After an inquiry of several weeks into employee allegations of criminal actions by Assessor Webster Guillory, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas today issued a report that cleared the assessor and criticized Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino for publicly disclosing employee concerns about Guillory's conduct.
Guillory -- who is up for reelection in June -- could not be reached for comment today.
At issue were allegations by assessor employees that Guillory was allowing certain large businesses to avoid paying taxes on government property they utilize. The employees said that as much as $125 million may have been uncollected. Employees also alleged that Guillory has misstated the progress of a $25 million computer project aimed at more effective tax collection.
The DA review found that Guillory did nothing criminal.
"The District Attorney's jurisdiction to investigate and prosecute governmental officials or indict them for removal from office is limited to criminal offenses or willful refusal or deliberate failure to perform the duties of office. The evidence adduced does not support probable cause to believe in the existence of either," concluded the report written by Bill Feccia, a senior district attorney in charge of the inquiry.
Feccia did not return a call for comment.
In his report, Feccia essentially concludes that employees may have had other reasons for accusing Guillory -- who initially said the allegations were part of the political season. The district attorney report notes that "it appears that the allegations were brought forward only after employees were informed potential layoffs and/or furloughs were being considered."
Berardino thanked the DA's office for conducting the probe, but said the critique regarding his public disclosure would not stop him from voicing concerns publicly in the future.
"We hope that employees in other departments will continue to come forward when they suspect misconduct," Berardino said. "We think taxpayers have a right to know and regardless of the findings in any report, it's a blessing that we can do this in public."
Berardino acknowledged that a large part of the reason why he went public is because of the widespread notion in Orange County that Rackauckas' office doesn't look into political issues. He said the ensuring inquiry and the report has calmed such fears.
"It's a concern that has been somewhat mitigated. But public disclosure protects everyone's interest," he said.
We'll have more analysis of the report and reactions as they roll in...
-- NORBERTO SANTANA, JR.