Expensive secrets. Why?
Why are Ventura County District Attorney Greg Totten, and Patricia Murphy, the Presiding Judge of all the Ventura County Superior Courts fighting the search for the whole truth about the cost of a decades old court case?
“It’s time California taxpayers start asking some real tough questions,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of the Houston based investigative communications firm Dolcefino Consulting. Dolcefino is a long time investigative journalist who has exposed public corruption in dozens of cases. “Both the Judge and the District Attorney have some explaining to do.”
Dolcefino Consulting has been investigating how much California taxpayer money has been spent in the last few years fighting to keep secrets about a 28-year old misdemeanor court case. You have probably never even heard of it.
Now you will.
Sean Mireskandari was one of England’s most powerful lawyers and was investigating public corruption in London when his trouble started. The Solicitor’s Regulation Authority (SRA), the English version of our state bar, took away his license, in part because they claimed Mireskandari was a convicted criminal based on a 28-year old fraud case suddenly unearthed in Ventura County, California.
But what really happened?
Mireskandari called the investigation by the SRA in England a hit job, even accusing English investigators of perjured testimony. A criminal complaint was filed here in Houston. There’s even harsher criticism for the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office, allegations they falsified the true results of the case. Mireskandari says he simply admitted not properly registering a company, hardly a reason to take away his law license.
Mireskandari has accused members of the Ventura County District Attorney’s Office of accepting payoffs from England to help frame him. There is a big fight over whether the Ventura County court records are even real. Mireskandari has spent over a million dollars in the legal fight to prove he was framed.
“If there’s nothing to see here, why is the District Attorney’s Office playing so many games to keep records on this case a secret. We have been fighting with Ventura County for months. Why? Makes you real curious,” says Dolcefino.
Ventura County has spent an awful lot of California taxpayer money fighting to keep the whole Mireskandari story a secret, fighting our requests for public records, withholding important e-mails. Why fight, if there are no secrets?
One of the mysteries in the Mireskandari case is the old court record itself. Mireskandari hired top investigators to try to find it. They couldn’t. It was gone. Suddenly, more than a year later, those key court documents reappeared, supposedly found by a veteran Ventura County prosecutor by the name of Linda Groberg.
When did the old court records turn up? Right as Groberg was being forced to give sworn testimony in the lawsuit. There are accusations the new court record was a fake.
Those are serious charges.
Ventura County District Attorney Gregg Totten says he’s tough on corruption in his own office, but when we asked to see the records of the internal investigation in this case, we got nothing. Why wouldn’t the DA order a probe to get to the bottom of the charges?
To prove the court record was a fake, Mireskandari filed suit against the Ventura County Superior Court Clerk. That federal case has lasted for years and Ventura County brought in two big California law firms, Jones & Day and Cummings, McClorey, Davis and Acho, P.LC., to defend them.
So where are those bills? Just how much California tax money has been spent in this fight? We asked the law firms. We asked the courts. We asked the District Attorney. We asked the Presiding Judge.
All we got is a rather nasty letter from the Court Executive Officer, Michael Planet, telling us that the court “does not have any judicial administrative records responsive to your requests.”
“You’d think we were asking for state secrets,” says Dolcefino. Where are the bills? Did the law firms do it free? They really are simple questions. Taxpayers have a right to know. Period.”
The legal bills from the federal case may be a secret, but we do know Ventura County taxpayers already spent $74,000 dollars paying outside law firms to represent District Attorney Greg Totten’s office in this curious case. County attorneys also spent years on the case.
We asked to speak to Totten about the corruption charges leveled against his office and the growing cost of this decades old court case. His deputy told us no. The District Attorney has so far refused to even talk with us.
“Wouldn’t you think the District Attorney would want to clear the air on this case if there is nothing to see here,” asks Dolcefino? “They aren’t. They are fighting us big time. In my world that’s a big red flag.”
A funny thing happens when you look deeper into the high-stakes Menger Divorce Case playing out in Houston. There are new questions about possible pay to play politics in the Harris County family
In these big divorce cases it is usually about the children and the money. One of the largest assets in the Menger case before Judge Lisa Millard is the company Petro-Valve, Inc., a multi-million- dollar valve supply company in the oil and gas industry. In early 2016, Marek Menger was ousted as the company’s president and replaced by his soon-to- be ex-wife, Sherry Menger.
The ouster came after charges of reckless spending by Marek Menger while he was boss, driving the company into financial trouble as he continued to spend his self-proclaimed fun money while living in Cabo San Lucas and took lavish trips. Since Sherry has run the company, it has returned to profit and the ability to expand.
That wasn’t enough good news to keep Judge Millard from appointing a receiver to oversee all of the couple’s companies. If Petro-Valve, Inc. was profitable and poised to remain so, why did Judge Lisa Millard appoint a receiver to oversee, not only Petro-Valve, but the couple’s other three companies? That sends a message that could threaten the business operations and scare customers away.
It gets more curious.
Millard appointed Houston based forensic accountant, William Stewart Jr. to act as the receiver in the Menger divorce. Just six weeks later, Stewart was already out of the case. For just those six weeks, Stewart’s billed more than $50,000. Millard told the Mengers they could challenge the cost, if they want to spend more money on legal fees.
Why would a judge appoint a receiver to manage a profitable company? Why so little oversight of the bills?
Stewart is a frequent donor to Judge Millard’s campaign. More than $6,000 since 2005.
We already told you another court payment went to Jeffrey Uzick, appointed by Millard as a master in the case to oversee evidence. Uzick and his law firm are an even bigger contributor to Millard, $21,000 over the same period.
Maybe it’s just a coincidence, but next time you go family court, you might want to look at the judge’s campaign records first.
A funny thing happens when you start investigating the folks who get appointed in Harris County Family court cases. They seem to give a lot of campaign money to the Judges who appoint them.
Let’s look at the controversial Menger divorce case in Judge Lisa Millard’s court. Menger was ousted as CEO of the Houston Based Petro Valve company. Millard appointed attorney Jeffrey Uzick to serve as a discovery master and special master in the Menger divorce. In Texas, masters can resolve disputes instead of the Judge.
Before Millard was elected , Uzick had represented clients in the court only eight times in eleven years during In the twenty-two years Millard has been sitting on the bench in the 310 th District Court, Uzick has appeared in a case before the 310 th approximately 194 times.
Maybe it is just a coincidence, or the search for good justice, but Uzick and his law firm have been one of Judge Millard’s biggest political contributors. Since 2005 Uzick and his law firm
have donated $21,000 to Judge Millard’s campaigns.
Uzick saw no connection and reason to even comment. No surprise there. Judge Millard didn’t return phone calls for comment either.
Here is a piece of great non-lawyer advice. Next time you go court, take a look at the campaign records of the Judge. See how much the lawyers on the other side of the case have given.’’
There is a growing number of complaints to the State Bar of Texas these days in high stakes, big money Houston divorce cases. Lots of folks complaining about lawyer and Judge misconduct.
The latest may be in the contentious divorce between Sherry and Marek Menger. Marek Menger was forced out as President of the company Petro-Valve Inc., on allegations he was treating the company as his “personal piggy” bank.
Sherry Menger has now filed grievances with the State Bar of Texas against two of her husband’s divorce lawyers, Michael Bynane and Carlos Ryerson. The lawyers have colorful pasts. Bynane has been named in a bulletin called Fraud Alerts International. Ryerson got in trouble for allegedly misusing charity funds.
Dolcefino Consulting has an ongoing investigation into the Harris County Family Court System, lawyers, judges, and the money being made on ugly divorce cases and child custody cases.
We continue to ask for folks who think they have an outrageous legal bill in family court to send them to Dolcefino Consulting.
On the eve of a huge vote by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, there is potentially dangerous new information about the proposed Green Group Dump in Caldwell County.
Dolcefino Consulting has learned Green Group never secured the water they need to control dust and fight fire that plague landfills.
Worse, the company may have misled the State Office of Administration Hearings on their capacity to fully protect health and safety.
Green Group has paraded around a letter from the privately owned, Polonia Water Supply, saying they would accept the dump as a customer if they met their rules. Green Group says it needs up to 300,000 gallons of water a month, in part to help control dust.
Unfortunately, the company never formally applied to be a customer. Polonia Water President tells Dolcefino Consulting they might not approve letting their water be used for dust control.
Worse, their water can’t be used to fight fires. There are 8,300 landfill fires a year, and some have burned for years.
“It will be shocking for the TCEQ to approve a landfill without assurance there will be a water supply to fight fires and control dust” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of Dolcefino Consulting.
“This is a company with a history, and Texas should say, No Thank You.”
Dolcefino Consulting will be on hand Wednesday morning, September 6 when the TCEQ meets, you can watch the permit hearing live at:http://www.texasadmin.com/tx/tceq/agenda_meeting/20170906/ or at Facebook Livehttps://www.facebook.com/DolcefinoCommunicationsLlc/
You can catch up on the troubled history of Green Group athttp://www.exposegreengroup.com/
The Colorado Division of Securities isn’t shy about promoting their alleged success stories cracking down on white collar fraud. Officials in the Department of Regulatory Agency routinely take turns congratulating each other in news releases.
One big problem. They are grossly exaggerating their financial success for Colorado taxpayers.
Take Securities Commissioner Jerry Rome.
Since he became head of the agency in 2014, he has spent three times more money prosecuting cases than they have really collected for Coloradans.
In October of 2015, the Securities Commissioner was thanked for the $10-million-dollar judgement against John Koral of a company called U.S. Capitol. The company had filed bankruptcy five years before. Records provided by the Securities Division shows as of this Spring, investors and taxpayers have never gotten a penny from the court decision. It is not clear what efforts, if any, the Securities Division took to actually get the money back.
“Commissioner Rome should put out the real story. Are these long investigations paying off for Colorado taxpayers and the investors who really lose money,” says Wayne Dolcefino, President of the investigative communications firm in Houston, Texas. “What’s the point of promoting all this money you won, if you never plan to collect it?”
Dolcefino is a former investigative reporter with 30 Emmys, and multiple other investigative awards to his credits. His firm exposes government waste and corruption.
Since 2011, official records of the Colorado Securities Division actually show a truly dismal collection rate from fraud cases.
A spreadsheet provided by the Division of Securities shows the agency won judgements and court orders totaling more than $122 million dollars for investors and Colorado taxpayers. There are dozens of news releases promoting the cases and the victories.
You know how much they have collected in the agency?
A little more than 3 million dollars.
“The legislature should take a hard look at the priorities of the division, and whether getting judgements against people that are long gone and not paying accomplishes anything. It will be interesting to see how many cases they have lost, or if this a game of bragging about money no one will ever see,” says Dolcefino.
This coming year the budget of the Division of Securities is more than 3.5 million dollars.
Mayor Sylvester Turner may actually be the one we can blame for a $500 million-dollar state of the art environmental facility NOT coming to Houston!
And this is the “green” mayor?
Last fall, Houston was in the final running for a huge 70-million-dollar federal energy grant for a state of art environmental facility at the old Champion Paper property. The CERI (Circular Economy Remanufacturing Institute) facility was to be centered around a planned recycling operation to be run by ECO-HUB, the Houston company which had been negotiating a contract with Houston City Hall. It is the same company that has now filed corruption complaints with the Houston City Controller, accusing the Mayor of making sure they couldn’t get the cities business.
Last September, Mayor Sylvester Turner signed a letter of support for CERI, and wrote Houston was finalizing their agreement with ECO-HUB. A few weeks later Turner instead announced a new recycling bidding process. ECO-HUB eventually protested to Houston City Hall and now has taken its complaints about the Mayor public.
When confronted by reporters last week, Mayor Turner claimed the letter from last year doesn’t say it endorses ECO-HUB or its recycling idea, and that, in fact, he never supported the ECO-HUB project. Turner says the letter was meant instead to just help the professor at his alma mater the University of Houston.
Apparently, the folks at CERI thought it was a very clear promise negotiations on the ECO-HUB contract were almost complete. Hard to blame him if you read the letter.
Now, another letter prepared by that very same professor shows Turner was warned that $650 million dollars in bonds for the CERI project would be jeopardized if the City did not sign the contract with ECO-HUB by last Thanksgiving and that it would be nearly impossible to win the DOE grant without the centerpiece of the project being finalized.
The City of Houston lost out on the DOE grant.
The ECO-HUB project was touted as a way to save Houston taxpayers 25 to 40 million dollars a year by mixing all trash and recyclables in just one bin, cutting the number of needed garbage trucks by two thirds, and ending the need for landfills. The waste would instead be separated and then resold into new products.
That was the idea.
ECO-HUB had been unanimously chosen by a nine-member evaluation committee during the Parker administration after the city won a one-million-dollar grant to pursue the idea. Ending the need for dumps seems like a green friendly idea, but Mayor Turner dumped ECO-HUB instead.
Last week the Mayor picked a European company to recycle Houston’s trash the old-fashioned way starting next year. The contract won’t save money, it will cost millions. Up until last Spring, Houstonians weren’t charged a penny for recycling.
Now we are beginning to see how much that recycling decision really is costing Houston’s economy, and how much explaining the Mayor should be doing.
We asked Mayor Turner to respond to the letter the professor told CERI partners he had sent him. City Hall ignored our request for answers, just like they did the bid protest filed by ECOHUB last December.
Sylvester Turner has some explaining to do…
In 2013, the city of Houston unveiled a prestigious million dollar grant to work toward collecting all your trash and recycling and remake much of it into brand new products. The city spent years trying to finalize a deal. Then it fell apart and it’s incredibly tough to figure out why. READ THE REST
The investigation of that controversial County Road 79 road deal in Colorado County is exposing new potential conflicts of interest.
Dolcefino Consulting’s investigation has already helped spark a probe by the Texas Rangers of County Judge Ty Prause. He was the swing vote when Colorado County Commissioners moved to take historic private property for a county road.
Landowner Lesley Carey took the Commissioners to court, and now hearing the latest news, has filed new court papers, questioning the Judge’s conduct. Carey hired Dolcefino Consulting to get to the bottom of the road shenanigans. While searching real estate records, we uncovered another land deal that deserves some ‘splaining.
In June of 2014, Colorado County Commissioner Doug Wessels bought some property near the coast in Matagorda, Texas. Maybe it was just a coincidence, but the seller was John Faltisek, owner of Faltisek paving, who gets lots of business from Colorado County. Three months before the real estate deal with Wessels family, Faltisek got a lucrative county contract. Over the next 2 and a half years, Faltisek was awarded more paving contracts worth three quarters of a million dollars.
Wessels wouldn’t tell us how much he paid for the property, except that it was more than the appraised value of $30,000. He also claims the property wasn’t for sale, until he called Faltisek to ask.
Sounds like something a County Commissioner might want to disclose, in public, so folks would know.
Did either John Faltisek or Commissioner Wessels ever reveal their real estate deal to taxpayers?
Nope. Wait, it gets better.
Wessels admits he did wonder about a potential conflict, but got the OK to vote anyway, and not mention it to taxpayers.
We figured Wessels probably asked the County Attorney, after all, that would be the guy elected to answer those questions and, after all, he is also the local District Attorney, you know, the guy who prosecutes ethics violations.
So did Wessels talk to Jay Johannes? Nope. Wessels asked his frequent phone pal Judge Ty Prause for conflict advice. The same guy now under scrutiny for his possible conflicts of interest.
Who knows what will happen to the Rangers probe, but it is safe to say Colorado County Commissioners have some ‘splaining to do.
They should start with a new vote, changing their mind on the road deal that’s now covered with mud.
The Colorado County District Attorney has asked the Texas Rangers to probe the controversial County Road 79 land deal.
The move comes days after Dolcefino Consulting raised questions about the timing of real estate transactions involving the family of County Judge Ty Prause.
By now the details of this fight near Eagle Lake are becoming well known. Groups representing half a million Texans are on the side of a landowner fighting the takeover of an abandoned trail on her property for a needless extension of County Road 79.
It appears the main beneficiary of the road deal is Alleyton Resources, a big player in those parts.
That’s why the real estate transactions are raising questions.
In July of 2013, after Colorado County adopted a new road map for the county, Schindler Land and Cattle sold 77 acres worth about $600,000 to Darcy Todd Barten, former President of Alleyton. Schindler is a limited partnership of the Prause family. Prause voted on the 79 Road Deal, and never mentioned the prior real estate deal.
The timing of another real estate transaction is also being questioned by landowner Leslie Matthews Carey, who is waging a legal battle with the county over the road deal.
Matthews sued Waller County on February 9th of 2015. Records show Judge Prause offered to change his vote but then changed his mind days later. On February 24th, just days later, the Judge’s mom sold her home to Darmore, an investment company owned by Darcy Todd Barten.
The judge says the transactions have nothing to do with the 79 Road deal and that’s why phone records are important. The Judge says he couldn’t provide us phone records around the time without a subpoena for ATT.
That is one of the reasons the District Attorney is asking for an investigation.
And it is not the only real estate deal involving Colorado County officials that deserve scrutiny. Stay tuned.