Why the City of Industry’s $20 million solar project collapsed like a house of cards
- May 9, 2022 4:32 pm GMT
Second of two parts
Industry City Manager
He needed to cut all ties with
“I did not want to see any more of his (Hill’s) friends working for the city,” Ruggles explained in court testimony in April. “It seemed to me he was calling the shots in the background.”
Just over two years after he engineered an overhaul of the city administration, Hill was wearing out his welcome at
Part One: How a coup in the City of Industry opened the door for a
In roughly a year-and-a-half, the project’s budget had ballooned, jumping from a
And questions began to arise about what exactly Industry was getting for its money from the development company,
The city’s finance director flagged discrepancies in the invoices submitted by Barkett. Letterheads looked suspicious, text was askew and dollar figures used different fonts. She refused to sign off on his payments until the company provided more information to support its requests.
“My conclusion was that things were slowing down, or were not being done,” Martinez testified.
The city struggled to get supporting documentation for the questionable invoices, but instead of shutting the project down, the lease agreement was renegotiated by
The city’s advances were restructured into a “loan” and, because the money presumably would be repaid, the city’s finance director,
However, a new majority had formed on the
Text messages obtained through a public records request show Marcucci was brought onto the council at the behest of Radecki, who supported the solar project and opposed the eventual firings of those pushing it. But the decision backfired when Marcucci’s votes went elsewhere.
Marcucci, who says she did vote in line with Radecki for the first few months solely because he was the mayor, denies she was ever told how to vote by anyone. But when she asked a question at a council meeting about a
“We gave it all to you instead of giving it to somebody else,”
One of the first calls Marcucci received after the text blowout was from Hill. The exchange troubled her.
Marcucci, Ruggles and Councilwoman
Concerns about the spending still lingered, though the payments, up to a
The decision to oust Hill and others was largely driven by an unrelated housing proposal.
Ruggles, Moss and Marcucci believed Hill was behind a staff-led push to build 25 new homes in the City of Industry, a move that would install the single largest voting bloc in the city of less than 300 and potentially shift control to whoever chose the new tenants. At the time, most of the roughly 58 homes in Industry were owned by either
“It has become clear to me that
Morrow now serves on Hill’s criminal defense team.
By 2018, Philips was the last man standing following a series of firings that had removed Morrow, reform monitor
Though Philips agreed to the ultimatum, the council later fired him anyway. His severance agreement prevents him from speaking about the reason. The city also has declined to explain the firing.
Lockyer, the former reform monitor, alleged after the firings that the group was ousted because the Perez family did not want more homes to be built and because Philips had suggested revisiting Valley Vista Services’ exclusive trash contract.
The family of former Mayor
After Industry backed out of the Tres Hermanos proposal, Hill, Barkett and Bouza would later show up in Commerce and Vernon to pitch those cities on similar solar projects. In Commerce, they attempted to convince that
Barkett’s personal attorney,
In 2021, the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office charged Hill, Barkett, Bouza and Philips with corruption-related charges for their various roles in the solar project. They allege the men took part in an uncharged conspiracy that dates back to a similar proposal pitched by Hill and Barkett in 2012 that was ultimately rejected by the administration ousted in 2015 by the new slate advanced by Hill.
Barkett is accused of embezzling from the solar project and is alleged to have spent more than
Hill is charged with two counts of conflict of interest and one count of misuse of public funds over his dual roles on the project.
His criminal defense attorney, former Orange County District Attorney
He denied that Hill had any knowledge of how the project money was spent.
“If it turned out that much, or some amount of that money, that was paid up front didn’t go to the right causes, and went to the wrong place, that’s not something that Frank had anything to do with,” Rackauckas said. “Nobody expected the vendors to be unpaid, or invoices to be changed or any of that.
“As far as he knew, it was being managed well and whatever money was being spent was being spent for the proper purposes,” he said.
Bouza, who was hired as special counsel to oversee and negotiate the solar agreements on behalf of Industry, allegedly never disclosed the
The three men are expected to appear in court next on
A preliminary hearing is already underway for the fourth defendant, Philips, the city manager who took over following the 2015 election.
The prosecution alleges Philips assisted in the overall scheme by turning a blind eye to red flags around Barkett’s billing and by signing off on allegedly unauthorized payments. He is charged with a single felony count of misappropriation of public funds.
Philips’ attorneys say Philips also was a victim of the fraud.
A letter written by Barkett, featuring Philips’ signature, was delivered to the city not long after Philips’ firing. It stated that Philips had approved Barkett’s request for additional monies above the
The signature block, however, appeared to be photocopied from a prior agreement, according to court testimony. Philips, through his attorneys, denied giving any such approval.
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