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COMMUNITY NEWS / Covering Orange County's 33 Cities

October 12, 2000|Deniene Husted, (714) 520-2508

The Irvine Ranch Water District will wait until December before deciding whether to seek civil action to recoup $2.2 million taken by a former employee in a water conservation program scam.

Wayne Melvin Smith was found guilty Tuesday of embezzling the funds, which were issued on the premise that they were to have been paid out as rebates to large water users such as homeowners associations for installing water-conservation devices, said Joyce Wegner-Gwidt, a spokeswoman for the district.

District officials discovered that the checks were being made out to consultants and not to the customers themselves. "That raised our suspicions and when we checked with the associations we discovered that the [conservation] work was not done," she said.

Smith is scheduled for sentencing Dec. 8. Depending on whether the Santa Ana Superior Court orders him to pay restitution, the water district's board of directors may consider filing a civil case to reclaim the money, Wegner-Gwidt said.

Consultant Robert Edward Baier of Seal Beach has pleaded guilty in the scam and is awaiting sentencing. J. Randall Ismay, another consultant, was found not guilty Tuesday, and a trial is pending for consultant Robert Casey of San Dimas, Wegner-Gwidt said.

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