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Corruption probe in Oxnard produces no criminal charges

The two-year investigation uncovered a pattern of fiscal waste by a small number of city officials, the Ventura County district attorney's office says.

April 19, 2012|By Steve Chawkins, Los Angeles Times

A two-year corruption investigation in Oxnard uncovered "a clear pattern of fiscal waste by a small number of city officials" but produced no criminal charges, the Ventura County district attorney's office said Wednesday.

The probe began in July 2010 when local investigators and FBI agents raided city offices, and later searched the homes of numerous officials. It yielded more than 100,000 pages of evidence, according to a lengthy report issued by prosecutors.

Investigators found city officials had failed to disclose gifts from contractors, tried to delay the D.A.'s investigation, used public funds for expensive meals and submitted skimpy, often unsigned financial records that made it impossible to prosecute possible violations.

Suspended City Manager Ed Sotelo improperly borrowed $10,000 from the city in 1998, apparently without City Council approval, according to the report. Prosecutors said they could not file charges because the statute of limitations had expired.

In 2003, Sotelo created a $300 monthly retirement perk for himself and other top officials. That too was not approved by council members, although prosecutors said they may have "informally authorized" it.

Several officials, including Mayor Tom Holden, traveled to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, and stayed in the home of Bernard Huberman, a major Oxnard developer, the report said.

"However, there is no evidence that any of the officials had a direct financial interest in any of the transactions they approved and insufficient evidence that any official had an indirect financial interest," the report said.

Holden, it noted, "repeatedly denied having taken international trips aboard a local businessman's private jet," An optometrist, Holden later told prosecutors that he had traded optometric services for his Cabo trip.

In a written statement Wednesday, Holden said he disagreed with parts of the report but was pleased that no charges had been filed.

Prosecutors said they found "no evidence of criminal activity' in the multimillion-dollar projects they examined.

But the report said Oxnard until 2011 allowed "virtually unlimited" use of public funds on travel expenses. Five officials and their wives spent five nights in Manhattan — but sloppy records obscured just who paid what.

The occasion for the trip: a financial-industry award for "creative bond financing," according to the report.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

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