Tulare Public Cemetery District responds to grand jury report

During its November 20 special meeting the Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) approved sending a formal response to the Tulare County Grand Jury investigation. The response is due by December 9.

But before the trustees dove into a debate over the grand jury investigation they passed “Rules of Decorum and Trustee Conduct.”

Because past meetings have devolved into interrupting trustees, insults, yelling, and foul language, with the last meeting resulting in the police being called twice, Chair Steve Presant introduced a one-page list of rules for trustees and members of the audience to follow. The policy passed 3-2, with Trustees Vicki Gilson and Alberto Aguilar voting no because Aguilar stated that the policy was already in the by-laws.

Grand Jury Findings

Regardless if the policy was already in the by-laws, the newly passed rules were successful in producing a more respectable and calm discussion over the grand jury findings than usual or expected.

Though the trustees did not all agree on the final TPCD letter, out of the six Grand Jury “findings” a majority of the trustees voted to approve all of them.

The two most contentious findings were F1, concerning the district’s financial irregularities, and F3, the grand jury’s conclusion that Caring Cause is an organization disruptive during meetings.

Regarding F1, the trustees came close to fully agreeing with the grand jury’s finding that the district was guilty of inaccuracies in calculating the payroll, and that the endowment fund was handled improperly. In the end the trustees voted 3-2 to “Disagree Partially” with the grand jury’s findings on their finances.

Trustees Xavier Avila, Jim Pennington and Presant felt that payroll had been done accurately and that none of the employees had been short-changed on their pay, thus justifying their not agreeing completely with the grand jury.

Regarding the finding on Caring Cause, people in the audience and Trustee Gilson explained that Caring Cause is a facebook page and not a formal organization. They explained that those people who had disrupted meetings were doing so of their own accord, and that some were not followers of Caring Cause. Trustees Presant, Avila and Pennington disagreed and voted to agree with the grand jury’s finding that it was, in fact, Caring Cause that precipitated the need for a new district conduct policy.

Grand Jury Recommendations

As a result of its investigation, the grand jury gave the TPCD four recommendations, all of which the TPCD plans on implementing or has already implemented.

The Trustees did amend the grand jury’s first recommendation for a forensic audit covering the last five years. Some trustees felt there was no evidence of financial improprieties to justify the expense of an audit.

Aguilar, on the other hand, presented evidence documenting the lies, possible embezzlement, stolen documents, and inappropriate compensation committed by former TPCD office manager Marilyn Correia and her husband, former grounds supervisor Steve Cunningham. Aguilar sent his documentation to the Tulare County District Attorney and requested an investigation, but the DA said there was not enough evidence.

Avila countered that all of the accusations against Correia and Cunningham were hearsay and that former Chair Philip Deal also asked the DA for an investigation. Avila said that in a private conversation the DA told Deal that no crimes had been committed by the couple and that the Valley Voice should retract any of the paper’s accusations against Correia and Cunningham.

Avila did acknowledge some financial irregularities described in the grand jury report which lead to his suggesting the district conduct an audit for the calendar year of 2017.

2017 was a challenging year for the cemetery. The entire board of trustees, and then two newly appointed trustees late in the year, one by one resigned. Correia, Cunningham, and head grounds person, Jerry Ramos, secretly quit a few weeks before the September 20, 2017 general meeting, leaving the district with a skeleton crew and barely a quorum with which to make decisions.

Correia used her personal laptop to conduct cemetery business, which was never made available to the trustees, and two thumb drives left in the office were scrubbed clean. Approximately six months later, current cemetery manager Leonor Castaneda found a thumb drive in the same office desk that did contain the cemetery’s financial information, but, according to audit committee member Linda Maloy, April and May of 2017 were missing.

“Saying the cemetery district was left in chaos would be an understatement,” said Deal.

The environment at TCPD was so charged that on the morning of the September 20 meeting Deal had to call the police when he and Gilson were prevented from entering the district office by a grounds person. Half of the agenda had to be tabled because of the missing documents and information.

The trustees voted 3-2 to approve that, “the Tulare Public Cemetery Board is exploring options about a forensic audit for calendar year 2017.”

Presant and Aguilar voted no.

By exploring options, the trustees meant that they intended to research the cost of an audit for 2017. Based on that information the trustees would decide at a later date on whether or not to proceed with an audit.

Gilson reported that the forensic audit of the Visalia Public Cemetery cost $60,000, only $6000 of which was paid for by the district. Insurance paid for the majority of the cost because a crime was uncovered. TPCD would be liable to pay for the entire cost if no crime was uncovered in the audit.

23 thoughts on “Tulare Public Cemetery District responds to grand jury report

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  1. I base my contentions on factual documented evidence and not on hearsay that can not be proven. The material data that I provided to each member of the Board of Trustees substantiate the fact that former office manager submitted fraudulent official records to the County Audior-Controller for payroll of funds she and her husband were not entitled to. Said differently, she committed fraud and embezzlement. The same illegal practice used by the former manager to process employee’s payroll has been used by the current office manager that includes over compensating herself for time not on the clock or at work, and in blatant violation of District policy. In most public agencies, when a manager is caught falsifying payroll records, that person is terminated for just cause instead of being rewarded with an increase in their hourly pay, but this is exactly what has happened at this cemetery district. Because the public is being provided with so much disinformation, the need for a five-year forensic audit is justified and warranted. I support the Grand Jury Report and I disagree with the BOS response letter to the Grand Jury as well as Tulare Public Cemetery District’s response letter. The Grand Jury investigation was regarding the finances of the cemetery, and not the maintenance of the cemetery grounds. The yearly Audit reports are based on the data provided to the auditor by the office manager and the discrepancies between the financial income reports provided to the board is inconsistent with the financial data noted within the Audit reports, something is seriously wrong.

  2. Talk about deflection, there is now more need of a forensic audit than ever before. The present trustees and management are masters of smoke and mirrors.

  3. As a former Chair of the TPC Board of Trustees I agree fully with the assessments of Trustee Alberto Aguilar.

    • Philip Then does this mean you also agree with Alberto when he filed criminal charges against you for embezzlement? At a special board meeting in May 2018 he read comments written by him that he called Charges against Philip Deal . Below is a statement from him in a email requesting his comments against you to be placed on the May 30th 2018 agenda
      Charges against Phillip Deal – The Board members and the public need to know why I have filed criiminal charges against Phillip Deal and the financial cost the district has incurred due to his illegal actions. It is my due diligency to do what is in the best interest of the district and the community.

  4. Why would Tim Ward suggest what a newspaper should and should not print regarding public corruption?

    If he said what Xavier Avila says he said, then he (Ward) is ultra corrupt and must resign immediately where he can nurse his hate for the First Amendment in private. He should expect the State Bar to be informed of this though.

    As for Avila, why would he not be appalled that Ward said this rather than wielding out was a cudgel himself?

    Or alternatively, if Ward didn’t say this, why would Avila make up such a bizarre claim that the DA has an interest in specifying what a newspaper should or should not publish about the official goings-on of public officials?

    As above regarding Ward, what does either of these possibilities say about Avila and his judgment?

  5. Continues to sound like as long as the cemetery grounds look good the three musketeers’ major concern is getting rid of Aguilar and Gilson. Nothing changed. Personal agendas continues. Yawn.

  6. Just a couple comments:
    1. If such a mess 4 years ago, when you were chairman Deal, why didn’t you resolve the financial misdoings?
    2. After Gilson and Aguilar removed Deal as chair for lack if confidence and not living “in district”, they took over as chair and vice chair: same question, why didn’t you two deal with the accusations then?
    How many times does this get turned “into the authorities ” “with documented proof” and nothing goes any farther before you people quit making baseless accusations?

  7. Pulius . The Valley Voice needs to clear that up . No one said it was Tim ward . The use of DA is meant to say DA as in someone working for the DA not Tim Ward himself. Second No one from the DA said that the ValleyVoice should retract anything. At our meeting Catherine Doe made a comment the former Employee “Marilyn Correia was never exonerated “ I told Catherine that Marilyn was never charged with a crime because DA found no evidence. Catherine then suggested she might retract what she had wrote about Marilyn because she didn’t know that the DA looked into this and found nothing. I told Catherine that she should retract what she wrote because there is no evidence of any wrongdoing. In order to be exonerated you have to be charged with a crime and go to trial. The way it’s written it could be interpreted that the DA said the Valley Voice should make a retraction but that is not the case . I hope this clears this up .

    • Xavier and I disagree about the fact that there is no evidence of wrong doing on Marilyn Correia’s part. When I first started investigating the cemetery in July of 2017 Marilyn told me several boldface lies and I agree with Alberto’s evidence against Marilyn. It is all consistent with my investigation. I will retract my accusations of Marilyn if the DA produces their investigation exonerating her. The DA should not have had a private conversation with Chair Deal. This is a public tax funded entity and the cemetery district has a right to know what the DA has to say about possible crimes committed, or not committed, with our tax money.

  8. In 2017 Employee Jerry Ramos did not receive what he was owed. Vicky Gilson wrote him a check for 2 cents . He also has records missing. Vicky Gilson took employee records home and was asked to return them . It seems that not all the records were returned . No Trustee has any authority to remove records and take them home . Later the Cemetery district settled with Mr Ramos for what we owe him . It certainly wasn’t 2 cents . The interesting thing is . Mr Ramos was so offended by the 2 cent check that he never cashed it . The Cemetery had no records of a 2 cent check . Mr Ramos agreed to bring it to the office , so we could see it . Other than that the Grand Jury found no financial wrong doing .

  9. I have a copy of the bank statement showing a B of A check was issued to Gerardo Ramos for September 2017 payroll in the amount of $1825.94, dated 10/4/17 – signed by Board Trustees Philip Deal and Vicki Gilson, not $.02 as Xavier has alleged. When questioning the absence of records, it should be acknowledged that Audit Committee members (Yolanda Allen, Linda Maloy and Vicki Gordon) had full access to Cemetary records. Copies of the Bank of America statements were copied and furnished to all Audit Committee members

    • Oh snap! looks like someone made a mistake handing over a financial settlement to Jerry. He didn’t even have a lawyer, just a guy in a suit and greasy hair who said he was “representing” him. Jerry would have never actually sued with all the bodies he lost and work he missed. The district didn’t owe him a dime. By the way, to whom did he pay rent when he was living in the cemetery’s shed in 2017?

    • Catherine Alberto has no evidence and he already gave what he has to the DA . If there was a crime then the DA would have pursued it . Marilyn paid herself and Steve Cunningham exactly what the cemetery owed them . The public does have a right to know what the DA said . Did you ask them about it ? Did you present your evidence to them ? The last article you wrote about the cemetery you wrote about Alberto’s accusations that cemetery employees were not getting paid correctly. You even had his numbers in your article. Yet at this last meeting, nothing is mentioned about it . Why ? I explained on your website comments and at the meeting how Alberto numbers were incorrect. Did any of you bother to ask the employees if they were underpaid before posting your article ? I think the public has a right to the truth . Your last article left people with the belief that the cemetery was under paying its employees when that wasn’t even true. How about telling your readers that Alberto was wrong on that ?

    • Vicky Mr Ramos brought the check for 2 cents into the office. Leonor made a copy of it . It’s real easy to prove.

    • OK Gilson use a fake name. You are really bad at fake accounts. Deflect who removed by pointing fingers st sudit committee. BTW that check to Mr. Ramos had a stop payment placed on it by none other than you! Three checks were issued yo him. You wrote the last two. The final one handed to him was for .02. We pulled the PVQ’S you signed them. If you are going to print lies, have enough guts to use your real name. Not Cheryl Wall or “Sage”.

  10. Linda, not sure where you garner so much “misinformation”, eg to correct you regarding why I resigned as Chair of the board it was to care for my mother during her illness and passing.
    You really should mind your reckless accusations, as should a couple of your presumptuous sycophants on the board. You, Xavier and your authoritarian ilk stay very busy casting dispersions in what appear to be extremely lame attempts to cover your own miscreant behavior.

    • When it comes to displaying one’s ilk bird flipping Linda Malloy ilk was on full display. I have the feeling that she loved that picture being posted out there for everybody to see!

    • Mr. Deal……you told Vicki and I this during lunch
      .maybe you should remember all those lunches!!! Where i wRned you what they were up yo! How quickly you forget. By the way, all their accusations against you are recorded and shared several years ago with Caring Cause. Go back and look.

  11. When it comes to displaying one’s ilk bird flipping Linda Malloy ilk was on full display. I have the feeling that she loved that picture being posted out there for everybody to see!

  12. Xavier, you need to look at the data that I hand-delivered to you during the November 20, 2020, Special Board meeting. Marilyn resigned effective 9/8/2017, and her husband resigned on 9/15/2017, however she submitted payroll requests to the County Auditor on 9/7/2017, to be paid for the full month of September, and she did the same for her husband and Mr. Ramos, who quit on 9/15/2017. Marilyn and her husband cashed their payroll checks on 9/14/2017, one day prior to the date on their resignation letters. Furthermore, there are only 168 possible straight-time work hours in the month of September 2017, but the amount of the payroll checks she submitted to the County Auditor for herself, her husband and Mr. Ramors was for 173.33 straight-time hours, aside from the vacation and sick time pay. You can lie to yourself all you want, but you can not change the official documents that prove the true facts. Marilyn falsified the payroll records she submitted to the County Auditor without any authority from the Board of Trustees. She committed fraud and embezzlement. I provided you with 23 exhibits that support the facts and all I hear from you is hearsay, he said/she said, and B/S gossip.

  13. Linda Maloy – I feel so sorry for you. I don’t know what has happened to you in your life to become such a bitter and unhappy person. You continue to be spiteful and mean, repeatedly hurling vitriolic and hurtful comments. Life is short. Grow up.

  14. My family is buried there. So much corruption in Tulare County that I am worried they may have been dug up and sold. I’m going to have to make a cross country trip to see if they are still there! so much for peace of mind

    • FYI….. (and I say this laughingly) The safest place to be in the cemetery is underground or in Nitches. The mayhem taking place is “by” fellow board members “towards” fellow board members who serve together on the cemetery board. Your family IS resting in peace…..too bad the same can’t be said of our city. It would be wonderful to have a highly needed peaceful respite from this highly dysfunctional board and it’s members.

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