Tuesday, October 11, 2016
San Bernardino County brings back Enron prosecutor for CFS investigation
San Bernardino County has brought back Enron prosecutor John C. Hueston to help defend it against an investigation by the state Attorney General’s Office into alleged illegal practices at the Department of Children and Family Services.
In June — eight days before the county’s civil grand jury released a scathing report on CFS — the Attorney General’s Office announced its Bureau of Children’s Justice division was investigating allegations of systemic failures and cover-ups in the department that led to children repeatedly being placed into abusive foster homes in which they died or were severely abused.
County officials already met with representatives at the Attorney General’s Office, and in April retained the services of Hueston’s Los Angeles law firm, Hueston Hennigan LLP.
To date, the county has spent more than $179,000 on the services of Hueston and his team of attorneys and paralegals. On Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors will consider a contract with Hueston’s firm to assess the county’s child welfare services system and submit reports and recommendations to County Counsel. Hueston and his attorneys would be paid a rate of $575 per hour and paralegals $235 per hour, according to the proposed contract.
The scope of the Attorney General’s investigation is assessing and evaluating CFS policies and practices over a five-year period, as well as all documentation prepared by CFS during thatperiod, according to a staff report prepared for county supervisors.
“Hueston Hennigan is essentially conducting an assessment that would mirror that of the AG so the county can efficiently respond to any questions the AG might have or any additional information the AG might need,” county spokesman David Wert said in an email Monday.
Representatives from the Attorney General’s Office did not respond to emails or a telephone call Monday seeking comment.
Hueston, one of the nation’s top litigators who successfully prosecuted Enron Corporation figures Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling for a slew of financial crimes including securities fraud, money laundering and insider trading, was retained by the county in January 2009 to investigate county Assessor Bill Postmus.
Postmus came under fire by the county civil grand jury and District Attorney’s Office in 2008 for abusing his elected office for personal gain.
Hueston’s team produced a lurid report detailing an Assessor’s Office rife with malfeasance and an assessor addicted to methamphetamine, so much so that he came to work one day disheveled, blue in the face and foamy at the mouth.
The findings from Hueston’s investigation prompted the county to file a civil lawsuit against Postmus and four other office employees. Postmus and several of his colleagues he hired were also charged criminally, including former Rancho Cucamonga Councilman Rex Gutierrez and former Assistant Assessor Jim Erwin, now a defendant in the Colonies public corruption case, which sprang from the Assessor’s Office investigation.
Wert said in his email Monday that, due to the nature of the allegations that prompted the investigation into CFS and “far-reaching discovery requests,” which was “essentially every piece of paper generated by CFS in the last five years,” the county retained Hueston’s firm to ensure the Attorney General performs a “complete, accurate and fully supported investigation.”
“The county is confident that the Attorney General will find that Children and Family Services in general, and in particular the last five years, has consistently taken steps to improve its systems and operation to better serve the families of San Bernardino County, including the protection of at-risk children,” Wert said.CFS director Marlene Hagen said in a statement Monday she fully supports the county’s decision to retain Hueston’s services.
“Children and Family Services will continue to cooperate with the Attorney General in order to ensure a complete and thorough investigation is performed,” Hagen said.
She said her office continues to grow its ranks of social workers and provide them with the tools needed to perform their jobs.
“We are committed to always improving our systems and operations to better serve our children and families.” Hagen said.
October 3, 2016
San Bernardino County Sun
By Joe Nelson