens the first city in the region to embrace a citywide conservation program through use of a conservation grant.

The councilman previously told EGP he saw no conflict in holding two public offices at the same time, pointing out that he has never hidden the fact that he was also a Bell Gardens’ councilman.

“Folks still chose to elect me,” he told EGP following the election.

Aceituno was elected to the Bell Gardens City Council in 1999 and is the city’s longest sitting elected official.

Aceituno did not respond to EGP’s request for comment on this article.

Update: May 4, 2017 11a.m. to include a statement from Bell Gardens City Manager Phil Wagner.

Update: May 4, 2017 2p.m. to include the D.A.’s request for Central Basin’s records and statement from the agency.

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May 4, 2017  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

Comments

One Response to “D.A. Investigating Bell Gardens Councilman”

  1. Michael Franchek on May 7th, 2017 10:27 pm

    George Cole reincarnated at the swamp that is Central Basin.

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