March 10, 2011

Councilwoman asks D.A.'s Office to intervene in Montebello Bethania Palma

MONTEBELLO - A city councilwoman has asked the District Attorney's Office to intervene in what she called illegal activities relating to two recently discovered off-the-books bank accounts.

In her March 3 letter to Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley, Councilwoman Christina Cortez said "all criminal actions" relating to two off-the- books bank accounts should be prosecuted.

"Because this matter is highly sensitive and currently being investigated by your office, I am seeking your assistance to have the public integrity division take over the entire investigation and audit," she wrote.

A spokeswoman for the DA's Office said the letter was received Tuesday and forwarded to the Public Integrity Division, which handles government corruption allegations.

Cortez also forwarded the letter to the U.S. Attorney's Office, the state Attorney General's Office and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The councilwoman said she asked for third-party investigations and audits, but the mayor and interim city administrator turned the matter over to the city attorney.

She also alleged the city violated open government laws when deciding to have the city attorney's office lead an investigation into the matter because it wasn't discussed in public.

Interim City Administrator Peter Cosentini and Mayor Art Barajas couldn't be reached by phone Tuesday.

"If there are urgent items of importance to follow up on, as the attorney you don't have the luxury of waiting for direction from the City Council," said City Attorney Arnold Alvarez- Glasman. "You have to protect the interests of the client."

In January, a dormant city account with Banco Popular containing about $240,000 came to light after bank employees informed officials the funds would be turned over to the state as unclaimed property.

Then last month, a finance department employee informed officials of a second account opened in October 1999, this one with Union Bank.

The account once contained nearly $1 million but now holds about $5,000 and appeared to have been an investment account.

Neither account was on the city's general ledger and it's not clear where the money in the accounts came from or went.

"I'm really frustrated with the way everything has been dealt with," Cortez said Tuesday. "At this point nothing has been done by the book or by procedure, so when are we going to have correctly reported information?"

She also questioned Alvarez- Glasman's involvement in the city's investigation because he was on the City Council and later served as the city attorney while the accounts were active, according to the letter.

"I take questions of conflict of interest very seriously and if I felt I was jeopardizing my responsibilities as a lawyer to my client and if there were any legal conflicts, I would have no problem declaring that conflict," Alvarez-Glasman said. "Just because someone alleges a conflict, it's no different than someone pointing to the sky and saying the sky is purple when the sky is blue."

Councilman Alberto Perez said he didn't want to comment because he didn't have enough information.

"I'm not going to speak before I have all the facts," he said. "We are a council of five and we are all interested in finding out what happened, and the truth will come out."

Markus, Staff Writer - Posted: 03/08/2011 07:03:31 PM PST

http://www.sgvtribune.com/

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