Ex-Member of Panel to Be Charged Over Votes : Jobs training: Robert Munoz is accused of supporting a state contract with a firm that paid him a $40,000 consultant’s fee.
Ventura County prosecutors plan to file criminal conflict-of-interest charges against a former state job-training official from Oxnard, alleging that he accepted more than $40,000 from two businesses whose contracts he later voted to approve.
The charges against Robert Munoz, a member of the state Employment Training Panel until last September, will be filed this week, Special Assistant Dist. Atty. Donald D. Coleman said.
“We believe public officials should serve the public, and not their own pocketbook,” Coleman said.
Munoz, an insurance broker, will be charged with two counts of violating state conflict-of-interest law and two counts of failing to disclose income on financial reports that public officials must file each year, Coleman said.
All four counts are misdemeanors, and each carries a maximum sentence of six months in County Jail and a $10,000 fine.
Munoz, 59, could not be reached for comment, but in a December interview, he said he had done nothing wrong. “There’s no conflict, zero conflict,” he said at the time.
Coleman said Munoz, owner of the Dodge-Munoz Agency, has moved to San Bernardino County, where he is living with a relative.
Prosecutors will charge Munoz with breaking the law in June, 1990, when he voted to extend a $2.3-million state contract with Boskovich Farms after receiving a consultant’s fee of about $40,000 from the giant Camarillo-based vegetable grower, Coleman said.
Munoz also will be charged with having a conflict of interest for voting last August to award a $592,000 contract to a company partly owned by a longtime Munoz associate who had leased office space from him for three years, Coleman said. State law prohibits members of state boards from participating in decisions that will financially affect a person or company from which the official received more than $250 the previous year.
Records show that Munoz was the chief Employment Training Panel supporter of both contracts. The Boskovich grant was for training farm workers to pick a variety of crops. The second contract to Golden State School of Oxnard was for the English-language education of farm workers as part of a $2-million agreement with the Ventura County Agricultural Assn.
Both contracts have drawn criticism from competing growers and farm-worker advocates who say they benefit growers and consultants but do little for the workers themselves.
The size of the Ventura agricultural association contract has been reduced from $2 million to about $357,000 since Munoz’s role in securing it was reported by The Times last fall. The Boskovich contract has expired, and state officials said the company trained only enough farm workers to collect $400,000, about one-sixth the amount it could have received.
Coleman said there is no evidence that the companies from which Munoz received money broke the law.
But the prosecutor said that a nine-month probe shows that Munoz violated the public trust while on the job-training panel, an obscure state board that awarded about $150 million in contracts in 1990.
Payments from Boskovich Farms represent the most obvious financial conflict, Coleman said. “That’s just a clear violation,” he said.
Munoz worked for Boskovich from the summer of 1989 to early 1990, receiving about $40,000, Coleman said. He then voted on Boskovich’s contract extension a few months later.
Records show that Munoz voted for Boskovich’s original 14-month contract in July, 1989, and voted for its 10-month extension in June, 1990.
Munoz acknowledged in the December interview that he worked for Boskovich as a liaison with the city of Oxnard, where the agribusiness firm was seeking permits to refurbish a frozen-food plant.
He said he took the part-time consultant’s job only after company officials asked him to help coordinate the project. He said he had no set work hours.
“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.
City officials said the Boskovich project was large but routine and required no new zoning or special permits.
Munoz said that the employment panel’s legal counsel told him that he could take the Boskovich job as long as he abstained when future contracts with the company came to the board.
Munoz said in the interview that he did not recall voting for the company’s contract extension in June, 1990. And even if he did vote for it, he said, the vote would not have been illegal because the state cut the size of the Boskovich contract from $2.7 million to $2.3 million.
The figures represent the amount of money set aside by the state to pay for all training promised by the company.
However, according to state officials, Boskovich trained so few workers during its original contract period that the company had been paid only $173,000 by the end of 1990, four months after the original contract would have expired. The contract extension allowed the company to continue to train workers and try to collect the rest of the $2.3 million, they said.
The Boskovich contract will result in two charges against Munoz. And Coleman said Friday that a third charge stems from Munoz’s failure to declare a consultant’s fee of $15,000 from Ebasco Constructors, which built a plant to provide electricity for Boskovich’s adjacent frozen-food plant in 1989.
Prosecutors also concluded that Munoz should not have helped approve a second training panel contract, which included a $592,000 subcontract that benefited one of Munoz’s tenants at an Oxnard Boulevard office building, Coleman said.
State records show that Munoz rented space for three years to a company principally owned by Larry Owens. A second company partly owned by Owens, Golden State School, received the subcontract.
Munoz, however, has said no legal conflict existed because the Owens-owned company to which Munoz rents a suite is not the same one that received the state contract.
Coleman said the distinction is not legally significant, because both companies operate under the same corporate umbrella.
“It makes it a little bit more difficult for us to prove that count,” Coleman said. “But I think it’s a distinction without a difference.”
Munoz, appointed to the employment panel by Gov. George Deukmejian in 1986, has expressed pride in his service to the state.
“I feel that I have served the governor to the best of my ability,” Munoz said.