Wapato’s mayor spoke out Tuesday against the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office, saying it committed a “horrible injustice” during its criminal investigation of city government.
The Yakima County Prosecuting Attorney and sheriff’s office started a joint criminal investigation in June, after a state auditor’s report identified eight findings of egregious mismanagement and violations of ethics, nepotism, and open meetings act policies and laws.
The city’s former administrator, Juan Orozco, was booked into the Yakima County jail Aug. 13 on two counts of official misconduct. He was released the following day without charges after a Superior Court judge found there was not sufficient evidence in a probable cause affidavit to hold him.
The affidavit referenced a $100 donation for the city’s Harvest Festival that Orozco allegedly pocketed.
In a one-page news release, Alvarez-Roa referenced that $100 and said that the sheriff’s office “decided to investigate a theft that did not happen.” Alvarez-Roa said the city believes the person in charge of the money received the donation but did not record or deposit it correctly.
“They are stating that $100 was stolen. That is simply not true,” she wrote. “This misinformation resulted in a false arrest and false imprisonment of an innocent man.”
The Yakima Herald-Republic received a scanned copy of the news release from a city of Wapato email address. The newspaper has not been able to reach Alvarez-Roa since Aug. 12, and Alvarez-Roa could not be reached to confirm that she had written or signed the document. But the signature on the letter matches Alvarez-Roa’s signatures on recent settlement documents and the letter bore the city’s official letterhead.
In the letter, Alvarez-Roa said that $123 has since been found in a drawer in the former City Clerk Treasurer’s office. Robin Cordova was the city’s clerk treasurer at that time. The money was found by the city’s new clerk treasurer Kimberly Grimm, according to news release and attached documents.
Alvarez-Roa placed Grimm on administrative leave Monday. The mayor has not responded to requests for comment on that decision, and she did not attend the Aug. 19 City Council meeting. But Grimm’s attorney, Tim Carlson, said Grimm was placed on leave after she complied with law enforcement’s requests to provide documents related to the criminal investigation into city government.
At Monday’s meeting, Councilman Keith Workman informed the public that Alvarez-Roa was not complying with the sheriff’s investigation. The council then unanimously passed an ordinance compelling Alvarez-Roa to comply with the law with a 4-0 vote. Council members Ralph Sanchez, Joel Torres and Barbie Hilario were absent.
Alvarez-Roa, in her news release, states she believes $100 of the $123 that was found is the Harvest Festival donation and the remaining $23 is petty cash.
“The city’s position is that we are not missing the $100,” Alvarez-Roa continued. “We had informed the auditor’s office in writing months ago of these facts. I am providing the following information to put this nightmare of false allegations to rest.”
Included in the scanned packet emailed to the Herald-Republic is a March 20 email sent from Juan Orozco to state auditor staff. In the email, Orozco writes that there were conflicting accounts of what happened to the Harvest Festival money and also notes the $123 found in a drawer.
Orozco did not respond for comment.
Alvarez-Roa concluded by referencing more than $300,000 of misappropriated city funds identified in a separate state auditor fraud report covering October 2011 to October 2017.
“I am encouraging the Sheriff Department to focus on the $300,000 that was actually stolen from the City,” she said.
Casey Schilperoort, spokesman for the sheriff’s office, said the criminal investigation is ongoing and that he expects Orozco still will be charged.
“We continue to uncover new crimes and search for evidence of those crimes,” Schilperoort said. “Evidence is not always easy to obtain when the entity that you are investigating does not want you to find it.”
Schilperoort said that Alvarez-Roa has spoken with investigators but has not been completely cooperative with either them or the public.
“It is problematic to the citizens of the city of Wapato that the leaders of the city of Wapato government are unwilling to cooperate to make this investigation proceed at a quicker pace,” he said. “The citizens want a resolution. We want a resolution. Not all parties involved want a resolution.”