Tulare Public Cemetery District censures Trustee Aguilar, confusion reigns

Tulare Public Cemetery District (TPCD) unanimously censured Trustee Alberto Aguilar for disclosing information discussed during closed session. With Aguilar recusing himself, the trustees also voted to send the matter to the Tulare County Grand Jury for an investigation.

Though reported in the Sun-Gazette that the grand jury could remove Aguilar, the grand jury does not directly have that power.

Aguilar was censured over an alleged breach of attorney client privilege in an email sent to the Valley Voice on May 22. According to County Counsel lawyer Aaron Zaheen, “Included in that email were items only ever discussed by the board in closed session. Breach of this privilege is a misdemeanor under government code for dereliction of duty by a public official.”

Aguilar’s email to the Valley Voice was in response to that newspaper’s discussion with lawyer Leonard Herr about Aguilar not receiving TPCD documents after multiple requests.

“Whenever a public agency denies public financial information and/or any public records, it’s because they are trying to hide it from the public,” said Aguilar in the May 22 email.

John Sarsfield, from the law offices of Melo and Sarsfield, disagrees with Zaheen about the consequences of disclosing  information discussed in closed session.

“It’s not a misdemeanor or any other crime,” he said.

Sarsfield also said the grand jury does not have the power themselves to remove an appointed public official from any office. The grand jury can conduct an investigation and then vote by a 12 to 19 majority to refer the case to the Tulare County District Attorney (TCDA).

The TCDA, if it takes the case, would then have to go to trial, said Sarsfield, where a jury would have to unanimously find Aguilar guilty of committing something close to a criminal offense. Sarsfield has only heard of one instance of a jury removing a public official after a grand jury referral, but the case involved embezzlement.

“It has to be real malfeasance and not just because the trustee is a pain in the ass,” he said.

 

Censured for… what exactly?

Confusion reigns over what exactly Aguilar did that earned a censure.

Aguilar said that his second to last paragraph of the email contained the offending statement.

The paragraph states, “The Chairman of the Board has confirmed that the top of the vault where Dolly Faria is buried is less than 12 inches from the turf above the vault. To my knowledge, members of the Dolly Faria family have not been officially notified by the district about this matter.”

Dolly Faria’s family plot was allegedly involved in an illegal double burial that has been widely publicized but not proven. A TPCD groundskeeper claims he found a human skeleton while digging Faria’s grave in November of 2019. The former office manager, Leonor Castaneda, allegedly told the grounds keeper to place Faria’s vault on top of the bones so the district could proceed with the burial. It is against the law to conduct a burial on top of unidentified human remains and without the family’s consent.

Aguilar did not explain why that particular paragraph in the May 22 email elicited a censure.

Trustee Charlie Ramos insinuated during his public comment that the censure was more complicated than just a breach of attorney client privilege and involved more than just the May 22 email. Ramos said Aguilar voted in closed session in favor of a settlement of nondisclosure for a former employee (Castaneda) but then “took it upon himself to write a statement of fact from closed session and release it to the press.”

But there is nothing in the May 22 email that mentions Castaneda’s settlement. In addition Castaneda’s settlement is a public document and in the hands of the press.

When asked where in the email reveals confidential information about Castaneda’s settlement, Chairperson Xavier Aguilar said he did not want to comment in order to protect the district from potential litigation.

It is believed that Castaneda’s handling of the Faria burial was a major contributing factor to her dismissal and Ramos said that the district had submitted “lengthy findings” about the matter to the Tulare Police Department. Aguilar said he filed his own police report detailing the events around the Faria burial and the double disinterment on March 8 because he didn’t trust the district to do it.

In a statement by a member of the Faria family, they said that they did not believe the groundskeeper’s story about finding human remains in Dolly Faria’s plot.

For fear of retribution from TPCD the groundskeeper who found the bones has not spoken publicly about the incident.

 

Pot, meet kettle?

Aguilar does not retreat from the fact that the trustees accuse him of possibly disclosing confidential information in regards to alleged illegal activities at the district.

“When we have double disinterments without proper notification and double burials, which are against the law, the public has the right to know.” Aguilar continued, “I will expose any kind of illegal activity or corruption that occurred.”

Aguilar is notoriously tight-lipped about closed-session discussions and has never shared confidential information with the Valley Voice.

Former trustee Vicki Gilson said, “Never, never, Alberto never says a word.” Aguilar said, according to Gilson, “You know I can’t share anything that I learn in closed session.”

Gilson was copied on the May 22 email and is perplexed as to what Aguilar said in the email that wasn’t already public. “Brian (Viera) spilled everything in his lawsuit against the district,” said Gilson. Viera had firsthand knowledge of the alleged finding of the human remains but was not an eyewitness.

Avila said during public comment at the July 7 meeting, “When a trustee puts the district at risk of litigation, you can’t overlook that.” Even though Avila felt the censure was justified he said, “I do it with a heavy and sad heart.”

When Avila was asked if it was hypocritical to vote to censure Aguilar when he has disclosed a wide variety of confidential information discussed in closed session he responded, “I deny that I have said anything important coming out of closed session.”

10 thoughts on “Tulare Public Cemetery District censures Trustee Aguilar, confusion reigns

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  1. It is so sad that Xavier has not been censored for all the illegal acts he has done, including not follow the adopted bylaws of the district and not following the Health and safety code by acting alone in making decisions without whole board action. He should not be the chair due to all of his wrongdoings and the Board allowing him to continue to do so without standing up to him. The three board members not having had training just follow his lead as they do not know what the laws really are.

    • Somehow I highly doubt that it is a lack of training, it is more of birds of a feather flying in formation. Hypocrisy and narcissism runs deep on the cemetery board. Nothing is going to change until the entire board is replaced with new members who are not involved in ongoing personal agendas. Since that is not going to happen the power games will continue.

    • First, it’s censured. Second, if all those things took place, one would reasonably expect that county counsel would have taken action against Mr. Avila and a possible grand jury proceeding or two would have occurred. So there’s either nothing there or it’s a cover up perpetrated by A LOT of people – lawyers, board of supervisors, grand jury. I subscribe to Occam’s razor – there’s nothing there.

      • County Counsel is there to protect board members not the public. They advised on the Aguilar censure but it was up to the board to pursue action and vote on it. And there have been several Grand Jury reports on the cemetery district. Grand Jury reports have no teeth. Districts and boards can give them the middle finger and there is not a darn thing the Grand Jury can do about it.

  2. Even Sarsfeld said it ” Not because Trustee ( Aguilar ) is a pain in the ass ! Aguilar cannot keep his mouth shut EVER, is a ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS ALWAYS and if we could just be rid of Aguilar we could stop all this on and on and on…Aguilar just keeps it going !! Shut up already !!!

    • My point was that for the grand jury to return an accusation against a government official, it has to be for malfeasance in office, not simply being for being a “pain in the ass.” I was not indicating that Mr. Aguilar was in fact a “pain in the ass” rather, that the grand jury can’t take action simply for personality conflicts, no matter how strongly felt.

  3. Geneva Philpot
    You have been friends with Alberto Aguilar for a while now and just like him you make false allegations.If you are going to accuse me , then provide evidence for the things you claim . You are committing libel . I follow our bylaws correctly . We censored Alberto based on evidence. Legal council would not ignore any trustee doing illegal actions , Including myself and since I haven’t broken any laws , there is no reason to censor me .

    You are on the Visalia Cemetery Board . The Grand Jury investigated your manager back in 2007 after being accused of wrong doing . You did nothing about your manager then . You said there was no evidence against her . Then that same manager was arrested 10 years later for embezzling 1.3 million dollars from 2012 to 2016 all under your watch . Had you taken appropriate action back in 2007 you could have avoided losing 1.3 million dollars of the public’s money . Three members of the 2007 Grand Jury told the Visalia Times Delta that there was “ serious wrongdoing “ at the Visalia Cemetery but you ignored that and the Visalia Cemetary paid for it later . Maybe you should focus your attention on the cemetery you were appointed to look after . Pubic Cemetary’s are sisters and should help each other out . Your current Manager has help the Tulare Cemetery out many times by sharing important information. Perhaps you could take following her example.

  4. Most people prefer to know nothing and pretend all is well. Ignorance is bliss when you wish to remain ignorant. I personally want to thank Mr. Aguilar for keeping the public advised on the wrongdoings of the cemetery board.

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