A former California job-training official from Oxnard, already the subject of a county conflict-of-interest probe, might have violated state law in June when he voted to extend a $2.3-million state contract with a Ventura County vegetable grower.
Robert Munoz, a member of the state Employment Training Panel until September, acknowledges that he received more than $10,000 from Camarillo-based Boskovich Farms in the months before the vote on the grower’s contract. But Munoz said he does not recall voting on the contract extension.
State law prohibits members of state boards from participating in decisions that would financially affect a person or company from which the official received more than $250 during the previous year.
If Munoz did receive the income and had cast a vote to extend the Boskovich contract in June, “then it appears to be a conflict of interest,” county Special Asst. Dist. Atty. Donald D. Coleman said.
Coleman is already investigating a vote by Munoz in August that helped award a $592,000 contract to a company partly owned by a longtime Munoz associate who leases office space from him. The Boskovich vote will be investigated as part of the district attorney’s inquiry into Munoz, Coleman said.
Munoz said in an interview that he worked for Boskovich Farms in late 1989 and early this year as a liaison with the city of Oxnard. The company was seeking city permits to refurbish a frozen-food plant, Munoz said.
A declaration Munoz filed recently with the state shows that he received “over $10,000" from Boskovich this year. Sources say he actually was paid more than $30,000 by the giant agribusiness firm for his part-time consulting work.
State records show that Munoz, who voted for Boskovich’s original 14-month state contract in July, 1989, also voted in June, 1990, to extend by 10 months the contract to “cross-train” farm workers to pick a variety of crops.
Munoz, an insurance broker, said in a recent interview that he did not recall voting to extend the Boskovich contract. But he said that if he did cast the vote, it still would not create a legal problem for him.
“There’s no conflict, zero conflict,” Munoz said, “because there was no financial gain by Boskovich. In essence, what we did there was . . . take $400,000 away from Boskovich. If anything, we hurt Boskovich.”
While extending the contract, Munoz said, the panel also reduced the maximum amount that Boskovich could ultimately be paid from $2.7 million to $2.3 million. The figures represent the amount set aside by the state training panel to pay for all training promised by the company.
According to state officials, however, Boskovich trained so few workers during its original contract period that it has been paid only $173,000, with claims for another $167,000 still pending.
In fact, Boskovich had trained just 113 of the 939 workers it promised by the expiration date of the original contract, according to state reports. With the contract extension, Boskovich stands to collect the balance of the $2.3 million if it trains 816 workers, as now promised.
According to Munoz, he went to work for Boskovich in late 1989 only after checking with the training panel’s staff lawyer about the potential for conflict of interests.
Munoz said he was assured that he could legally work for Boskovich, but that he would have to abstain from future votes on the company’s contract. And he said he has no recollection of the June vote.
Records of that June meeting show that one employment panel member, Elinor Glenn, asked that the Boskovich extension be separated from other so-called consent items, routine matters that are usually voted on at once. Glenn had been a critic of the farm worker training contract, calling it a wage subsidy for a big farmer that did little for workers.
But records show that the panel rejected Glenn’s suggestion 5 to 1 on a motion by Munoz.
“There’s every possibility those minutes are wrong, because I don’t believe I would have done that,” Munoz said. Such a vote “would hurt the integrity of the program, in my opinion. I would never consciously do something like that.”
But in a second interview Munoz maintained that his vote made no difference legally, because the reduction in the size of the contract hurt Boskovich.
He also said panel staffers had extended the contract many months before the panel’s vote, so the vote had no real effect. But panel staffers said last week that Munoz is mistaken and that the extension was implemented in June.
Munoz said he took the Boskovich consulting job after the company asked him to help coordinate its efforts to refurbish a frozen-food plant on Diaz Street in Oxnard. Company officials insisted that he accept pay for his work, Munoz said.
“I said, ‘No, but I’d be more than happy to help you guys in whatever way I can,’ ” Munoz said.
George Boskovich, vice president of Boskovich Farms, could not be reached for comment. He has previously refused to comment on his state contract.
Munoz said he was a part-time Boskovich consultant with no set work hours. His role, he said, was to “talk with some of the city people . . . try to schedule meetings with the principals and some of the city staff people.”
He said he was not responsible for ensuring that permits were processed promptly. “No, I was just there to make sure that Boskovich had an understanding of what could be done . . . and what could not be done,” he said.
Richard Maggio, director of community development in Oxnard, said he recalled the Boskovich project as a large but routine refurbishment effort. No new zoning or special permits were necessary, Maggio said.
“It was mostly ministerial building code type of things,” he said. “You submit plans, meet the requirements and you get your permits.”
Maggio said that while Munoz was involved in the process, he believed that another Boskovich employee was overseeing work for the company. “Mr. Munoz was assisting him,” Maggio said.
Munoz said his experience for such work was that “I’ve helped a lot of people when they have problems.”
County prosecutors began to investigate Munoz in October after The Times reported that, in voting for a $2-million contract for the Ventura County Agricultural Assn., Munoz had also helped approve a subcontract that would benefit one of his tenants at an Oxnard Boulevard office building.