CALIFORNIA

Ex-water district manager agrees to pay fine over accepting gifts

Arthur J. Aguilar was the top staff member for the Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District

The former general manager of a major Los Angeles-area water district has agreed to pay a $30,000 fine for violating state rules on accepting gifts from an engineering company while also attempting to steer more than $6 million in contracts to the firm, the state's Fair Political Practices Commission announced Monday.

The agency accused Arthur J. Aguilar, who was the top staff member for the Commerce-based Central Basin Municipal Water District, of failing to report some of the gifts and of accepting gifts exceeding the state's $250 limit. Aguilar was the district's general manager during a period when it was a frequent target of accusations of political impropriety.

In a decision published online, state officials accused Aguilar of failing to disclose 31 gifts totaling $3,495.03 in value he received from January 2009 through October 2012 from Pacifica Services Inc. The gifts included attendance at company winter party events as well as golf, food and drinks with Pacifica Vice President Michael Sisson and President Ernest Camacho.

The FPPC alleged Aguilar also violated conflict-of-interest rules by using or attempting to use his position to influence eight decisions by the water district to award Pacifica millions of dollars in contracts. The FPPC said that under state rules, Aguilar's acceptance of the gifts meant he had a financial interest in the company.

In a phone interview, Aguilar acknowledged he failed to report some of the gifts by mistake but said he never promoted "or tried to steer a contract to anybody or Pacifica." He said most contracts went through a bidding process and that vendors were selected by the district's staff before he could make any recommendations to the board.

"I couldn't change or manipulate anything," Aguilar said.

Aguilar disputed some of the FPPC's accusations and said the district misguided him on how to disclose some of the gifts. He said he agreed to settle the case because he could not afford an attorney to fight the agency's claims and was told the fine could increase if he did so and lost.

Camacho, who is also the founder of the company, said there was nothing improper about Pacifica paying for the golf outings and that the district sometimes covered the costs.

"At times, they paid for golf and other times we would pay for golf," Camacho said. "It's managing a relationship. That's all it is."

ruben.vives@latimes.com

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