Eye On Modesto

Thoughts and observations about Modesto and Stanislaus County

Archive for the tag “NSP2”

Gregg Nyhoff’s SCAP Investigation ?

By Emerson Drake

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was ta...

English: Author: Carl Skaggs This image was taken by me on January 14, 2010 in Modesto, California I hereby relinquish all rights to this photo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In April 2011, Councilman Dave Lopez  went to see Modesto’s City Manager (C.M.) Gregg Nyhoff with concerns about the Stanislaus Community Assistance Project (SCAP) and excessive compensation to Joe Gibbs, the Development Director for SCAP.  Joe received $195,860 and was in line to receive $431,471 more. 

But we aren’t trying to rehash SCAP or the NSP2 problem, but are here to discuss Mr. Nyhoff’s investigation or lack thereof.  We presented Modesto with a Public Information Request to see all of the documents relating to the city manager’s investigation.  The extremely sad part is their response contained only one page after four plus weeks of the City Managers investigation.  It’s almost as if he were avoiding leaving a paper trail.

I  had occasion to discuss this with C.M. Nyhoff and his response was “well I did make some phone calls.”  Further inquiries suggested the calls were to city staffers.  Can you imagine Councilman Lopez comes to him with a major concern about potential fraud or malfeasance and Mr. Nyhoff, at the very least, sits on his hands?  Little wonder the Councilman felt the need to go to the Bee.

The lone page from the email we received is dated May 26, 2011, just two days before the Bee broke the story and more than one month AFTER Councilman Lopez spoke to Mr Nyhoff.  So despite the City Manager’s protestations, NOTHING was written down until the city was aware the Bee was going to publish SCAP’s short comings and then only to enlighten  SCAP.  Modesto City employee Judith Ray is warning SCAP employee Marcia Bradshaw that the Bee reporter has been a “consistent antagonist toward recovery act programs in general and NSP in particular and we can  be assured of a negative bias when it comes out.”

So just how thorough do you believe Nyhoff’s investigation was?  To my way of thinking all he did from the beginning was circle the wagons to protect himself and his staffers.  After all he is the city manager and the buck stops there.  At least for a few minutes before the Council gets involved.

Knowing all this and reading  the way the City responded to the Grand Jury report was just too much to stay quiet about.  If Councilman Lopez hadn’t gone to the Bee none of the malfeasance would have been uncovered.  Joe Muratore might have been able to keep the $62,500 he was willing to risk his position on the council for, and indeed his freedom. Profiting from HUD money as a Councilman is a felony and Joe Gibbs would be $431,471 dollars richer and he and his wife would still be in charge of SAP despite their questionable tenants.

Here is Nyhoff’s written  investigation.

 SCAP

The city’s response to the Grand Jury

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The Grand Jury’s findings

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After reading all of the information it’s reasonable to come to the opinion that Councilman Lopez stood up against those who would participate in a cover-up and spoke out to shed the light of day on a serious problem and uncovering a potential  misuse of public funds.

The discussion can be heard about 1:10 minutes into the Council meeting.  The following link will take you there.

http://www.modestogov.com/sirepub/mtgviewer.aspx?meetid=457&doctype=AGENDA

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“What’s on America’s Mind” Please Join us Tonight at 7:00PM

A montage I (Valente Q.C.) made with pictures ...

A montage I (Valente Q.C.) made with pictures that I took for the Infobox in the Modesto, California Article. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Todays topics include a Salida annexation update including Modesto Councilman Joe Muratore’s recent incursion in Salida.  A conversation about Salida MAC Modesto City Council response to  the Grand Jury report about SCAP and NSP2 money. and of course national issues we should all be concerned about especially women.

Wednesday nights at 7:00 PM Pacific

Please join us. Our call in number is 347-215-9414

104.9 FM is our flagship station

http://www.blogtalkradio.com/centralvalleyhornet/2012/09/13/whats-on-americas-mind-with-emerson-drake

Joe Muratore is at it Again – Padding His Pockets at Your Expense

By Emerson Drake

Yes, Councilman Joe Muratore has yet again figured out a way to profit from his position on the Modesto City Council.  Starting just after he was elected, Muratore sought out county politicians and started to prime the annex Salida pump.  I guess we shouldn’t be surprised after his NSP2 debacle of pocketing $62,500 dollars from a commission his Benchmark Realty partner Ryan Swehla generated by using Swehla’s and Scott Monday’s Trinity Renovations . 

But his Salida business adventure may just be his greediest chapter with an even more tangled web of deceit.  Remember the Stanislaus Grand Jury said Muratore was deceitful and dissembling in not fully disclosing relevant business affiliations and associates.

Stephen Endsley and his wife Ann have land holding in the Salida area according to documents supplied by a public information request which can be found on this site.  Joe Muratore has several prior business relationships with Endsley.  From a failed solar venture between himself, Swehla, Hawn, and Endsley, to an investment with Stephen Endsley valued between $20,000 and $100,000 dollars according to forms filed with the state.  Muratore has been meeting behind the scenes encouraging  the County to sweeten the pot which would enable Modesto to annex Salida, potentially at relatively little cost.

On August 7th during a City Council meeting  Muratore voted for consent item #27 which has Modesto footing half the cost ($30,000) of a feasibility study to discover definitively what the financial situation would be if and when Modesto were to annex Salida. I suppose it isn’t surprising to see a politician fattening their wallet while feeding at the public trough. Now all Muratore has to do is recuse himself from all discussion and voting, but Joe doesn’t seem concerned about right and wrong, just about money, so he keeps on voting.

After all, between Muratore the Modesto Councilman, Swehla his business partner in several ventures and  who sits on Modesto’s Board of Zoning Adjustment, and Endsley again his business partner and sometimes investor who has land in Salida waiting to be developed under a friendly administration, what could be a better arrangement? 

Could Muratore be planning on some short-term cash flow or is he stocking up for the future? Here is a picture of Muratore’s Benchmark Realty sign offering land for sale in Salida.  The sign can be found on a vacant lot in front of the Vizcaya Housing Tract along Pirrone Road in Salida just before  Hammett,  East of Highway 99. I wonder if his client is aware of how many pies Joe has his fingers in?

Muratore’s business ventures just might benefit from a hurried up annexation with a friendly Zoning Board and a Councilman to shepard the whole process through.  Kind of reminiscent of  their participation in the  NSP2 program?  Hmm…

Modesto’s War on the Homeless Continues

By Emerson Drake

Last night by a vote of 6-1 one of the most poorly written ordinances in Modesto’s history was enacted (okay, it takes 30 days to be in effect).  Mayor Garrad Marsh was the only council member to support Personal and Private Property rights of individuals.  Councilman Gunderson almost stood to be counted.  He anguished over his vote for a few moments, then he bowed his head, acquiesced, and went along with the herd.

Councilman Lopez is the Chairman of the Safety and Communities Committee this poorly considered ordinance came from. NONE of the Council or Committee  members were aware of the home camping limitation of the  “one consecutive night” provision that would have made you and your children criminals if you allowed them to campout two nights in a row. It seems that the Modesto Police Department conveniently over looked that sentence in the provision during its Committee presentation.  This was exposed when I went to the agenda meeting Monday afternoon, which is in preparation for the Tuesday Council meeting.  Otherwise it is very likely the three alternate versions of the proposed ordinance would not have been made available.  This ordinance  also made a sleeping bag  illegal paraphernalia, which Chief Harden tried to deny until they ordinance was read to him from the podium. Unfortunately this portion was not changed. At least  now you are allowed to let your children camp out 5 nights in a row.

As bad as this unnecessary intrusion into your personal life and family decisions you might choose to make is, there is a larger cause, and that is Modesto’s War on the Homeless

A little Background is in order

 Councilman Joe Muratore’s main platform plank when he ran for office in Council District 4 was  to remove the scourge of the homeless.  He said the homeless needed to be “eliminated” in a campaign speech he made which was since removed from his campaign website. Notice Muratore wanted to eliminate the homeless not homelessness which in my opinion  provides some insight to the man. You can find a breakdown of the BRCH members in an earlier article here on EyeOnModesto.

Councilman Muratore went to this same Safety and communities Committee (pre Councilman Gunderson) for permission to create a  the so-called Blue Ribbon Commission on the Homeless. This commission was composed of, according to the words of Chairman J. David Wright, “people who had been effected by the homeless.”  This was true but he failed to mention effected in a negative way.

Councilman Muratore’s particular appointee was La Loma Neighborhood Association President Mike Moridian who, since his involvement in the “association, which is not officially recognized as a nonprofit because of its advocacy of Muratore for Councilman during the council race, has been an outspoken critic of the homeless and has publicly professed a desire to chase them out of Modesto.

Last Night’s Council Meeting and Criminalizing the Homeless

I met many extremely thoughtful and generous people last night who spoke out for the homeless who were not there to speak out for themselves.  From former Council candidate Jenny Kenoyer who is also an advocate for our mature citizens to Annette Mott from the Angels for the Homeless and many more who spoke passionately in defense of the homeless. All questioned the council’s desire to make the homeless criminals in these dire times.  Ed Brearden Modesto’s Poet Laureate Emeritus was strident in his concern.  I’ll thank them and provide more of the names of those good people when the council video is posted to help with accuracy.

Brian Du Bois spoke and questioned the Council’s sworn committment to the U.S.Constitution regarding our allegedly protected personal rights and freedoms. He also questioned why the Council overlooked the fact Council member, Joe Muratore, took $62,500 illegally on a NSP2 scheme with his business partner Ryan Swehla.  Councilman Muratore returned the money and some how avoided potential charges from the U.S. Department of Urban Housing (HUD).

Homeless advocate and Mayoral and Council candidate Robert Stanford took Councilman Muratore to task calling him ‘Nazi Joe Muratore’ as was noted in Ken Carlson’s story in the Bee. He reminded everyone of Muratore’s spoken desire to raze the airport district’s homes and level the ground with heavy machinery.  Hopefully, then candidate Muratore meant after the people had been thrown out of their homes and into the streets and not before.  Muratore never made a distinction of his preferences in that regard.

Modesto’s Reality

We have a serious homeless problem but criminalizing it won’t make it go away. We need effective programs to combat homelessness and several were proposed last night.  But unfortunately the council (lead in this instance by Muratore, Cogdill, and Lopez) has its own ideas on the subject and instead of offering a helping hand up,  their plans seem to involve a right cross to the jaw followed by a kick to the groin.

What we as a society do to the least of us we do to all of us.

And we need to do better if we want to improve Modesto’s  image around the County, the State, the Country, and around the World.

Greg Nyhoff and the SCAP Letters, is He Stonewalling the Citizens or trying to “Control” the Story?

By Emerson Drake

When we heard Modesto was refusing to give either the letter it wrote to SCAP or SCAP’s response, to the Bee or the rest of us for that matter, we sent a Public records Request to the City in an attempt to get a copy of the letters.

The following was the City’s response:

From the Office of the City Clerk

Hello, Mr. Drake…
 
You indicated that you wanted an acknowledgement of receipt for your request, so I wanted to make sure it was being worked on. The City Manager’s office reports that the response letter received from SCAP will be released within the specified timeframe under the Public Records Act.  Given the closure of the City for the Thanksgiving Holiday and furloughs, they will release the document on Monday, November 28th. 

 

We wondered why the obvious delaying tactics by the City Manager Greg Nyhoff?  Was he trying to dribble the story out in small bits and pieces?  Maybe, maybe not.

We’ve all learned about the life cycle of a news story and delaying disclosure would be a way to deal with one leaked part at a time.  Or at the very least seek a more “friendly venue” to disclose the entire story.

On November 16th, the very day this email was received, we were fortunate enough to obtain from a reader the letter SCAP sent in response to the City’s.

Apparently Mr. Nyhoff felt the need to advance his time-table since the “cat was out of the bag” so to speak. We only hope Mr.Nyhoff will come clean and stop trying to protect some of the people who sat in on his hiring interview and deal with the people who pay his salary.  That is to say, the PUBLIC.

So what do you have to say for yourself Mr. Nyhoff?

 
 

On-Going Scandal in Modesto

By Emerson Drake

City Manager Gregg Nyhoff perpetuated the myth of “everything is fine” down at city hall at Wednesday night’s city council meeting.  The bobble heads were nodding in agreement that city workers overseeing the NSP2 funds are stretched too thin, rather than acknowledging pressure from local power brokers was responsible.  When you listen to members of the Commonwealth Group explain it away, it almost sounds plausible until you consider the web of intrigue that surrounds the scandal.

From city councilmen and their business partners scheming their way through the NSP2 maze of paperwork and guidelines, to newspaper publishers relatives being waist deep in the mire.

While the SCAP controversy abused everyone’s sense of reason, the NSP2 controversy exposed the raw naked greed of a city councilman who can’t use city attorney Susan Alcala Wood as a shield this time.

The premise that a city official can’t profit from NSP2 funds or HUD money isn’t obscure, not in the least.  It’s one of the first things you learn.

But when the money Ryan Swehla and Scott Monday funneled to Benchmark Realty (a company Swehla owns with Joe Muratore) first came to light, it was eclipsed by the SCAP scandal.

Needless to say, despite Mark Vasche’s claim of distancing himself from the reporting on this, it can’t be easy to be a reporter writing about Vasche’s son-in-law (Scott Monday).

Commonwealth members continue to support Councilman Muratore despite his being caught with his fingers in the till.  After all, his being on the council, adds unspoken pressure on city employees (unspoken by Muratore), while his partner doesn’t hesitate to play the “do you know who my partner is” card to anyone unaware of the affiliation.

Even most of the city council has remained silent on whether or not Muratore should resign his seat.

You can’t expect any pressure from his council district, considering that Mike Moradian has been inspecting all of the homes being “processed” by the conjoined triumvirate.

How can citizens ofModestoexpect to be treated with respect and honesty while the Bee management is shielding Muratore and his cohorts.

To be bluntly spoken, we can’t.  People need to express their dissatisfaction and outrage to the City Council and everyone they meet. 

We need to say the iconoclast, “We’re mad as hell and we’re not going to take it any more.

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 
― Margaret Mead

Attention Joe Muratore, No Conflict of Interest? That’s NOT Entirely True Is It

We understand how Bee reporter Ken Carlson has a difficult job getting reality past his editors and we truly sympathize. So we contacted the City Attorney Susan Acala Wood through City Clerk Stephanie Lopez to find out what really took place.

Here is the Ms. Wood’s response:

Dear Mr. Drake:
The City Clerk’s Office forwarded your request to me for response.
It’s unfortunate that the newspaper mis-reported the facts, because their botched article has obviously caused your concern.
The actual facts are that once the OIG auditors flagged the Tully Road transaction to City staff, a number of steps which included analyzing the transaction under three separate and applicable conflict of interest statutes: 1) HUD and NSP regulations; 2) The Political Reform Act; and 3) Government Code Section 1090.
In the first one, the City of Modesto found that Councilmember Muratore violated conflict of interest laws under the NSP program and HUD regulations when, as a principal of Benchmark, he participated in the sale and acquisition of the Tully Road property which was purchased by Trinity Ventures through the NSP program. Enforcement action was taken, which included the issuance of a violation notice and a demand for a return of the $62,000.00 commission that Benchmark received. As a result, Councilmember Muratore and Benchmark forfeited the commission (A number of enforcement actions were also taken against Trinity Ventures however Councilmember Muratore is not a principal of Trinity). This enforcement action was pursued in consultation with HUD officials in the regional office in San Francisco. Both HUD and the City await the final audit from OIG to determine if they will require us to take additional action.
In the second one, the FPPC found that Councilmember Muratore violated conflict of interest laws under the California Political Reform Act regarding his vote on two NSP related action items. They issued him a written warning, and set forth reasons why they were declining to assess a fine or penalty against him and considered their enforcement action closed.
Regarding the third, out of an abundance of caution, the Council asked my office to review the Tully Road transaction and determine whether the Councilmember’s involvement implicated Government Code Section 1090. We engaged the law firm of Meyers Nave, and Mr. Richard Rudnansky to assist in this analysis and review. The City paid approximately $2200.00 for this work. The analysis concluded there was no 1090 violation because the transaction was not one that was presented to the Council for action, nor did it require ratification by the Council, and also because the delegation to the CH&CDC, which was the body authorized to give final approve to the loans, occurred prior to Councilmember Muratore being elected to office (so he was not in a position to influence the delegation to the CH&CDC). Accordingly, no additional enforcement action was required under this statute.
That is the statement that the Mayor provided yesterday. If you would like a copy of the statement that was given, just let me or Ms. Lopez know.
I know this is more information than you actually requested. But since you always take care to research into the actual facts, I thought you might appreciate the information.
If I can answer additional questions, please feel free to contact me.
Susana Wood
City Attorney
Here is the official city news release:

Mayor Provides Update Regarding Councilmember Conflict of Interest Issue

Below is the formal statement from Modesto Mayor Jim Ridenour regarding the Councilmember Conflict of Interest issue related to the Neighborhood Stabilization Program (NSP):
I want to take this opportunity to provide an update to the public about the conclusion of the City’s review of the receipt of a real estate sales commission earned by Benchmark Realty, the company co-owned by Councilmember Muratore for the sale of a property that was purchased using NSP funds.
As soon as the City became aware of the Councilmember’s involvement, a number of actions were simultaneously initiated to address the matter:
• To begin with, staff conducted an immediate investigation to verify the facts and to determine the appropriate manner in which to proceed under NSP regulations. This included coordinating with HUD staff. As a result, the City took immediate corrective action to recover the commission
• I requested that the OIG conduct a full audit of the City’s NSP program. The OIG also determined that the involvement by the Councilmember would trigger a more comprehensive audit of the City’s NSP transactions. That review has been ongoing and is expected to conclude in the next 6-7 weeks.
• Benchmark principals were notified of the violation of NSP regulations and were ordered to return the commission to the city. Benchmark immediately responded and returned the funds.
• Councilmember Muratore self-initiated a report to FPPC for determination of whether he had violated conflict of interest laws under the California Political Reform Act. The FPPC responded that he had violated the Political Reform Act and he was given a written warning. They also determined that because Mr. Muratore promptly brought the matter to their attention they would close the case without fine or penalty.
• Finally, the City Council requested from its attorneys a formal review, analysis and opinion as to whether the transaction constituted an impermissible Conflict of interest violation under California Government Code section 1090. The analysis concluded there was no 1090 violation because the transaction was not one that was presented to the Council for action, and the delegation to the CH&CDC, which was the body delegated to approve the loans, occurred prior to Councilmember Muratore being elected to office.
I have personally overseen this process on behalf of the Council, and feel that the City has been diligent in its response to this incident. The City Manager has kept the OIG auditors fully informed of all responses to this matter, and has continued to request HUD’s assistance and review of every step of the enforcement action taken.
We will also continue to wait for the results of the OIG audit and respond to any additional actions they may require of the City.

We want to thank Ms. Woods and Ms. Lopez for their timely response to our queries.

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