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Outbid contractor claims irregularities with bid process

By Paul Kruze, Contributing Editor

April 30, 2019 (El Cajon) - A $655,000 construction contract for a new modular building at Los Coches Creek Middle School  was awarded on March 26 to the son of Cajon Valley Union School District Board of Trustees President Tamara Otero.  In total, 37 contractors “pulled plans” for the project and eight actually submitted bids.

Prior to the vote Otero was asked by fellow board member Jill Barto, “It looks like….is this your husband’s company?” Hear audio. Otero replied, “No,” and immediately brushed off the question, saying the internet connection to her computer on the dais was disconnected. (Barto says she asked about the family connections but her phrase, “and your family” was masked by Otero’s response.)

Tamara Otero is the mother of Dryw Ortero, the owner of Otero Construction, Inc., State Contractors License #1025227, with offices located on the 8400 block of Magnolia Street in Santee. The young company has been in business less than two years, founded in April 2017.

Barto had good reason for asking about Otero’s husband – beyond nepotism or conflict of interest concerns.

According to a U.S. Justice Department press release, Tamara Otero’s husband, Andrew Otero, 54, and associated business partner, Roger Ramsey, 57, were found guilty of fraudulently obtaining $11 million in federal contracts specifically set aside for service-disabled veteran-owned businesses through Otero’s company, A&D General Contracting in Santee. Andrew Otero is set to be sentenced in the coming months and could face up to 20 years imprisonment and fined up to six million dollars.

Dryw Otero is still listed as project manager at A&D General Contracting, his father’s construction company, through the present, per his Linked In profile.

Otero Construction, Inc. appears to show at least one other prinicipal shared with Dryw Otero's father's disgraced company.  Damon Bahr is listed as both Chief Operating Officer at Otero Construction, according to the management team page on its website.  He is also listed  as a project manager on the Linked In  page for A&D General Contracting.

When the construction project came up on the agenda at the March 26 board meeting, Barto made a motion to award the contract. Board Vice President James Miller seconded. Board members Jo Alegria, Jill Barto, James Miller, and Karen Clark-Meija voted to approve the contract. It is unclear whether any where aware that Otero Construction was owned by Tamara Otero’s son, or of his affiliated with his father’s company that defrauded the federal government.

Curiously, Otero abstained from voting, but did not state a reason.

According to the website of the California Fair Political Practices Commission, “Certain officials (including city council members, planning commissioners, and members of the boards of supervisors) have a mandated manner in which they must disqualify from decisions made at a public meeting (including closed session decisions) and must publicly identify a conflict of interest and leave the room before the item is discussed.”

Otero was observed by ECM and others sitting on the dais in the Board of Trustees chamber during the discussion and can be heard in this recording made by ECM.

Otero Construction won a prior construction bid from the district for $14,000, according to a list of projects the company submitted with its bid.

ECM was not able to confirm details of this contract because the district failed to respond to our public records request within the 10 days mandated by state law. ECM located a “Statement of Information” about Otero’s business from the State of California Secretary of State.

On Apr. 5, ECM made an extensive California Public Records Act request addressed to CVUSD Superintendent David Miyashiro, EdU, Assistant Superintendent Scott Buxbaum, and Executive Assistant Naomi Rodrigues. ECM did not receive a customary acknowledgment of the request and none of the recipients responded  to ECM’s reminder that the CPRA request was due on Apr. 19 by 5 p.m. ECM did not receive any notice or any other communication whatsoever from CVUSD that there would be a delay in responding to the records request surrounding the contract.

ECM did not receive a customary acknowledgment from the district, nor did the district or any of the three individuals acknowledge a follow up letter to the district sent on Apr. 12 reminding them that unless otherwise advised, the request for materials was due by Apr. 17 at 5 p.m., or at the latest, Apr. 18 at 5 p.m.. On Apr. 23, 2019, ECM advised Miyashiro, Buxbaum, and Rodrigues of a violation of the Ralph M. Brown Act that the materials requested had occurred and gave the district until Apr. 24, 2019 at 5 p.m. to either respond to the letter or respond with the requested materials.

In addition, ECM made a CPRA request to the CVUSD asking whether Andrew Otero, Ramsey, and their associated companies, A&D General Contracting, Action Telecom, named in the in the original Federal indictment have done any past work for the district. The CPRA was sent by e-mail once again to Miyashiro, Buxbaum, Rodrigues, and Sharon Clay, CVUSD’s Director of Purchasing and Logistics. The e-mail request was not acknowledged, and is due on May 3 by 5 p.m.

ECM on Friday received an e-mail from CVUSD attorney David Shinoff the day after Tamara Otero was interviewed for this article. Shinoff blamed the non-response to the April 5 CPRA request on it being directed to the district’s “spam” folder when sent to Miyashiro, Rodrigues and Buxbaum. Shinoff did not indicate whether the subsequent CPRA request related to Andrew Otero and Roger Ramsey sent to the same persons including Clay on April 20 at 2:58 p.m. ended up the same way. 

Section 9 of the Regulations of the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) section 18730 “Provisions of Conflict of Interest Codes” states, “No designated employee shall make, participate in making, or in any way attempt to use his or her official position to influence the making of any governmental decision which he or she knows or has reason to know will have a reasonably foreseeable material financial effect, distinguishable from its effect on the public generally, on the official or a member of his or her immediate family…”

CVUSD’s own official “Conflict of Interest Code” says, “The provisions of 2 CCR 18730 and any amendments to it adopted by the Fair Political Practices Commission, together with the attached Appendix, specifying designated positions and disclosure categories, are incorporated by reference and shall constitute the District’s conflict of interest code.”

The FPPC may levy administrative penalties for violations of the Act after a hearing or stipulation. (§ 83116.) Administrative penalties include a $5,000 fine per violation, cease and desist orders, and orders to file reports, etc. (§ 83116.) The FPPC has the authority to bring administrative actions against both state and local officials.

When directly contacted by ECM, Otero says that she believes that there is no conflict of interest with her son’s contracting company winning the bid for the construction work, and confirmed that Otero Construction is owned by her son. “He’s grown. He doesn’t live with me and is not my dependent. His business is not in my district. I have nothing to do with what he does,” Otero said.

She said that she had not been notified of ECM’s CPRA request for information about the building contract. “I’m not aware that you requested that,” Otero said. “This is the first I heard of it.” 

When asked how she might react if she was a citizen seeing that the son of a school board trustee received a lucrative contract worth some 2/3 of a million dollars, she said, “I would have to investigate it. I would not make an assumption without knowing what is actually happening.”

ECM asked Otero if she had any further comment about a perceived conflict of interest to which she said, “I’ve given you all of the information that there is and it is not a conflict of interest.”

Besides being the president of the CVUSD, Otero is also holds the office of Vice President with the California School Boards Association. Dr. Emma Turner of the La Mesa Spring Valley School District Board of Trustees serves as president of the advocacy group.

Handy Industrial, owned by Iranian born building contractor, William Raz, came up $5,000 short of Otero Construction’s winning low bid of $655,000 with both contractors allowing $20,000 for “unforeseen site conditions.”

Raz suggested to ECM that at first, he was not concerned about the $5,000 difference. “But when I reviewed his bid, everything was typed on the bid, but the pricing on the (last) sheet was in handwriting," he revealed. "When [Otero] signed on the other pages and had some lettering, it was way different than his handwriting."

He adds, “I am assuming that someone opened my bid and changed the sheet and closed it [the envelope]. It was then brought back into the room and read out loud. That’s what I’m feeling. You can see that it was written on the sheet very fast,” Raz notes, but adds that he does not have conclusive proof of wrongdoing. “Unfortunately, the thing is I don’t have the proof. When the district opened the bids, they could have gotten a new envelope and sealed it."

The district's procurements contracts director later denied this allegation.

Raz completed a weather shelter project for CVUSD at Los Coches Creek Middle School some ten years ago. HIs company was founded a decade ago, in 2009.

ECM asked Music Watson, public information officer at the County Board of Education, about the ethics of failing to disclose that a contract being voted on was for a company owned by the CVUSD board chair's son.

Watson responded, “The allegations you've listed below are very serious. SDCOE is not an investigatory body, so it's not for us for determine if there is a conflict of interest or not. If specific information was presented to us regarding these allegations (which district, which board member, etc.), we would turn that information over to the District Attorney's office for investigation and allow the legal process to play out.”

DOCUMENT LINK: State of California Conflict of Interest Guide

Follow Paul Kruze on Twitter and Facebook: @PaulKruzeNews




Cajon Valley 3-26-2019

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Corruption Abound

This board member has a long history of dishonesty and manipulation all the way back to when she was a parent at Los Coches Creek Middle School. She orchestrated the transfer of teachers her children didn't like and pressured staff to make decisions they were not comfortable with. She and the superintendent have been as thick as thieves since he arrived in 2013. Check out (board minutes) how many times they have traveled together on the district's dime...

More comments from our Readers on Facebook on this CVUSD story:

Lisa Wood That's a big nope there - hope she loses her seat. SOOOO unethical.
Milt Cyphert Sounds like when Shoemaker was mayor.
Kim Hamilton I always want to believe that those involved in education actually care about kids. I should’ve learned long ago that greed trumps all.
Evelyn Snyder Barto voted after tamera gave Indication it was not. It was after the vote she knew.
Evelyn Snyder There is so much going on illegal. The only decent people are Jill Barto and Jim 
Roger Coppock This is what local press is all about.


Cajon Valley Unified School District Response to Article

“My colleagues and I at the Cajon Valley Union School District read Paul Kruze’s confused April 30th article on our school district. Although we prefer to remain focused on our mission of educating and preparing our children for the future, the readers of the East County Magazine deserve a proper recitation of the crystal clear facts. Cajon Valley Union School District followed a fair, impartial, transparent, and legally compliant competitive bid selection process. Our Board of Trustees in no way influenced that process or the recommendation from professional district staff to award a competitively bid contract to Otero Construction. The Board approved the recommended bid on a 4-0 vote, with Trustee Tamara Otero appropriately declining to vote on the item. Allegations made by a losing bidder, Handy Industrial, are unsubstantiated, procedurally infeasible, and self-serving. It is, perhaps, for this reason that Handy Industrial had five days to contest the bidding process and did not do so. In light of these facts, we feel that it is highly improper to publish frivolous and spurious allegations about Cajon Valley Union School District, allegations whose only possible purpose would be to unfairly and incorrectly impugn the integrity of our district and its processes and to distract our school district from serving 17,500 students, across 27 schools, as best as we can with a mission of ‘Happy kids, healthy relationships, on a path to gainful employment.’” - Dr. David Miyashiro, Cajon Valley Union School District

We stand by our story.

“There is nothing “confused” about the article, which is accurate and well documented. 

Mrs. Otero did abstain, but only after the discussion on her son’s company.  State law requires that board members step out of the room when there is a potential conflict of interest and also that they disclose the reason.

Even when asked about a family relationship, Mrs. Otero deceptively failed to disclose that this was her son’s company, nor his ties to the company owned by his father, who was convicted of defrauding the federal government.  These are serious concerns that the public has a right to know about, and draw their own conclusions.

Handy Industrial had only five days after the bidding process closed to contest the bid.  The owner did not know that Otero Construction was owned by a board member’s son until substantially after that five- day window had closed.

Our intent is not to impugn the integrity of the district, but merely to report the facts, as well as the concerns raised by Handy.

We stand by our story.


Gray Area 2

In my opinion this falls more into the “appearance” side of conflict laws as the “reasonably foreseeable material financial effect” is difficult to prove and may not be there at all. Granted this would be worse had the Board member not abstained. Poor judgment for sure and I'm sure a learning experience for Board Member Otero and maybe even the District's legal counsel. I don't know her personally but I worked with Dan Shinoff when I was on our School Board 17 years ago. I am surprised he didn't advise her that it was best to step off (full recuse) and not just abstain. Some concerning things here but I wonder if the cost of criminal or civil action is in the best interest of the taxpayers here.

Gray Area

While this may have been an example of poor judgment I'm not sure it rises to the level of criminal or even unethical. The rules of conflict of interest are a bit murky in some areas, falling back at times on the idea of not only impropriety but the appearance of impropriety. Financial disclosure rules require reporting by an elected and certain other officials for spouses, domestic partners and “dependent” children. Clearly the son is not a dependent child of Otero. The description on the FPPC 700 form says “Investment” means a financial interest in any business entity (including a consulting business or other independent contracting business) that is located in, doing business in, planning to do business in, or that has done business during the previous two years in your agency’s jurisdiction in which you, your spouse or registered domestic partner, or your dependent children had a direct, indirect, or beneficial interest totaling $2,000 or more at any time during the reporting period.”

Otero Construction?

Really?  Nobody saw that one coming.  It's all (fraud) in the family.

Corruption? :-[

I'm shocked! :-0 Well written article Paul, and good investigative work.