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Findings in Oxnard City Hall raid to take months

Prosecutors say they will need months to analyze materials seized in a raid on Oxnard City Hall as they seek evidence related to possible misuse of public funds.

In a written statement, Ventura County Dist. Atty. Greg Totten said the investigation does not focus on “inflated salary and pension-spiking concerns” like those in the city of Bell. He declined to give details of the probe, however, saying only that it “involved potential misappropriation of public monies, the handling of contracts involving public works and other city projects, and potential conflicts of interest.”

According to some Oxnard officials, accusations related to a $250-million water project are at the heart of the raid, which was conducted Friday by district attorney’s investigators and FBI agents.

Councilman Dean Maulhardt said Tuesday that a city consultant found $6 million in “cost problems” on the project. But he said he doubted that the district attorney’s investigation was triggered by simple mismanagement — such as failing to catch vendors’ sales tax charges that were 1% higher than necessary.

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“They must be looking for something else,” he said.

Last month, the district attorney’s office asked Oxnard for documents related to city contracts and potential conflicts of interest among elected and appointed officials. Maulhardt said many of the materials were boxed up and ready to go when investigators swept into the building.

“We were complying with the requests, so I was surprised by the search warrant,” he said, objecting to Totten’s suggestion that the city was at least passively resisting the district attorney’s investigation.

In a letter to Totten, Mayor Tom Holden pledged to “ensure that our city sets a new and better standard for effective government and public service.”

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The city has been roiled by internal drama focused on the public works department.

In June, Public Works Director Ken Ortega quit, complaining in a letter that he had become the target of “baseless allegations, rumor-mongering, knee-jerk reactions, misrepresentations of fact, calculated character attacks, and personal disregard and disrespect.” He said the source of it all was City Manager Ed Sotelo.

The resignation came a few days after the Ventura County Star revealed that Ortega had accepted several gifts from city contractors, including tickets to Lakers and Dodgers games.

Ortega could not be reached for comment Tuesday, and city officials declined to discuss his departure.

steve.chawkins@latimes.com

catherine.saillant@latimes.com


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