The evidence seems overwhelming: Former Hercules City Manager Nelson Oliva funneled hundreds of thousands of dollars of public funds into his own pocket.
For four long years, we've been hearing about an ongoing investigation in the East Bay city. During that time, reports of malfeasance in the Southern California city of Bell were reported, that case was investigated, criminal charges were filed and seven officials were convicted of lining their pockets with public funds.
Yet, in Hercules, we have seen no action by either Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson or Melinda Haag, U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California. It's time for them to either act or explain why they haven't.
Hercules residents and city leaders have understandably grown impatient. On Tuesday evening, the City Council is scheduled to discuss whether to formally ask the district attorney to conduct an investigation.
That seems pretty timid. They should demand explanation of why the district attorney has not yet acted. Peterson has been in office for three years, and this case has been at issue the entire time.
Peterson purports to have a government corruption unit, but from what we can see it has done nothing to pursue Oliva, instead deferring to the FBI.
The feds-are-investigating excuse only works for a limited time period. The time is up. We understand the city's frustration. This corruption occurred in Peterson's jurisdiction; he's responsible for pursuing it, especially if the feds have not done so by now.
As for the feds, well, where are they? How long does it take to investigate this case? Our reporter Tom Lochner, without the hammer of subpoena authority, first unearthed the evidence of nepotism back in 2009.
While running Hercules from 2007-10, Oliva recommended, and past City Council members approved, about $3 million worth of contracts for his former consulting firm, which, for most of his tenure, was officially owned by his daughters. Oliva claimed he had transferred ownership when he became city manager. In fact, as Lochner reported in 2011, Oliva never severed his relationship.
The unanswered question was how much went into Oliva's pocket. That was publicly answered last year by that state Fair Political Practices Commission, which revealed that Oliva used the consulting firm's credit cards for $235,000 of purchases, including airline tickets, groceries, meals at restaurants, parking, hotel rooms and car rentals.
In other words, he used the firm as a pass-through to divert city funds to himself. It's not a complicated case. Yet Nelson Oliva continues to walk free. Why?