PBS: County Supervisors Upset Over Scope of FBI Task Force Probe

News that an FBI task force is investigating public officials in Orange County isn't sitting well with county supervisors, who are angry that there could be a perception of guilt when there really is none, reports PBS SoCaL's David Nazar.

Last week, Voice of OC reported that the FBI, Internal Revenue Service, Orange County district attorney's office and U.S. attorney’s office formed a joint task force in April focused on investigating reports of political corruption throughout the county.

The revelations regarding the task force follow reports that the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission or FPPC, which enforces campaign reporting laws, is investigating a majority of the Board of Supervisors as well as the board of CalOptima, the county's health plan for poor, elderly and disabled residents. The FPPC is working closely with the task force, according to county sources.

News of the FPPC investigation came after a county grand jury report that focused on issues at CalOptima since Supervisor Janet Nguyen engineered a reorganization of its board and another that described "a culture of corruption" in Orange County government.

Supervisors' Chairman Shawn Nelson and Supervisor John Moorlach acknowledged that the county has had its share of corruption over the past decades, including former Sheriff Mike Carona, who is serving a 5½-year federal prison sentence for witness tampering, and Treasurer-Tax Collector Robert Citron, who sparked the county's $1.6-billion bankruptcy in 1994.

But they said a troubled past shouldn't imply a current culture of corruption.

"It sort of creates some kind of innuendo that everybody in Orange County, at all levels of government, are corrupt," Moorlach said. "I think it's a broad brush, and I don't think that's fair. It's disrespectful."

Nelson said there should be zero tolerance for corruption but that now is not the time for federal involvement, as far as he knows. "I'm frustrated, because I think people are attaching significance to it," Nelson said.  

"Part of my frustration is I don't know that the notion of looking into the county is the same as 'we have a task force in Orange County. … 'I'm open to criticism, but when the idea becomes a blanket 'well, you know all the supervisors are being investigated,' again that's ridiculous."

The FBI so far hasn't disclosed any details about exactly what it's investigating.

"I wouldn't be able to comment on specific allegations.  It is the FBI's policy to neither confirm or deny investigations," said FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller of the bureau's Los Angeles office.

"Certainly when an investigation comes to the point where charges are filed, at that point we do confirm them and do make charges available to the public," she added.

The segment aired this week on PBS SoCaL's "Real Orange." Click the video above to see the full report.

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