Matt Darby, a candidate for Tulare County District Attorney (TCDA) and his supporters claim Tim Ward, the incumbent, engages in “pay to play politics.” Ward’s supporters claim Darby is playing just that – politics.
Voters will have their say June 5.
Darby has highlighted three cases where Ward allegedly used his position as District Attorney to help his friends and campaign donors.
Ward denies these allegations saying,”No prosecutor in this Office will favor campaign donors in their decisions. All cases will be reviewed based upon the facts contained in the reports. Likewise, it would be unfair to hold a campaign donor to a higher standard than required by law.”
Safety Violations at Setton Farms
In 2014, a sanitation worker assigned to clean machinery for sorting pistachios lost her footing and fell while working at the Setton Farms processing facility. When she reached out her right hand to break her fall, it came into contact with an unguarded moving conveyor belt and she was drawn into the rollers resulting in serious injury to her right arm.
Setton Pistachio of Terra Bella has been a family owned Pistachio company since the 1980’s. The company harvests, processes, and packages pistachios and is one of the largest pistachio growers and processors in the country.
According to CAL/OSHA, a division of occupational safety and health for the state, Setton Farms violated a labor code that states that the belt guard “shall be such that a person cannot reach behind it and become caught in the nip point between the belt, chain, drum, pulley or sprocket.”
CAL/OSHA referred the case to the TCDA in October of 2014. In August of 2015 the DA’s office reported back to CAL/OSHA that it declined to file due to insufficient evidence to support a criminal prosecution.
Darby claims no case was filed because Setton Farms is a major Ward campaign donor. From July of 2014 to June of 2015 the company has donated $21,000.
After the case was closed Setton donated an additional $10,000 more to Ward’s campaign.
Assistant District Attorney Dave Alavezos denies that their office dismissed the case. He stated that as a result of a 2011 employee death at the processing plant the two cases overlapped and resulted in an extension of the injunction for one year.
“As a result, the duration of the proposed civil injunction was extended one year for this incident. The civil judgment and injunction were entered into on June 2, 2014. It included training, several hundred thousand dollars in civil penalties which are separate from any civil judgment to which the employee may have been entitled. On December 31, 2017, the injunction was ended with no further reported violations.
Over a year after the injunction was ordered, CAL/OSHA in July of 2015 submitted the 2014 incident requesting a violation of the injunction. They were informed the incident was not a violation of the injunction,” Alavezos said.
Darby claims that the two cases did not fold into each other.
“The TCDA rejected the case outright without filing criminal or civil charges. They did nothing,” he said.
Former San Benito District Attorney John Sarsfield, who is a Darby supporter, countered by saying that because Ward had received $21,000 in donations from Setton Farms he should have recused himself and referred the case to the Kern County DA as he did with the case against former Police Chief Jerry Breckinridge.
Ward Contributor Amends Conviction without DA’s Objection
In March of 2015, a Visalia business owner and resident who requested that his name not be used, filed suit to change a battery conviction to a lesser violation of disturbing the peace. The defendant filed what is referred to as a writ of coram nobis so he could legally own a gun.
Federal law prohibits anyone with a battery conviction from owning a gun.
A Darby supporter who contacted the Valley Voice about the coram nobis, claims that the defendant is a friend and contributor of Ward. He said that this type of “extraordinary writ” is only allowed in 15 states and is almost never granted.
The Darby supporter related that when Ward was the Assistant District Attorney in 2008, their office received a memorandum from California State Attorney General Jerry Brown warning that individuals were using the coram nobis to subvert federal law on domestic abusers owning firearms.
Darby claimed that Ward did not file an opposition to the defendant’s motion because between the years of 2014 and 2016 the defendant donated thousands of dollars to Ward’s campaign.
Darby said it was clever the way in which the defense attorney for the defendant was able to discern a way through federal and state law to put the defendant in a legal position to possess a firearm.
“In fact, I recall that the Attorney General years ago had asked DA’s offices to object if a local superior court granted a motion to vacate aka Writ of Error Corum Nobis and then refer it to the attorney general to file a writ/appeal. Ward apparently disregarded this directive,” he said.
Alavezos disagrees with Darby’s supporters and Darby’s comments. He said that the TCDA did the right thing in not filing an opposition to the Writ of Error Coram Nobis.
Alavezos confirmed the details of the case but said the defendant had satisfied the strict criteria to file such a writ.
“There was no benefit to the People in opposing the Writ of Coram Nobis as the case was 19 years old, the defendant had completed probation, the ten year California firearm ban had passed, and the court had already dismissed the case and the conviction had been expunged,” said Alavezos.
Investigation into HCCA
In March of 2016 the Valley Voice and the Visalia Times-Delta started reporting about an unaccounted $50 million dollars in Tulare Regional Medical Center (TRMC) construction bond money. The missing $50 million was part of an $85 million dollar bond that was approved in 2005 to build a new tower at TRMC. Ten years later the tower stood half finished.
In January of that year, Bond Oversight Committee member Alberto Aguilar very publicly asked Assemblyman Devon Mathis to request a Joint Legislative Audit Committee audit on TRMC to find out what happened with the bond money. It was widely publicized that Mathis did not request the audit.
Also in March of that year, the Tulare County Grand Jury released “Tower of Shame,” in which was reported, “Seven months of intense investigation has brought the Grand Jury to the conclusion that millions of dollars in public funds have not been accounted for by the TLHCD.”
The report added that millions of dollars were spent on unplanned construction costs or matters not directly related to construction and that the bond oversight committee could not function because it was never given sufficient information.
In June of 2016 an ugly primary battle ensued between Mathis and Challenger Rudy Mendoza for Assembly District 26. The battle was fueled by the fact that Mathis did not request an audit of TRMC of the missing $50 million. Mathis did not order the audit allegedly because he owed the CEO of Healthcare Conglomerate Associates (HCCA), Dr. Benny Benzeevi, a favor, according to Aguilar.
In August, Tulare voters delivered a 33-point rebuke of Measure I, a bond measure promoted by Benzeevi that would have approved a new $55 million bond to complete the hospital tower. The measure was defeated because Tulare residents were well aware of the missing funds from the previous bond and didn’t trust HCCA to administer any additional money.
Darby and his supporters believe that given the fact it was widely known there were millions in missing public funds, Ward should have started his own investigation.
Darby claims that because Ward received $21,000 in campaign donations from Benzeevi that he was engaging in pay to play politics.
Alavezos and Ward retort that no criminal allegations were referred to the DA’s office until July of 2017 and that they started their investigation soon after.
“The Office of the District Attorney does not initiate criminal investigations based upon rumor, speculation or inadmissible hearsay obtained from newspaper articles or online blogs. The legal standard for a probable cause requirement cannot be established from this type of inadmissible hearsay, and could raise legal and ethical issues resulting in malicious prosecution liability,” Ward said.
Alavezos added that, “The grand jury did not mention it was concerned that there was evidence of embezzlement or any other type of criminal activity. In addition, the grand jury did not request the District Attorney investigate any criminal activity during or at the conclusion of their investigation.”
He pointed out that the grand jury members understood the process and had referred other cases to the DA’s office. “This Grand Jury would have referred the matter to us if they believed a crime had occurred,” he said.
Citizens for Hospital Accountability, a group formed to campaign against HCCA and Measure I, agrees with Darby. The group wrote on Facebook,
“Our Facebook friends and fellow citizens have asked us many times about why this is happening to our hospital. Shouldn’t the District Attorney, the Attorney General, the “Feds,” or lawmakers get involved? Yes they should, but no, they haven’t. This is why our group, Citizens for Hospital Accountability, was formed in the first place: because the powers-that-be have turned a blind eye.”
Ward counters concerning all the cases handled by his office by saying, “With regard to the other case matters which were submitted to the Office; each case was reviewed by a Senior Prosecutor who based their decision on the information contained in the case files. Those decisions have been reviewed by an Assistant District Attorney who has agreed with the prior decisions.”
“I stand behind the decisions of our well trained staff,” said Ward.
12 thoughts on “DA Ward is pay-to-play, opponent claims”
(Commenter ID is a unique per-article, per-person commenter identifier. If multiple names have the same Commenter ID, it is likely they are the same person. For more information, click here.)
Does the DA not have a voice? Why is one of his paid stooges always talking for him? I think he’s afraid of the press.
He made it clear the other night he doesn’t like Valley Voice. He can’t handle the truth being told, especially when the proof is provided
There’s more corruption than just in big matters like these. It’s possibly more systemic and endemic than these cases.
Look into how many arrests occur, with cases referred to the da that are not dropped for no evidence but linger until the statute of limitations runs out.
When this happens, it cleverly and unfairly imposes burdens and injustices on “the little guy”.
Problem is, Darby used to work for Ward, so will he talk about this? It’s your job to find out!
Kumar was Wards biggest campaign contributor which explains why he was so reluctant to investigate the theft of our hospital by Benzeevi and Kumar. When the hospital bond failed and when a Kumar was recalled by a huge margin, Ward finally saw the light. The investigation he is now conducting should have started 3 years ago. He does not deserve to be our District Attorney.
Ward’s a crook. Bensleazy, Thulu, Kumar…how many more “donations” will it take for people to wake up. Only thing missing is a “me too” moment. But who knows?
The missing $50 million was part of an $85 million dollar bond that was approved in 2005 to build a new tower at TRMC.
This bond was approved in 2005. WAY BEFORE HCCA. get your facts straight Valley Voice. Do you know when this bond money ran out? WAY BEFORE HCCA entered in 2014. How is this investigation going? How come no one can find out where this money went to? Everyone that was involved then should be questioned. Why do you connect this missing money with HCCA? What is you motive?
Frustrated your totally correct, I’m not defending Benzeevi, there was plenty of shady stuff going on, however,facts are facts, HCCA took over management when there was no money in the bank, the tower was flapping in the wind and they sealed it up to prevent further damage, they had to settle the issue with the contractor who used sub standard materials, they weren’t the ones who made all the change orders that cost overruns, this was the grand jury report and it was before HCCA which is why the DA couldn’t do anything about HCCA. Keep it straight. As I said, no Benzeevi fan, but facts are facts
Anyone on these articles who “defended” HCCA are assumed to be Benny. Most people on here are trying so hard to make Benny a bad guy at all means.
frustrated: to clarify HCCA did not have anything to do with the first 2005 bond. HCCA is guilty of sweeping it under the carpet so they could get their 2016 $55 million bond passed. The two bond votes are connected.
Catherine, the 2016 did not pass. This a just to point out how some of these claims against HCCA are outright incorrect and totally fabricate and it needs to be rectified.
She didn’t say that the 2016 bond “passed” but that HCCA downplayed if not outright tried to hide facts about the 2005 bond…..much like you are doing when “trying to defend” Benzeevi/HCCA.
So what about past is past.
HCCA ran TRMC into the ground NOW!!!!!
DA is investigating. Items from TRMC found up in Southern Inyo Hospital. Highly illegal because of registraion and wholesale laws. And both Districts ran into the ground by Benzeevi and Company.
All who knew about anything regarding hiding or evading should be put in prison. It is up to DA to get it right.
Vote your consience.