Beaumont councilman indicted on charges of bribery, perjury by grand jury
Beaumont Councilman Mark Orozco, who was supposed to represent a new start for a beleaguered city that has been the subject of numerous anti-corruption probes, has been indicted by a Riverside County criminal grand jury.
The Riverside County District Attorney’s Office announced Friday, May 12, that Orozco, 40, was indicted on one count of soliciting a bribe and nine counts of perjury of falsely identifying campaign funds on his required disclosure document – the Fair Political Practices Commission Form 460.
The DA’s office said the indictment is unrelated to the pending criminal case involving former Beaumont city officials.
“I think as elected officials we swear to uphold the laws of our land and the health and safety of our community,” said Beaumont Mayor Lloyd White on Friday afternoon. “When the city receives a complaint we are going to investigate it immediately.”
White said the timing of the indictment was disappointing because the city has made great strides in recent years to distance itself from former city officials who are charged with 94 felony corruption counts, including embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds.
Not only is the city considering a budget that will add 20-plus positions to the staff and strengthening its finance department, White said it’s also moving away from suspected improprieties in the way former officials used a special tax called Mello-Roos assessments.
“It’s a shame about what happened today is that this takes away from that,” he said.
Orozco did not respond to a request for comment. A message left for Orozco’s attorney, David Greenberg, was not immediately returned.
Orozco’s treasurer, David Weiner, didn’t answer questions about the indictment when contacted by phone.
“I don’t have any comment. I’m not able to comment on that,” he said, before ending the call.
Councilman Mike Lara said the news of the indictment came as a shock, especially in light of Orozco’s calls for widespread reforms and more transparency about the city’s financial dealings.
“It’s very surprising, contrary to his direction,” Lara said.
City critic reacts
Longtime Beaumont activist and city critic Judy Bingham said on Friday that Orozco asked her for a campaign donation in 2014 when he was running for City Council.
She told him that that he may not want to be associated with her, given her frequent criticism of the council, and that such a donation would need to be publicly disclosed on campaign finance forms.
Bingham said that he replied that her name would never a appear on a campaign finance form because the donation could be routed through a political action committee.
She said she found the encounter unsettling.
“I never gave him any money,” Bingham said.
Mayor Pro Tem Nancy Carroll said Friday evening she didn’t have any information on the specifics of the case or Orozco’s fundraising practices but that it appears the system — a complaint followed by a grand jury investigation — worked as intended.
Arrangements have been made for Orozco to surrender on May 25 at the Hall of Justice in Riverside for his arraignment scheduled that day. His bail is set at $25,000 and his maximum possible sentence as currently charged is 13 years in state prison.
What is Form 460?
The perjury charges involve the Fair Political Practices Commission’s Form 460, which must be filed by all candidates who raise and spend money for campaigns.
The forms list the names of campaign contributors, the amount of money received, how the money is spent and who receives money from the campaign
Depending on the race, the reports must be filed with a city clerk, a county registrar of voters or the California Secretary of State’s office.
In June 2015, Orozco was fined $400 by the Fair Political Practices Commission stemming from failure to file campaign finance reports from the previous year’s election.
He paid the charge in late April to settle with the FPPC over his pre-election financial statements for Jan. 1, 2014, to Sept. 30, 2014, and Oct. 1-18, 2014, according to an FPPC spokesman. Both filings were due in October.
“I filled out the wrong paper work; misfiled on my end,” Orozco said at the time, “and I didn’t plan on raising any money and spending anything.”
Orozco’s political past
Orozco was elected in 2014 a few months before the offices in City Hall and the Palm Desert home of a former city manager were raided by the DA’s office and FBI agents.
Authorities carted away as many as 500 boxes of documents from the offices of Urban Logic, a firm that provided a host of services for the city on a contract basis.
City-commissioned audits and state reviews that followed the raid revealed a fiscal mess of spending and accounting practices so out-of-whack that auditors could not determine whether millions of dollars in public funds had been properly spent.
Reforms that were instituted on Orozco’s watch sought to curb deficit spending, stop inappropriate use of bond funds and bring competitive bidding back for city contracts.
Later that same year, Orozco called for the resignation of former Councilman Jeff Fox, saying he represented a link to the former regime, which, according to a state report, presided over a city where accounting controls were “effectively non-existent” and top-ranking officials had conflicts of interest.
Orozco said at the time he was not in control of his website or LinkedIn profile when that material was posted and he believes he may have been hacked. He said he trusted several people to manage his website.
“I never went on that and managed it myself,” he said at the time. “I should have done a better job monitoring that website. That’s what happens when you have third-party people controlling that.”
Complaint came from city
“Our Public Integrity Unit does the difficult and necessary work of rooting out corruption in our community,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said in a statement. “I appreciate and thank the City of Beaumont for their continued cooperation during the course of the investigation. It was only with the partnership of the Beaumont officials, that we were able to bring forth the indictment against Orozco. It is important to hold our community leaders to the highest standards in our continued efforts to deter political corruption in our county.”
Due to the confidentiality of the grand jury proceedings, no additional information about the evidence presented to the grand jury can be released at this time.
By law, the transcript of the grand jury proceedings is sealed until 10 days after the defendant receives a copy of the transcripts. After that happens, the DA’s Office will request that the transcript be unsealed and it will then become a public record.
The Public Integrity Unit of the District Attorney’s Bureau of Investigation conducted this investigation after a complaint made by the city of Beaumont.
The case is being prosecuted by Deputy District Attorneys Amy Barajas and Emily Hanks of the DA’s Public Integrity Unit.
Councilman Lara said the indictment will not derail the progress of the last few years, which have seen the council attempt to chart a new path for the city that relies less on consultants.
“We’re going to stay positive and continue to move forward and let the law take care of itself,” he said.
Family: Husband, father of four
Occupation: History/government teacher, political consultant, Beaumont resident since 2005; former trustee for the Beaumont Unified School District
Staff writers Craig Shultz, David Danelski, Imran Ghori and Jeff Horseman contributed to this report.