Gail Fry | IE Voice News Contributor
As previously reported by The Voice/Black Voice News, after years of corruption, power struggles, settlements paid to disgruntled employees, investigations, a state audit, and disputes between board members leaving ongoing litigation, beleaguered West Valley Water District (WVWD) ratepayers find themselves not only struggling to pay for their life-sustaining water service but also footing the bill for the alleged unethical actions of their combative directors.
The whistleblower lawsuit brought on behalf of the district by its director Dr. Clifford Young along with former WVWD employees Patricia Romero and Naisha Davis against Defendants Tafoya & Garcia, LLP., Robert N. Tafoya, Kaufman Law Firm PC., Martin Kaufman, Albright, Yee & Schmidt, APC. (AYS), Clifton Albright, and Robert Katherman and Rob Katherman Consulting was dismissed, leaving a $50,878.40 legal bill due.
At a June 16, hearing at the Los Angeles Superior Court, the court denied Defendants Tafoya & Garcia, LLP, Robert N.Tafoya’s motion for legal fees and costs in the amount of $50,878.40 against plaintiffs C. Young, Romero, and/or Davis finding the defendants “have not submitted any detailed billing records to substantiate their attorneys’ fees” while allowing defendants to refile its motion with “evidentiary support.” No hearing date has been scheduled.
Defendants Tafoya & Garcia, LLP and Robert N.Tafoya were the only defendants to file a motion for attorney fees and costs. In his motion Tafoya points the finger directly at C. Young, Romero and Davis claiming they used the whistleblower lawsuit as a “sword” against him and to “chill” the investigations Tafoya was conducting into C. Young’s “illegal and unethical behavior.”
The tables in the case were turned on December 1, 2020, when Albright, Yee & Schmidt, APC. filed a lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior Court against C. Young, Romero, Davis, as well as their attorneys Rachel Fiset, Erin Perez-Coleman, Michael Zweiback, Zweiback Fiset & Coleman LLP. alleging malicious prosecution, abuse of process, defamation, negligent interference with economic advantage, and intentional interference with economic advantage.
There are now three ongoing lawsuits pending in San Bernardino Superior Court related to this fiasco filed against the district by its former employees, Davis, Romero, and a third former employee, Nadia Loukeh, who filed a lawsuit on June 3, naming WVWD as well as C. Young, and Romero personally. She alleges sex and gender discrimination, retaliation, harassment, a hostile work environment and wrongful termination.
Additionally, according to WVWD press releases and February 23 meeting minutes, the district has paid about $1.3 million in settlements to its terminated, “disgruntled employees.”
Alleged Unethical Directors, Current and Former Employees, and a Potentially Criminal General Counsel
The IE Voice and Black Voice News provided an opportunity to comment about this article to every individual allegedly involved in either unethical behavior or implicated in criminality as written in this story.
WVWD Director Michael Taylor
Michael Taylor joined the WVWD Board of Directors in December 2017. Formerly the police chief of the City of Baldwin Park, he came under immediate scrutiny according to a Southern California News Group report (SCNG) when his first action was to nominate Baldwin Park City Attorney Robert Tafoya to serve as WVWD’s general counsel.
Three weeks before this nomination, Tafoya, as city attorney for Baldwin Park, recommended its City Council approve a controversial, one-year police chief contract with Taylor, one year and two months after Taylor was fired from that same position. Tafoya purportedly helped Taylor negotiate the new contract with Baldwin Park.
Former WVWD Director Don Olinger once described Taylor and Tafoya’s actions as a quid pro quo. Others purportedly recognized Taylor and Tafoya benefited from each other’s actions. Also, experts described Taylo’s contract as “extremely unusual,” :”highly inappropriate,” and even “unprecedented.”
As part of the negotiated contract Taylor would receive a $20,000 annual salary increase, a $25,000 annual pension increase, it prohibited any annual performance evaluation and included a provision protecting him from termination unless he committed a felony offense.
This is the same Taylor now running for the Rialto City Council.
Former WVWD Assistant General Manager Ricardo Pacheco
Ricardo Pacheco, formerly a councilmember of Baldwin Park, was recommended by Taylor and hired as WVWD’s assistant general manager in December 2017. He was terminated in November 2019 with a severance package, and by June 2020, pleaded guilty to accepting $37,900 in bribes from a Baldwin Park Police officer working at the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) direction. The Justice Department reported Pacheco accepted bribes in exchange for his political support of the Baldwin Park Police Association’s contract.
C. Young, Romero and Davis alleged in their Second Amended Whistleblower Complaint, that Pacheco managed Baldwin Park matters on WVWD’s time, maxed out his district credit card with non-district entertainment expenses, and patronized strip clubs during work hours.
In 2019 as a member of the Baldwin Park City Council, Pacheco voted in favor of releasing then Baldwin Park Police Chief Lili Hadsell. She later filed a civil lawsuit against the city alleging gender discrimination, specifically alleging Pacheco and Taylor made sexist comments to her subordinates and conducted a pattern of harassment after Hadsell replaced Taylor. In March 2019, Hadsell was awarded a seven million dollar judgment against the City of Baldwin Park.
Former WVWD Human Resources Director Deborah Martinez
Former WVWD Human Resources Director Deborah Martinez was hired in August 2016, promoted at Taylor’s recommendation in December 2017, placed on leave in December 2019, and terminated in April 2020 after it was confirmed she was facing criminal charges for tax fraud–the charges were not related to WVWD. WVWD officials learned of the criminal charges in September 2019, and kept them under wraps for three months until the story broke in the press.
WVWD General Counsel Robert Tafoya
In November 2020, the Los Angeles Times reported the downtown Los Angeles law office of WVWD General Counsel Robert Tafoya and current Baldwin Park City Attorney, were searched by the FBI in an ongoing probe into how Baldwin Park administers cannabis businesses.
The FBI also served search warrants at the home of San Bernardino Planning Commissioner, Gabriel Chavez, a San Bernardino County planning commissioner. The report noted a former Baldwin Park police officer testified to receiving complaints from three cannabis operators alleging “questionable business practices” and $250,000 in bribes paid to Baldwin Park officials.
Following the FBI search of Tafoya’s office, the City of Baldwin Park issued a press release stating it had not been contacted by federal agents, and would cooperate fully with authorities while distancing itself from Tafoya explaining he works for the city on contract.
In a separate incident, the Los Angeles Superior Court sanctioned Attorney Robert Tafoya and his client Lorena Cabrera, $60,153.56 for filing a frivolous claim for disability discrimination against Cabrera’s employer Sonora Foods, Inc. doing business as Popchips, Inc.
A review of WVWD meeting agendas from December 3, 2020 through May 20, 2021, found one closed session item at its May 20 meeting to conduct a performance evaluation of its general counsel, minutes reflect “no reportable action was taken.” .
The IE Voice and Black Voice News inquired about whether Tafoya’s contract with WVWD should be reconsidered in light of the FBI search of his office and his sanction for filing and pursuing a frivolous lawsuit.
WVWD Director Greg Young explained, “As much as the district could benefit from new counsel, I have little faith that the present administration and board majority will ever seriously consider making a change.”
“Numerous ratepayers have asked me about why the district continues to use the general council we do even after many of these and past revelations,” Greg Young revealed, concluding, “Sadly, talk is cheap and politics never change.”
WVWD Director Dr. Clifford Young
WVWD Director Dr. Clifford Young has faced his own allegations of unethical behavior such as using ratepayers’ money for personal political purposes involving an event in December 2017. He purportedly presented a political victory event as a Christmas celebration, requested and received reimbursement from WVWD totalling $1,897.43.
At the time, former WVWD Ratepayers Association President (RPA) Don Griggs filed a detailed report to the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC). The FPPC found “insufficient evidence” and forwarded the complaint to the California State Attorney General’s Office.
In October 2018, the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office issued a written assessment to WVWD’s attorney regarding two complaints filed against C. Young concerning the reimbursement of $1,378.58 for travel expenses for a canceled 2016 business trip to Washington, DC and a $538.41 reimbursement by WVWD in 2016, for fees on his personal Linkedin account.
The San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit reported that C. Young, without admitting any liability, acknowledged the payments in question were inappropriate, the payments were inadvertent and the money repaid.
The allegations continued to dog C.Young, and when pressured by the RPA in September 2018, WVWD retained the law firm Milon Pluas LLP (Pluas) to investigate the allegations in the FPPC complaint. In March 2019, Plaus substantiated the allegations and in April 2019, then WVWD General Manager Clarence Mansell submitted the report to the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit.
In response to a request for comment for this article, Public Affairs Officer Mike Bires of the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office explained, “Unfortunately, we are prohibited in speaking about any matters or investigations by our Public Integrity Unit.”
Adding, “Should our office determine a crime has in fact been committed by any elected official and there is evidence which will support us pursuing a criminal case, we will issue a news release..”
Meanwhile, C. Young was primarily at the helm of WVWD during the period, July 1, 2016 through June 30, 2018, audited by the State Controller’s Office.
State auditors found WVWD officials overrode established processes for hiring and promoting employees and failed to retain sufficient documentation to support its hiring selections or to justify promotions and salary increases that did not adhere to district policy.
They found WVWD held two expensive district meetings outside the district costing ratepayers $73,602. The auditors could not find justification for the meetings and described them as “lavish” retreats. Directors were compensated without documenting its business purpose or having prior board approval.
Auditors also found questionable reimbursements for travel and meals where they could not verify whether the expenses were district-related or who attended..
WVWD’s credit card practices were also determined to be highly susceptible to fraud, waste, and abuse, where no written justifications were provided and no receipts were maintained.
In addition, state auditors found WVWD failed to comply with its own procurement requirements for professional services requiring contracts over $10,000 awarded to the lowest qualified bidder with written contracts and purchase orders. The auditor found sole source contracts and in one instance, WVWD paid almost $100,000 without a written contract.