Investigation Clears City Planning Aide of Bribery Charges
A Huntington Beach Planning Department employee who was suspended last September pending an investigation of allegations of bribery and other improprieties has been cleared of serious wrongdoing, city officials said.
Sergio Martinez, who checks building plans to ensure compliance with city codes, returned to work Monday following a 4-month suspension with pay, according to Mike Adams, the city’s director of community development.
Adams said allegations that Martinez had duped a builder into paying him $2,000 to get construction plans approved in 1978 could not be substantiated in an investigation by the Orange County district attorney’s office.
Deputy Dist. Atty. Wallace J. Wade Monday declined to confirm that his office was involved in any investigation of the charges. Wade, who is in charge of special investigations for the district attorney’s office, routinely declines to acknowledge investigations that do not result in criminal charges.
Told of Conflict
Martinez did violate city personnel codes, Adams said, by approving plans for a room addition drawn by his wife, who operates a drafting business out of the couple’s home. But Martinez had told his supervisor of the conflict at the time, according to Adams, who said the supervisor erred in telling Martinez to check the plans anyway.
Martinez, a 16-year city employee, said Monday that his lawyer, Zaiden R. Corrado, was notified by the district attorney’s office that its investigation had turned up no proof of any bribe. He acknowledged that he had approved his wife’s room plan but said that it only happened on one occasion and that her plan was treated no differently than others submitted.
“There was a policy established in the department in which I was authorized to do that (work on his wife’s plans) as long as those drawings were pointed out to the supervisor and double-checked,” Martinez said. “That’s what happened, and those drawings were in full compliance with city code. There was no preferential treatment in the process.”
Martinez, 58, a former Cuban government architect who fled that country in 1963, said the charges were investigated “fairly and professionally.” He said he has been told that there will be no disciplinary action against him. Martinez studied architecture in Cuba but is not a licensed architect in this country.
“I have been a professional all my life, and things like this occasionally happen,” he said. “It is water under the bridge now, and I am back without any resentment.”
Efforts to reach Corrado and Paul E. Cook, the city administrator, were unsuccessful Monday.
Adams said the allegations originated with an unnamed developer, who claimed that he was tricked into writing a $2,000 check to Martinez at a time when his plans were subject to approval by Martinez. The developer, who had taken over a project from another builder and said he was unfamiliar with city procedures, was interviewed by Huntington Beach police and district attorney’s investigators, but could provide no proof of the payment, according to Adams.
“The developer made a statement that he wrote a check,” Adams said. “His statement was based on 10 years of memory, and he couldn’t say whether it was paid to Sergio or someone else. He could not recall who he did business with. It was real vague.”
Adams confirmed that when he was Martinez’s supervisor, until about 2 years ago, he knew of Doris Martinez’s drafting business and required Martinez to inform him whenever a drawing done by his wife was submitted for approval. In the future, Martinez will have no involvement with work done by his wife, Adams said.
Adams attributed rumors of broad wrongdoing by Martinez to “personality conflicts” with other city employees.
Martinez has worked as the city’s only plan checker with responsibility for ensuring that projects include sufficient parking spaces, are built the required distance from property lines and meet other non-structural requirements. Other Planning Department workers, as well as part-time employees, helped to absorb Martinez’s duties during his suspension, Adams said.