Orange County Waste & Recycling Director Mike Giancola is accused of operating an illegal salvage operation at county landfills in a lawsuit filed by a former county Human Resources manager who worked under Giancola.

County officials have declined to comment on the ongoing lawsuit by Kathy Tahilramani, who alleges she was harassed because she reported questionable activities by Giancola.

However, there are indications that the allegations in Tahilramani’s lawsuit, which was filed last November, have been referred to the same private law firm recently hired by the county to investigate corruption or harassment allegations against elected officials or department heads, including Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly. 

In documents filed in her case, Tahilramani said she told county officials she became aware of the alleged illegal salvaging operation involving Giancola as part of a sexual harassment complaint.

According to documents, Tahilramani complained that county officials didn’t refer the allegations of corruption to District Attorney Tony Rackauckas and instead opted for an internal investigation that relied on Giancola himself.

Since July, when Rackauckas unveiled a complaint with a dozen felony sex crime allegations against Santa Ana Councilman Carlos Bustamante for his conduct as a manager at the county Public Works department, there have been vocal concerns about how badly internal Human Resources investigations examined complaints.

In the Bustamante case, nearly a year elapsed between an initial complaint in March 2011 and the referral to Rackauckas earlier this year. In addition, a report by the county’s internal auditor found that internal Human Resources probes were mishandled.

According to a Jan. 14, 2011, memo sent to Human Resources Director Carl Crown that is part of the court record, Tahilramani’s union attorneys outline that she “received reports from a taxpayer that several individuals, including the Director of OCWR — Michael Giancola — were involved in illegal salvage of materials from the Prima Landfill site.”

The memo states:

The report was formally made by Ms. Tahilramani on August 25, 2010 and was provided in writing to Marc Gallonio, Human Resources Service Team Manager on August 30, 2010, when she provided Mr. Gallonio with a chronology regarding the information she had been provided and she requested that HRD conduct an investigation into the allegations, as well as other allegations made by same individual (including that his wife, an employee at the landfill, was the victim of sexual harassment by an employee at the Prima Landfill).

Tahilramani asserts in court documents, “the allegation involved theft and should have been referred to the DA.”

Yet in a bizarre twist, it seems as if Human Resources officials worked with Giancola to avoid any investigation.

From a Nov. 17, 2010, memo to Karen Davis of the Orange County Manager’s Association, which is also part of the court records, Tahilramani noted: “The taxpayer withdrew his complaint after telling Marc Gallonio he was going to meet with Mike Giancola at Mike’s house.”

The Nov. 17 memo goes on to state that “central HR had a manager meet with this taxpayer at a coffee shop rather than have law enforcement investigators immediately take steps to determine if there was stolen property. This allowed the entire situation to be covered up. Mike Giancola was very angry that I turned this investigation over to HRD.”

In court records, Tahilramani said she reported Giancola for questionable management practices on several occasions. She also paints a picture of Giancola as repeatedly bending job selection rules to advance favorite employees.

From Tahilramani’s Nov. 17 memo:

As the HR Manager, I began to become quite concerned in 2009 about Mike Giancola’s frequently inappropriate and derogatory comments about individual staff in terms of their age, potential retirement plans, performance, who was dating who, health and who to hire that I became very consistent in warning him about the consequences of violating the County EEO policy as well as the Merit and Selection rules. Mike Giancola told me that his wife Lori Giancola (HR HCA Recruitment Manager) had given him the same warnings. But he is, “Italian and does what he wants.” He told me he has “co-opted the CEO (Thomas Mauk) and that Alisa Drakodaidis depends on him and as such he gets what he wants. I continued to warn him on a daily basis and he simply ignored my efforts.

Tahilramani asserted in court documents that after referring the salvaging issue to central Human Resources in late 2010, she was essentially frozen out by Giancola and eventually demoted by Giancola to a safety specialist position.

“Since August 26, 2010, Mike refuses to meet with me to conduct HR business, refuses to schedule or conference on business issues, will not speak to me in public or on the phone, ignores me in hallways,” Tahilramani said in the court documents.

By Nov. 15, 2010, Tahilramani said she was shown a department reorganization that replaced her as HR manager with a person with less experience.

“I left the room. I went home. I went to Kaiser Urgent Care Psyschiatry for immediate treatment,” Tahilramani wrote in court documents.

In the Jan. 14, 2011, letter to Human Resources Director Carl Crown, attorneys for the managers association asserted that “Ms. Tahilramani suffered this adverse employment action in response to her reporting potential violations of the law and regulations of the State of California to officials of the County of Orange.”

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