FBI Spearheads Task Force to Investigate OC Political Corruption

FBI Agent

The FBI says it's formed a task force to investigate political corruption in Orange County. (File photo, credit unknown)

The FBI, Internal Revenue Service, district attorney and U.S. attorney’s office have formed a task force to investigate reports of political corruption in Orange County, the FBI confirmed Wednesday.

The state’s Fair Political Practices Commission, which enforces campaign reporting laws and is investigating a majority of the Board of Supervisors, as well as the board of CalOptima, also is working closely with the task force, according to county sources.

No details were made public about individuals or specific areas of corruption being investigated by the task force, but Los Angeles FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said it was formally created in April.

Similar task forces have been active in San Bernardino and Riverside counties in recent years, investigating a variety of corruption charges involving elected officials.

For example, in April the task force in Riverside County served search warrants for the homes of Moreno Valley’s five City Council members as part of an investigation into relations between a corporation and the city.

Also in April, the Orange County grand jury called for creation of a county ethics commission, citing the county’s 40-year history of corruption. Supervisors rejected the idea and blasted the grand jury, claiming it was mistaken.

Eimiller noted the FBI has a permanent political corruption unit based in Orange County, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Los Angeles FBI field office. On a daily basis, that and other federal and local law enforcement offices work on specific cases.

She said, however, that task forces frequently are used to bring together a variety of resources to tackle a specific problem, such as gang violence or terrorism.

In such cases, an agreement is signed that ensures the federal agencies and the district attorney’s office work on all aspects of a case, not just the portions that may fall under their specific jurisdictions.

The FBI typically supplies agents who are experts in investigating corruption by public officials, such as solicitation of bribes, deprivation of services, election fraud and foreign corrupt practices. Former Orange County Sheriff Michael Carona was convicted of witness tampering in 2008 and sentenced to federal prison after an FBI investigation.

IRS agents specialize in accounting and other money-tracing techniques as well as violations of tax laws. The staff of the district attorney’s office works with state laws as well as bringing an understanding of how local agencies work.

Although the arrangement wasn’t as formal then as it is now, a classic Orange County example federal and DA investigation of public corruption was the mid-1980s investigation and prosecution of Anaheim fireworks magnate W. Patrick Moriarty.

In the end, Moriarty pleaded guilty to a variety of federal corruption charges and agreed to be a government witness against politicians from Orange County to Sacramento who allegedly received bribes from him in the form of money, prostitutes, vehicles, vacation housing and the hiring of relatives.

The federal mail fraud charges included illegal campaign contributions and providing secret shares in the California Commerce Club poker club to city officials. He also paid kickbacks to a bank official.

Please contact Tracy Wood directly at twood@voiceofoc.org and follow her on Twitter: twitter.com/tracyVOC.

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