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FBI seeks records from water district in corruption probe

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The FBI has requested records from the Central Basin Municipal Water District related to a groundwater storage plan that was the subject of bitter, long-running legal battle in southeast Los Angeles County.

Investigators are also seeking the personnel records of the water district’s former general manager, Art Aguilar, and two elected directors, Art Chacon and Robert Apodaca.

The subpoena, obtained by The Times, shows the FBI’s investigation into Sen. Ronald S. Calderon, his brother and the water district has continued to expand in the months since Calderon’s Capitol office was raided. Calderon’s brother Tom was a longtime consultant for Central Basin.

Tom Calderon has been the subject of at least two subpoenas, in which the FBI sought contracts between the district and Calderon’s firm.

The latest subpoena focuses on the proposed groundwater storage system. The FBI wants records connected to the project’s environmental impact report as well as several engineering and consulting companies involved, including HDR Engineering, Inc., Willdan Financial Services and Pacifica Services, Inc.

The water district sued Pacifica last month, alleging that it had overbilled it by almost $900,000. In a letter last week, the company’s president Ernest Camacho fired back, saying Pacifica would “use the judicial system to defend itself against unwarranted and malicious allegations.”

For several years, Central Basin was locked in a battle with a rival agency, the Water Replenishment District, over its efforts to gain control over local groundwater storage. More than a decade ago, new surveying technology revealed additional space available for storage — a valuable commodity that would allow purveyors to store huge amounts of extra water in wet years and save it for dry ones, when imported water prices surge.

But the efforts to use the space resulted in a protracted and costly legal and public-relations fight that cost both Central Basin and the Water Replenishment District millions, and generated criticism from neighboring cities and other water managers. Last year the state Legislature passed a law that essentially gave the WRD the primary authority to manage groundwater storage in the disputed area. The move essentially ended the pitched litigation between the agencies.

It is unclear from the latest subpoena, dated Aug. 5, what exactly the FBI will be looking for in the requested documents, which include electronic and physical records. Joseph Legaspi, a Central Basin spokesman, declined to comment on the subpoena, except to say, “It is our intention to comply fully with any outreach from any authorities.”

The FBI has been silent on a broader investigation, which became public in early June after FBI agents searched the Capitol offices of Sen. Calderon. A law enforcement source told The Times it involved Sen. Calderon’s “income stream,” and several state legislators have received subpoenas to appear before a grand jury. FBI agents have also questioned officials from several cities served by Central Basin, where the senator’s brother was once a powerful advisor.

Shortly after the senator’s offices were searched, a subpoena was first served at Central Basin, requesting documents related to contracts awarded by the water district, including invoices, purchase orders, voice mails and information related to how officials there accepted or rejected bids.

Along with records involving Tom Calderon and his group, federal officials also sought records related to former Bell City Councilman George Cole—a former Central Basin director—and the organization he once ran, the Oldtimers Foundation. The foundation, which provides low-cost housing, dial-a-ride programs and other services to municipalities had received more than $2.5 million in contracts from the water district in the past.

The June subpoena also sought records on Gil Cedillo Jr., the son of legislator and newly elected L.A. City Councilman Gil Cedillo. Cedillo Jr. had been employed by Central Basin as a $120,000 a year business development manager before being terminated last month.

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