Senior Assistant Orange County District Attorney Bill Feccia disputes County CEO Tom Mauk’s claim that the review of Assessor Webster Guillory is “non-criminal.”
“They might be mixing apples and oranges,” Feccia said when asked Monday about the details of the district attorney probe into the assessor’s office.
“The CEO has hired a former investigator, Mike Mount, to look at it from their point of view. They presented it to us. They gave us one name of a complainant,” Feccia said. “We’re going to start with them.”
Yet starting is exactly what Feccia’s investigators are doing, mainly interviewing people, presumably employees at the assessor’s office who have made complaints.
Last month, employees at the assessor’s office alleged through Orange County Employees Association General Manager Nick Berardino that Guillory had been hiding the true costs and effectiveness of a $20 million computer system in development. They also allege that the assessor has willfully avoided taxing big businesses on government properties they use.
Guillory said the allegations were politically motivated and exaggerated and has challenged Berardino to be specific. Berardino responded by calling for an independent investigation.
Feccia stressed that it’s too early to say anything about his office’s review but acknowledged that criminal sanctions could be involved depending upon the evidence found.
“I can’t say whether there’s anything involved,” he said. “I wouldn’t call it an investigation yet, it’s an inquiry at this stage.”
The first step, he said, is establishing whether a legitimate accusation exists. That’s largely made through direct contact information with witnesses.
“We do not engage in investigations in hearsay,” Feccia said.
Feccia said in the allegations he’s heard, “I haven’t seen evidence of criminal wrongdoing,” but quickly added, “We just started the inquiry. I don’t know how to characterize anything until I get the facts.”
The one thing Feccia stressed more than anything else is that his office isn’t into playing politics and the fact that Guillory is facing re-election is a factor. “The DA made it clear, and I made it clear…it’s not the job of a district attorney to be a political football in an election campaign,” Feccia said.
Feccia said the allegations like those leveled against Guillory cause a criminal investigation when they accuse an official of willfully refusing a specific duty. “It has to be a practice,” Feccia said. “It must be a willfull refusal to perform the duties of office,” he said.
With that assertion, Feccia is sending a message to employees making the accusations that they have to come forward without the cloak of anonymity. “We don’t deal in anonymous ambushes. Our job is to establish the evidence and facts. In order to that we depend on witnesses,” he said.
Feccia added that witness get confidentiality when they talk to the district attorney. But they have to talk and be specific.
“If people want to talk to us they can be confident that they’ll remain confidential to us,” Feccia said. “(But) we need to look in their eye, we need to assess their credibility. That’s different than anonymity.”
— NORBERTO SANTANA JR.