Bicyclist Killed in Montebello Identified

March 10, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Authorities last week identified a bicyclist killed in Montebello in a collision with an SUV, whose driver was arrested after allegedly leaving the scene.

The crash occurred on Feb. 18 about 7:30 p.m. as the cyclist was southbound on Concourse Avenue past Allston Street. Jeffrey Corden, 35, of Los Angeles died at the scene, the coroner’s office reported March 2.

Officers learned that Corden had been rear-ended by a 2002 Ford Expedition, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The motorist sped away, but crashed into several parked vehicles a few blocks away. John F. Salvidar, 35, of Montebello, was detained by some local residents until CHP officers arrived at the scene and arrested him.

Neither alcohol nor drugs were factors in the crash, the CHP reported.

The CHP’s East Los Angeles area office asked anyone who saw the crash to call (323) 980-4600.

Montebello Unified Approves Deep Job Cuts

February 23, 2017 by · 1 Comment 

Nearly 500 Montebello Unified School District employees will receive pink slips as part of plan to deal with the district’s multi-million dollar budget deficit.

Under intense pressure from workers and the public, the Montebello Unified school board earlier in the month postponed voting on a recommendation to cut 319 jobs, saying they wanted more time to look for other solutions to the district’s looming financial crisis. The decision to cut even more positions left many questioning why in less than two weeks the number of jobs slated for cuts grew by nearly 150.

“Looks like soon we’ll all be getting laid off,” said a disappointed Lisa Dominguez following the board’s vote at its Feb. 16 meeting.

Although Dominguez’s job title is not listed on the approved resolutions, as a longtime senior office assistant and member of the California State Employees Association, she knows many of the classified employees who could find themselves without a job come fall.

Montebello Unified is under intense pressure to close an estimated $17 million budget deficit or risk the Los Angeles County Office of Education (LACOE) sending in someone to oversee district finances.

The Montebello Unified School Board voted to approved districtwide layoffs and reductions during the Feb. 16 meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

The Montebello Unified School Board voted to approved districtwide layoffs and reductions during the Feb. 16 meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

For nearly three hours, speakers pleaded with school board members to save their jobs, but in the end the board voted 4-1 to approve laying off classified and non-classified employees ­­– including plumbers, attendance technicians, custodians and administrators on special assignment.

Tom Callison, a district carpenter, said he was not surprised by the board’s decision, but was dis-appointed in the way they handled the situation.

“I thought they should have at least apologized for what they had to do,” Callison complained.

The board’s action met LACOE’s Feb. 17 deadline to submit a fiscal stabilization plan and the ap-proval of corresponding resolutions, while at the same time complying with its March 15 deadline to notify impacted employees as required in bargaining unit agreements.

“Because of the actions you’re taking tonight we no longer feel it necessary to put a fiscal advisor” at the district, said LACOE’s Chief Financial Officer Dr. Scott Price.

Price said their team of fiscal experts would still provide the district with advice, but would not have the same powers as a fiscal advisor to rescind district decisions.

MUSD employees on the other hand were not as impressed.

“Recall” was heard soon after the gavel hit making the layoffs official.

CSEA Chapter 505 President Lloyd Garrison told union members to not give up hope that every job would be saved.

Employees do not plan to wait until the November election to fight back, Garrison told EGP.

“We don’t want to give them 8 months,” he said. “Our goal is to get at least one [board member] out as an example, we just don’t know who that will be.”

Marisol Rivera, a school secretary and CSEA regional representative said employees plan to take their outrage to their neighbors.

“We need to make those phone calls and knock on doors to let them know what is going on in their backyard,” she said.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

In the meantime, employees say they welcome the county and state looking into district finances. They hope they will uncover alleged financial discrepancies and to oust Chief Financial Officer Ruben Rojas, who they claim falsified information on his resume and job application.

Board Member Hector Chacon, the lone vote against the cuts is up for reelection in November. He too blames Rojas for the district’s current financial woes.

“There should only be one layoff,” Chacon said, referring to Rojas.

For many employees, their last hope is Superintendent Anthony J. Martinez, who they have been calling on to “do the right thing” and to put Rojas on leave while accusations against him are investigated.

“Why not take the time … if the allegations are not true, provide that proof to the public,” Callison said.

Chacon said he does not trust the budget presented by Rojas, especially since the deficit grew from $15 million at the last school board meeting to $17 million now.

Price said such increases aren’t unusual, explaining that earlier numbers were based on what the district expected to receive before the governor released his annual budget.

CSEA Labor Relations Representative Simon Rea called out Rojas for his contradictory statements over the severity of the district’s financial situation.

“It doesn’t add up,” he said.

Citing a previous article by Eastern Group Publications [publisher of this newspaper], Rea read a statement by Rojas highlighting the “strong fiscal management of the district” that has resulted in Montebello Unified’s $100 million voter-approved school bond receiving a AAA rating from the Fitch Ratings Agency.

Board Member Ben Cardenas stressed the board made a sincere attempt to avoid layoffs and to buy a little more time.

“Given the current timeline we came up with fiscal scenarios to ensure we minimized layoffs, especially in the classroom,” Cardenas said.

With the help of the county’s fiscal experts, he said they might be able to rescind many of the pink slips going out by the end of the fiscal year.

By approving the layoffs, there’s less urgency to save jobs, countered Chacon.

Raphael Ramirez, one of four plumbers in the district and number 29 on the list of layoffs, warned the board that cutting their jobs will have a major impact on students.

“Nobody thinks about how water comes out of the faucet, until it doesn’t,” he said.

Update: Feb. 24, 2017 10:45 a.m. clarified original statement that Lisa Dominguez’ job was not in jeopardy.

Montebello Neighborhood Watch Meeting Goes ‘Live’

February 16, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Montebello residents who want to attend a citywide Neighborhood Watch meeting will no longer have very far to go. Last week, the Montebello Police Department held their first-ever virtual Neighborhood Watch meeting on Facebook Live, bringing the community-based, crime prevention program right into residents’ homes, or wherever they access the popular social media site.

Sgt. Marc Marty, Corp. Maria Chavez and Officer Scott Howard, who make up Montebello PD’s Community Relations Unit (CRU), answered questions and addressed the concerns posted by dozens of viewers watching the live event on Feb. 8.

Sgt. Marty explained they got the idea for hosting the virtual meeting after seeing how a larger social media presence resulted in a bigger turnout at the department’s annual National Night Out event last August.

The CRU – or “crew” as they pronounce it – explained that their role is to build a better relationship with the community.

“Not that our relationship is bad, but I think we need to continue to build the dialogue,” Marty told their virtual audience last week. “This is where we start the dialogue, but we continue it when we see you out in public.”

While one of the community relations unit’s goals is to improve communications between the police department and the public, other top objectives include crime prevention and educating the public on what they can do to help officers do their job.

Screen shot 2017-02-15 at 11.12.44 AM

To that end, residents will next month have an opportunity to meet the officers in person during a Neighborhood Watch seminar March 1 at the city’s senior center. Officer Howard explained the event would provide residents with tips and tools on how to start a Neighborhood Watch on their residential block.

The department is encouraging the city’s large Spanish speaking population to attend, and has arranged to provide translation services for those who need it.

During last week’s Facebook Live Neighborhood Watch event, many of those who posted comments expressed concern over recent vehicle break-ins.

Howard attributed some of that rise to reduced jail sentences brought on by Proposition 47.

“We can’t change that, but what we can change is to help prevent the crime from happening in the first place,” he said, emphasizing the importance of checking to make sure car doors are locked and removing valuables from vehicles.

“You are one broken window away from everything being taken,” Howard reminded viewers.

Officers also answered questions about the city’s growing homeless population, speeding, double parking and 911 calls.

“We are doing our best with the man power we have,” said Marty, explaining that the department is down 17 officers. The city currently has nine open officer positions and eight current officers are either out for training or injured, he said, noting that fewer officers on duty makes their job harder.

“Those concerned that they don’t see enough officers on patrol, the truth of the matter is we don’t have a lot of officers out there,” said Marty. “Not as many as people think.”

He assured, however, that officers with the community relations unit are not just sitting in an office; They still monitor the radio and respond to calls, he said.

The officers encouraged residents to volunteer for citizen patrols and to attend upcoming training sessions to help with patrolling.

The live-streamed event also received comments from people not all that happy with the department, but even then, the three officers answered questions about police beatings and racial profiling.

Howard advised viewers to take a video and to call the police department and ask to speak to the watch commander if they believe they have witnessed an officer mistreating someone.

“If you see something, say something,” said Marty. “We don’t cover anything up.”

Many of those posting comments said they are happy to see the department being progressive and thinking outside the box.

“Thanks for doing this! Dragging Montebello into the 21st century,” wrote Diana Ashkenasy.

“Thank you for reaching out to the community and for your service day in and day out,” wrote Helen Ligh.

Officers advised viewers of other resources available to them, recommending they sign up for the free Nixle alert system used by many law enforcement and emergency service agencies, and the neighborhood connection app Next Door. They also urged residents to follow the Montebello Police Department on Facebook and Twitter, adding they plan to continue interacting with the public in other ways, such as attending chamber events, visiting businesses.

The department is also in the process of getting their website built, according to Marty, who said they hope to create a central hub for all the information they distribute. With thousands of views, Marty said the department plans to hold more live events in the future.

“We’re trying to be transparent,” he said. “We want to show you we are human just like you.”

 

Montebello Resident Killed in Chinatown

February 1, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A victim killed in a knife attack, allegedly by a man who had demanded money from him at a Chinatown club, was publicly identified Monday by the Los Angeles Police Department as Tony Young.

Young was in his 60s and lived in the Montebello area, according to the coroner’s office.

The suspected attacker, 37-year-old Vinh Quok Dao, approached Young about 2:45 p.m. Thursday at the Hop Sing Tong Benevolent Association at 428 Gin Ling Way, near the 900 block of North Broadway, and demanded money from him, police said.

“When Young refused, Dao attacked him with a knife, killing him,” according to an LAPD statement.

Another man – identified as 64-year-old Monterey Park resident Kim Kong Yun – intervened and was also attacked and killed, authorities said.

Dao was quickly identified and arrested in Rosemead about 24 hours after the killings, according to the LAPD.

Dao, a former member of the private club, had recently returned to Los Angeles after several years in the Las Vegas area, police said.

Dao was booked on suspicion of two counts of murder, said LAPD Officer Mike Lopez.

Dao is being held on $4 million bail, according to online inmate records.

Detectives plan to present their case to the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office on Tuesday.

MUSD Workers Get One Month Reprieve

January 26, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

Custodians, bus drivers, secretaries and cafeteria workers in the Montebello Unified School District (MUSD) successfully persuaded school board members to temporarily delay action on proposed job cuts and to try to find another away around the district’s looming budget crisis.

“We are the ones at schools before the class lights come on and the ones there way after the lights go off,” Marisol Rivera, a school secretary and regional representative with the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Chapter 505, told EGP during a raucous protest rally before the Jan.19 school board meeting.

Lea este artículo en español: Trabajadores de MUSD Reciben un Mes de Aplazamiento

MUSD is facing a $15 million budget deficit next year and district staff proposed laying-off 319 certificated administrators and classified – or non-teaching – employees to save money.

The proposal comes following notification by the Los Angels County Office of Education (LACOE) that its analysis of MUSD’s finances concluded the school district is in danger of not meeting its financial obligations for the next two school years. They gave the district until Feb. 17 to submit a detailed fiscal stabilization plan or risk the county sending in an overseer.

MUSD must identify $15 million in cuts for the 2017-18 school year and an additional $16.4 million for 2018-19, without touching a penny from its reserve account that has fallen just below the state-mandated 3 percent minimum saving requirement.

News of the potential cuts did not sit well with the approximately 100 employees, parents and some alumni at the protest rally before last week’s board meeting where the layoffs were on the agenda.

“I’m here to put a face to a name on that list,” 54-year-old attendance and pupil data coordinator, Rene Infusino, told board members.

Marisol Rivera rallies hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees during a rally Jan. 19. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Marisol Rivera rallies hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees during a rally Jan. 19. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Infusino’s husband Marcello, 57, has worked for the district for nearly 40 years and is currently the print shop operations coordinator. Ironically, he printed the very agenda that called for eliminating his position.

“You’re wiping out an entire family,” he said, pleading with board members to save his job.

He and his wife both losing their jobs would be a huge hardship, Marcello told EGP, explaining he has a mortgage and student loans to pay and two children in college.

During the 2010-2011 school year, MUSD had $44 million in reserves. The fund has since dwindled to less than $10 million.

“Where did all the money go?” demanded Jerry Perez, a district bus driver.

“Why don’t the higher ups get cuts?” he said, punctuating the view of many at the meeting.

Perez, still wearing his uniform, told EGP he blames the board and Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas for the district’s financial mess.

The worker’s union, CSEA, has passed a “vote of no confidence” in Rojas and accused him of hiring personal acquaintances, lowering district morale and pushing through questionable and expensive labor contracts and falsifying documents on his job application.

“How is it that he’s still employed while our people are getting cut,” said Rivera in disbelief.

Rivera says cutting classified workers will hurt students.

“We are the maintenance workers that make sure the AC works, the bus drivers that get them to school, the clerical [workers] that deal with parents and the health assistants that handle sick children,” she said.

CSEA Labor Relations Representative Simon Rea disputes district claims of having less money due to falling enrollment, saying revenue has actually increased in recent years.

Hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees protest proposed cuts Jan. 19. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees protest proposed cuts Jan. 19. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

He suggested MUSD take a closer look at its professional consulting services and other higher paid positions instead of classified staff, who he says are underpaid and overworked, comparing them to the oil that keeps the parts of a car from breaking down.

LACOE Chief Financial Officer Scott Price reminded the board that MUSD has been living beyond its means for years, refusing to make cuts despite warnings from the county about its structural deficit.

“If you keep going in the same direction you are going to reach zero percent [of reserves] by the end of next year,” Price warned.

Board Member Ben Cardenas asked Price if it seemed plausible the district could find a fiscal solution not requiring layoffs.

“I do not see how you can do that without making cuts in personnel,” responded Price.

Longtime Board Member Hector Chacon called the proposed layoffs the “lazy way out.”

“Cuts have always been the last resort, not the first resort,” Chacon said before asking his colleagues to continue the item until the Feb.16 meeting to give the board time to exhaust all other options.

He suggested the district consider borrowing money to avoid layoffs, take a closer look at contracts proposed by Rojas, freeze promotions, ask unions to consider a 2 percent pay cut and even proposed MUSD sell off its district headquarters and move their offices to the Laguna Nueva School site. Others suggested furlough days.

While many in the audience were pleased to hear Chacon say he would not support cuts, they were also frustrated that Chacon, who’s been on the board for decades and is up for reelection, failed to act on past opportunities to prevent the fiscal fallout facing the district today.

“They should have done that years ago,” someone in the audience said.

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

(EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

“He is all talk,” said another.

If the school board ultimately approves layoffs, the district must deliver pink slips to impacted employees by March 15 to comply with the terms of agreements with its bargaining units.

“Is it possible we come up with multiple scenarios? Yes, it is possible will we find these in the prescribed time, that’s open to interpretation,” said Cardenas.

If the district fails to adopt a plan to stabilize its finances, the county is likely to send in a fiscal advisor to ensure steps are taken to shore up MUSD’s budget.

The prospect of county oversight – particularly over spending – appealed to many in the audience who had complained about Rojas.

In response to those complaints, Chacon asked staff to include on the board’s next meeting agenda discussion of whether Rojas should be placed on paid administrative leave while claims against him are investigated.

The district began hosting informational meetings on their fiscal stabilization plan Wednesday and will hold three more meetings over the next two weeks.

An earlier version of this story was published at www.EGPNews.com

MUSD Postpones Decision on Layoffs

January 20, 2017 by · 3 Comments 

Over 300 Montebello Unified School District jobs on the chopping block were saved at least for now as district officials try to come up with a plan to make up a $16 million budget deficit.

“Jobs were temporarily saved tonight but we’re not holding our breath,” Marisol Rivera, a school secretary and regional representative for the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Chapter 505, told EGP following the vote during Thursday’s MUSD school board meeting.

Sporting union shirts and gripping signs that read, “Recall the MUSD Board” and “NO CUTS!,” hundreds of CSEA members, from custodians and bus drivers to attendance technicians and cafeteria workers, protested outside district headquarters before the meeting to demand board members vote down a cost-cutting plan that would have laid off 316 district employees.

Marisol Rivera rallies hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees during a rally Jan. 19. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

Marisol Rivera rallies hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees during a rally Jan. 19. (EGP Photo by Nancy Martinez)

The proposed layoffs follow a notice from the Los Angels County Office of Education (LACOE) informing the district that it might not meet its financial obligations for the next two school years according to their analysis of the district’s finances.

The district must now identify $15 million in cuts for the 2017-18 school year and an additional $16.4 million for 2018-19, without touching a penny from its reserve account that has fallen just shy of meeting the state-mandated 3 percent minimum saving requirement.

“Without full implementation of the proposed cost reductions, the district’s ability to maintain the minimum reserve requirements and its fiscal solvency may be severely impacted beginning with 2017-18,” LACOE’s Chief Financial Officer Scott Price advised the district in his letter.

Hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees protest proposed cuts Jan. 19. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Hundreds of Montebello Unified School District employees protest proposed cuts Jan. 19. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Citing a lack of funds, district staff proposed laying off 316 certificated administrators and classified – or non-teaching positions –saving the district millions of dollars.

Marcel Infusino, 57, and his wife Rene, 54, are two of the employees who could lose their job if those cuts are made.

Infusino has worked for the district for nearly 40 years and currently works as the district’s print shop operations coordinator, where for the last 12 years he has been in charge of printing school board meeting agendas and other district-wide tasks. Ironically, he says he had to print the agenda that called for his positions to be eliminated.

“You’re wiping out an entire family,” he pleaded with the board Thursday.

He still has a mortgage and student loans to pay and two children in college, Infusino told EGP, explaining the hardship that would result from he and his wife both losing their jobs

“We’re just not ready to retire,” his wife lamented.

Longtime Board Member Hector Chacon was visibly upset with the proposal to layoff workers, calling it the “lazy way out.”

“Cuts have always been the last resort, not the first resort,” Chacon said before asking his colleagues to continue the item until the board exhausts all other options.

Many in the audience, including district alumni who turned out to the meeting, were pleased to see Chacon would not support cuts, but some also expressed frustration that the longest sitting member of the board member had failed to act on past opportunities to take action to prevent the fiscal fallout facing the district today.

Now, working under a time crunch, the board only has until Feb. 17 to submit a detailed fiscal stabilization plan to LACOE, just one day after its next board meeting. If they ultimately approve layoffs, the district agreements must deliver pink slips to impacted employees by March 15 in order to comply with the terms of its agreements with bargaining units.

Price reminded MUSD board members and staff Thursday that the county has been warning the district for years that they were operating on a structural deficit.

“If you keep going in the same direction you are going to reach zero percent [of reserves] by the end of next year,” Price warned.

“You have to live within your means.”

If the district fails to adopt a plan to stabilize its finances, the county is likely to send in a fiscal advisor who would be tasked with ensuring the district takes the steps needed to shore up its budget. The prospect of county oversight – particularly over spending – appealed to many in the audience who had complained about the performance of MUSD’s Chief Business Officer, Ruben Rojas.

MUSD Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas provides a budget update to the board of education during the Jan. 19 meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

MUSD Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas provides a budget update to the board of education during the Jan. 19 meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

CSEA earlier this year passed a “vote of no confidence” in Rojas, accusing him of hiring personal acquaintances, lowering district morale and not adhering to project labor agreements among other issues. Union members and others recently accused Rojas of falsifying documents on his job application, growing increasingly angry that there’s been no action by board members on their charges, allowing Rojas to keep his job while union members are on the verge of losing their livelihood.

Chacon responded to their complaints by asking staff to include on the board’s next meeting agenda discussion of whether Rojas should be placed on paid administrative leave while claims against him are investigated.

The district will host informational meetings on their fiscal stabilization plan for the next two weeks beginning on Wednesday.

Montebello ‘Kill Squad’ Member Sentenced to Life

January 12, 2017 by · Leave a Comment 

A man described by authorities as a founding member of a Montebello-based gang’s “kill squad” was sentenced Wednesday to life in prison without the possibility of parole for the execution-style killings of two rival gang members.

In sentencing 31-year-old Jimmy Valenzuela, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge James R. Dabney called the killings “unprovoked” and “senseless.”

Valenzuela was convicted Sept. 26 of two counts of first-degree murder for the slayings of 22-year-old Joe Anthony Alvarado on Dec. 22, 2007, and Jimmy Jimenez, 29, on July 24, 2010. Both were gunned down in Montebello.

Jurors also found true the special circumstance allegations of multiple murders and murder to further the activities of a criminal street gang, along with gun allegations.

The Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office had opted earlier not to seek the death penalty against Valenzuela.

He was arrested in 2012 as a result of a joint investigation by the Montebello Police Department, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, U.S. Attorney’s Office and Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and District Attorney’s Office that sought to close dozens of unsolved gang homicides.

Authorities said Valenzuela was a key member of his gang’s “kill squad,” responsible for enforcing the gang’s territory and eliminating its enemies.

 

Montebello Unified Declares Immigrant ‘Safe Zone’

December 27, 2016 by · 2 Comments 

In an effort to protect undocumented students and other vulnerable communities from threats of deportation or other potential federal actions, Montebello Unified officials have voted to become a “sanctuary district” and “safe zone.”

“Our decision today will put in place programs and procedures that will shield our students from any efforts to determine their legal status, sexual orientation and other forms of personal information,” said MUSD Boardmember Ben Cardenas.

With President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration approaching, many are worried he will follow through with his promise to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. MUSD serves the cities of Bell Gardens, Commerce, Montebello and portions of East Los Angeles, Monterey Park and Pico Rivera – all home to large immigrant populations. The threat of deportation and potential separation from one or both parents, or other family members “can have a chilling effect on a child, create undue stress and impact a child’s ability to concentrate in the classroom,” Cardenas said.

The declaration will allow the District to protect data and the identities of students, family members or school employees from disclosure to federal agencies for purposes not related to education.

Under the newly adopted sanctuary, safe zone designation, District personnel will be prohibited from asking students about their immigration status or participating in any other immigration enforcement effort. The District will also create an educational equality advisory committee to to consider the impacts immigration issues and policies will have on the district.

It is imperative the District put these types of procedures in place to minimize the impact on District students, their families and staff of any new policies adopted by a Trump Administration, said Boardmember Joanna Flores

“The district must always strive to combat racism, sexism and other forms of bias and assume a responsibility to provide equal educational opportunity to all students,” said MUSD Board President Lani Cupchoy during the Dec.15 meeting when the action was taken.

Under the Plyler V. Doe Supreme Court ruling, state and local governments are prohibited from excluding undocumented children from obtaining a free public education.

The “safe zone” will also protect LGBTQ communities, women, political minorities and others.

“Beyond education, our students and families need to know that the district is also fighting for their constitutional rights and their quality of life,” Flores said.

 

Three Suspects Arrested in Montebello Robbery

December 22, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

Three of four suspects were arrested Tuesday following the robbery of a Metro PCS store in Montebello, where the suspects demanded sales clerks give them four cell phones.

The robbery occurred about 1:45 p.m. at the store at 1102 W. Beverly Blvd. and all four suspects fled on foot, according to Montebello police.

Two officers on patrol saw the suspects running from the store and although they were unaware of the robbery that had just occurred, they attempted to stop them “based on their suspicious activity,” police said.

“The suspects did not stop and split up,” according to a police statement.

An officer was able to detain one of the suspects and a perimeter was established around the area where the two others were last seen, police said.

Montebello police, with the assistance from Monterey Park and South Gate officers and K-9 units along with a sheriff’s department air unit, searched for the suspects in the Park Victoria Apartments in the 600 block of Howard Avenue.

During the search, one suspect was apprehended when he attempted to run from a police K-9 search team, police said.

No other suspects were found and the search ended.

“The two suspects detained were positively identified by the Metro PCS employees as being involved in the robbery,” police said. “They were transported to the police station where they were booked and processed.”

Residents in the area of the Park Victoria apartments called police about 7:25 p.m. to say they saw a male matching the description of one of the outstanding suspects, police said.

“Minutes later, officers arrived in the area and saw a male matching the description of the outstanding suspect running to the rear of a residence in the 1300 block of West Lincoln Avenue,” police said.

With the assistance of a sheriff’s helicopter unit, the suspect was eventually found hiding under an overturned trashcan in the side yard of a home in the 600 block of North Maple Avenue.

“He was later transported to the police station for further investigation,” police said.

The fourth suspect remains at large.

 

MUSD to Undergo Forensic Audit

December 15, 2016 by · Leave a Comment 

After receiving several phone calls from Montebello Unified employees alleging fraud and misuse of school district funds, Board Member Ben Cardenas has called for a full forensic audit of MUSD’s finances.

“There was enough to merit a closer look,” he told EGP, explaining he hopes an audit will clear any doubts about the school district’s financial practices.

“The nature of the allegations was important,” he said,

Cardenas’ initial call for the audit came last week when he still held the title of MUSD board president. While the school board will not officially act on his request until its meeting tonight, according to newly appointed Board President Lani Cupchoy, district staff is already looking into firms with the expertise to conduct the work.

The forensic audit will exam MUSD’s accounting procedures, policies, priorities, spending protocols and lines of authority and seek to uncover any theft of cash or inventory, fraudulent payments, corruption, conflicts of interest, bribery, extortion and misstatements.

Cupchoy told EGP conducting the audit would help reassure the public that the school district is being run properly, which is timely given that voters just approved a $300 million school bond in June.

“We are opening our doors,” she told EPG. “We owe it to the public.”

 New MUSD Board President Lani Cupchoy announces the district will undergo a forensic audit, following her appointment during the Dec. 8 meeting.  (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

New MUSD Board President Lani Cupchoy announces the district will undergo a forensic audit, following her appointment during the Dec. 8 meeting. (EGP photo by Nancy Martinez)

Cardenas also wants the district to set up a tip line where employees and others can anonymously report fraud without fear of retaliation.

“It seemed many [employees] were afraid of speaking out,” Cardenas told EGP.

News of the proposed audit comes on the heels of the controversial firing of Superintendent Susana Contreras-Smith and Chief Financial and Operations Officer Cleve Pell, a longtime MUSD administrator who has served in various upper-management positions, including co-superintendent.

The firing prompted someone to create musdcorruption.com, a website critical of the district that claims the two former administrators were actually fired because they tried to take a stand against corruption. The site also alleges MUSD’s attorney was replaced to hide the cover-up.

Earlier this year, the California School Employees Association (CSEA) Montebello Chapter 505 passed a “vote of no confidence” targeting the MUSD Chief Business Officer Ruben Rojas, who earlier this year was briefly placed on paid administrative leave for what was only described as a personnel issue.

CEA’s no confidence vote accuses Rojas of hiring personal acquaintances, lowering morale district-wide and not adhering to project labor agreements among other issues.

Residents and employees have also expressed disapproval of some contract bids approved by Rojas.

On Wednesday, however, MUSD released a statement announced that it has received a AAA rating from the Fitch Ratings Agency for the $100 million voter-approved school bond to be issued by the district. It’s the “highest possible credit rating any bond issue can receive, including those of the U.S. Federal Government and would save local taxpayers millions of dollar,” according to the announcement.

Rojas said the credit rating “is a testament to the strong fiscal management’ of the district. “We will continue to make smart fiscal decisions that will allow our schools to thrive,” Rojas said.

Cardenas would not divulge details of the allegations, claiming he does not want to prejudice the audit process or enter the realm of speculation. Regardless of the outcome, he said he believes the audit will help the board and public achieve a better understanding of the district’s budget, providing a deeper understanding of what needs to be done to make sure the district is operating efficiently.

“This is the best investment we can make,” he assured.

After hearing rumors of wrongdoing, Linda Nicklas, co-founder of the Montebello watchdog group MATCH90640, told EGP she’s looks forward to the audit.

“We need a independent audit, with absolutely no ties to anyone on the board,” she said.

Cupchoy told EGP she does not believe the audit paints the district in a negative light.

“It’s not something negative or wrong,” she said. “I see it as a safety net.”

Cupchoy told EGP that the district’s number one priority is making sure all money is used to serve its 29,000 students. A fiscal audit will provide guidance and ensure there is equity across the district, she said.

“The audit is not about the finances,” she told EGP. “It’s about investing back in our district.”

 

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