Former Vernon City Administrator Donal O’Callaghan pleaded guilty last Friday to a felony charge of violating conflict of interest laws by hiring his wife to do bookkeeping work for the city of Vernon.
O’Callaghan participated in the making of two contracts between the city and his wife Kimberly O’Callaghan, who went by her maiden name Kimberly McBride during her employment with the city.
Public officials are legally prohibited from making any decisions that could be used to benefit them financially.
Read this story IN SPANISH: Ex-Funcionario de Vernon Se Declara Culpable
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Craig E. Veals on July 15 sentenced the 55-year old O’Callaghan to one-year probation and 200 hours of community service.
“We got what we wanted,” said Deputy District Attorney Max Huntsman. “[O’Callaghan] pleaded guilty to a felony and won’t be working as a city administrator in Vernon or anywhere else.”
While O’Callaghan will be barred from taking public office, he can still serve as a consultant through his private company, Tara Energy.
O’Callaghan resigned from his post in the City of Vernon last fall, after the city put him on administrative leave. Early last year, the city was considering a consultant contract with Tara Energy where his wife was the CEO.
Huntsman said O’Callaghan initially refused to plead guilty to a felony because it could jeopardize his immigration status in the United States. An Irish citizen of the United Kingdom, O’Callaghan has a U.S. issued Green Card granting him residency, provided he abides by all U.S. laws.
Immigration officials could take into consideration the dismissal of two felony counts when reviewing O’Callaghan’s status, said Huntsman.
O’Callaghan was indicted on three counts by a Grand Jury on Oct. 18, 2010. Two of the counts were dismissed as part of last Friday’s plea deal.
One of the dismissed counts charged him with intentionally breaking the law, and the other for excessively taking public funds beyond $65,000 for personal benefit.
O’Callaghan’s attorney Mark Werksman called the violation a “technicality,” and pointed out he will not even have to pay restitution for the salary that his wife took.
“The fact that the punishment is so lenient reflects the fact that he did not try to hide anything … and his wife provided a valuable service for a reasonable salary,” Werksman said.
Huntsman said if O’Callaghan had chosen to go to trial, the judge or a jury would have had an opportunity to look into whether O’Callaghan did intentionally break the law, and if his wife did provide valuable services to the city in exchange for the salary she received.
During Grand Jury testimony, several public and elected officials professed they did not know Kimberly McBride was his wife, even though a City of Vernon vision health plan enrollment form dated 2006 lists a Kimberly O’Callaghan as spouse.
O’Callaghan’s wife was not the only relative to have served as a city employee. She was hired through a third-party company, Project Labor, which also hired relatives of other top public officials.
Two brothers of Eric Fresch, former city administrator and now a paid advisor to the city, as well as the daughter of another former city administrator, Bruce Malkenhorst, were also hired through Project Labor.
The difference was O’Callaghan had a financial connection to his wife, said Huntsman, while other relatives on Vernon’s payroll had only personal connections.
Werksman said O’Callaghan “made no effort to hide she was his wife,” and believes Fresch knew of the relationship.
O’Callaghan and others went to work for the city with the mindset they were working for a private corporation, Huntsman said.
He added he has no objection with a city being run like a “well-oiled” business, but a city also has “awesome powers,” such as eminent domain, that private companies don’t have.
It is perfectly legal for private company employees to hire their own spouses, but those companies do not run on taxpayer dollars, he said.
Vernon Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Olguin issued a statement saying O’Callaghan’s guilty plea “is proof that the justice system works and corruption issues can be properly handled with existing laws.”
She reiterated businesses and labor groups’ opposition to AB 46 and AB 781 that could disincorporate the city. “Both Business and Labor remain united against these bills because we understand they fail to protect businesses, a majority of which are in the manufacturing industries, which employ tens of thousands of people in California. We also encourage Governor Brown to listen to both local labor and businesses and do the right thing in vetoing AB 46 and AB 781 should they reach his desk for signature. ”
She and other supporters of the city believe recent reforms in the city, such as the formation of a housing authority, reduction of city council salaries, and introducing a ballot measure to limit the terms of city council people, show that Vernon can move on from the mistakes of past public officials.
A coalition representing community redevelopment agencies filed suit in the California Supreme Court July 18, alleging new laws that would require community redevelopment agencies in California to pay the state $1.7 billion in order to survive are unconstitutional.
The California League of Cities, the California Redevelopment Association and the cities of San Jose and Union City filed the petition. The suit also asks the court to prevent the laws from going into effect until judges can render a ruling on the merits of the case.
If the suit is unsuccessful, CRA/LA, the largest in the state, would be forced to pay an estimated $100 million to the state, based on a pro-rated formula of statewide property taxes in redevelopment zones.
The agency uses property taxes from designated zones around Los Angeles to help subsidize new building and renovation with the ultimate goal of revitalizing rundown neighborhoods.
Supporters argue the successful L.A. Live complex in a formerly blighted area of downtown is an example of what redevelopment agencies can accomplish.
“Our agency has many roles in L.A., including creating good jobs and affordable housing, historic preservation, environmental mediation, parks development, arts programs and more,” CRA/LA Chief Executive Officer Christine Essel said. “It’s important we continue our work building a better stronger city.”
Opponents, including Gov. Jerry Brown, argue redevelopment agencies siphon property tax dollars away from schools and public safety.
The lawsuit filed July 18 alleges that two bills, AB 1X 26 and AB 1X 27, signed by Brown in late June, violate Proposition 22, a constitutional amendment approved by voters in November by a 61 percent-39 percent vote. The bills effectively abolish redevelopment agencies unless they agree to pay the state a combined $1.7 billion before January.
“The City Council believes the elimination of redevelopment was incredibly short sighted and damaging to the long-term economic health of the people of this region,” said Commerce Mayor Joe Aguilar in a written statement. Commerce will join those challenging “the constitutionality of this outrageous action,” he said.
“Redevelopment to the cities of the Southeast area means everything when it comes to regenerating the housing and economic base of these communities, according to Aguilar, who also called it the “most important tool cities have to address environmentally damaged sites and toxic contamination.”
The city because it is a member of the California League of Cities, is by default a party to the case, according to the Aldo Schindler, the city’s director of community development. The city has used its redevelopment funds to make significant improvements in the city, Mayor Jennifer Rodriguez previously told EGP.
Backers of the suit argue that Proposition 22 prohibits the state from making such raids “even during times of severe fiscal hardship.”
“California voters overwhelmingly passed Proposition 22 just eight months ago to stop state raids, shifts and diversions of local redevelopment funds,” League Executive Director Chris McKenzie said. “The governor and Legislature have blatantly ignored the voters and violated the state constitution. We must now go to the Supreme Court to uphold the voters’ will and the constitution by overturning this unconstitutional legislation. We are confident the court will uphold the will of the voters.”
A bill to disincorporate Vernon, originally scheduled to go to a vote on the state’s senate floor on July 11, has been delayed for a month.
The senate is expected to pick it up again when it reconvenes Aug. 15. Assembly House Speaker John Pérez’s AB 46, if passed, would disincorporate any city that had less than 150 people as of the end of last year. Vernon is the only city that would be affected by this bill.
Vernon business leaders and city officials who oppose the bill campaigned all last week to delay the floor vote. They declared the effort a success after the senate recessed last Thursday, July 14, without considering the bill.
An aide to the bill’s author said they took the bill off the floor of their own accord in deference to senate leaders who requested that AB 46 be considered at the same time as AB 781, a companion bill that details what would happen to Vernon if it is disincorporated.
Pérez aide John Vigna said he was “confident” the companion bill would clear the appropriations committee and pass on the Senate floor before Sept. 9, when the legislative session is expected to conclude.
According to a press release from Save Vernon’s Jobs, a coalition of business owners and labor representatives, state senators took thousands of calls from those who opposed the bill.
Members of the coalition hope the extra month will give them more time to lobby against the bill. “The stakes are high, thousands of jobs hang in the balance, this next month will give us a chance to meet with legislators in their districts and continue to make our case,” said Lisette Gavina Lopez, who owns Gaviña, a coffee roasting company in Vernon.
IBEW Assistant Business Manager Stan Stosel said organized labor representatives have approached Pérez with several compromise proposals but have not received a response.
Vigna says Pérez continues to meet with not only Vernon city officials but also the business community and labor representatives. So far there has not been a “viable alternative that would permanently end the corruption” in Vernon, he says.
The bill passed in the Assembly and successfully cleared all the committees where they have been heard so far, Vigna pointed out. “Despite the intensity of the handful of businesses opposing this, we’re still on very solid footing and we’re moving forward,” he said.
This is the first time in years the state legislature has left for summer recess as scheduled.
Budget fights in past years cut into the recess, but the budget was passed on time this year.
Richard Anthony Franco of Commerce was charged with felony stalking after he was arrested outside actress Halle Berry’s home in the Hollywood Hills.
Franco pleaded not guilty to the charge and was ordered to attend a hearing July 27 to determine if there is enough evidence to require him to stand trial.
Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Upinder S. Kalra granted a protective order barring Franco from coming within 500 yards of the Oscar-winning actress and her home, but the judge declined to extend the order to Berry’s 3-year-old daughter.
“[Berry] is in fear for her safety,” the prosecutor said, noting that Franco was seen on videotape hiding in the bushes.
A 17-year-old boy who was riding a bicycle when he was fatally shot by gang members in Montecito Heights was identified July 19, coroner’s officials said.
Jesus Lopez of Los Angeles was riding a bicycle in the 300 block of West Avenue 33 at about 8:30p.m. Saturday when he was shot several times in front of a closed business, Los Angeles police with the Media Relations Section said.
Lopez was declared dead at County-USC Medical Center.
Detectives at the Hollenbeck Station asked anyone with information about the killing to call (323) 342-8959.
The City of Commerce has launched a campaign to stop bicycling, skateboarding, roller skating, rollerblading and similar activities at city parks and city facilities.
Information about the ordinance will be sent to all city households and published in the Report to the People, according to the city’s website.
Violators who ignore the ordinance may be subject to fines or criminal prosecution. A diversion program will be available for 1st and 2nd offenses.
Residents can call the Department of Parks and Recreation at (323) 887-4434 or the Department of Community Services at (323) 887-4460 for more information.
On July 14, 7 week-old Marcello Vasquez of Montebello was killed and two others were injured when a man driving a 2002 Cadillac Deville hit them while attempting to park southbound on Spring Street, just south of 4th Street.
Vasquez was thrown from a stroller due to the force of the impact. The adult victims suffered minor injuries.
Detectives say that the driver was unlicensed and the investigation is ongoing.
Anyone with information about this incident is asked to contact Central Traffic Division, Detective Felix Padillia at 213-972-1851.
A 20-minute pursuit of a stolen SUV ended about 3:15 a.m. Wednesday near Avenue 32 and Andrita Street in Glassell Park, after officers in the Eagle Rock area discovered the SUV was stolen.
Two men, two women, a boy and three girls were in police custody, but no one had been booked as of press time, Sgt. Wayne Guillary of the Northeast Station said.
Some of the juvenile suspects were on probation for various crimes and police were still investigating, he said.
No one was hurt during the chase. It was unclear which of the suspects was driving. The suspects’ names were not immediately available.
A jury on Tuesday convicted a 53-year-old Santa Fe Springs man of the first-degree murders of his boss and a co-worker at a Vernon lumber yard in 2009.
Saul Gastelum Moreno was found guilty of pulling out a gun and fatally shooting his boss, Alan Bohnhoff, the owner of Bohnhoff Lumber Co., and co-worker Jaime Sanchez. The shooting occurred about 9:40 a.m. on May 18, 2009, following a dispute at work.
Prosecutors did not seek the death penalty in the special circumstance case. Moreno is scheduled to be sentenced Aug. 16 and faces life in prison without possibility of parole.