It's been more than a year since a criminal investigation started into the former Wapato city government, with few updates.
Meanwhile, the next regular state audit on the city of Wapato is scheduled to start in September.
On July 19, 2019, Wapato City Administrator Juan Orozco resigned amidst a flurry of findings from a state auditor's report and multiple citizen lawsuits alleging harassment, intimidation and retaliation.
Orozco, who came to power in as mayor in a contested 2017 election, stepped down as part of a settlement agreement. Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued Orozco in June 2019, alleging that he had used the position to enrich himself.
Orozco's $95,000 annual contract was one of the many issues targeted in a May 2019 audit report. The report cited eight "egregious" findings, including violations of ethics, nepotism, and open public meetings act provisions in the law.
The Yakima County Sheriff's Office kicked off an investigation into possible criminal activity in June 2019. Orozco was arrested in August 2019, but released when a Yakima County judge found there wasn't enough evidence to hold him.
The Sheriff's Office then referred the investigation to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“We sent the case to the FBI,” Sheriff's Office spokesman Casey Schilperoort said Aug. 19 via email. “We are no longer involved with it. I don’t know if they are working on it since they have been busy with homicides on the reservation. We sure hope they are working on it.”
Schilperoort said his understanding was “there was evidence of crimes.”
Steven Bernd, a spokesman for the FBI-Seattle, said the agency does not confirm or deny the existence of an investigation, per protocol. He added that referrals of complaints to the FBI does not mean the agency opens a case.
“We consider the facts to determine if there is the possibility of a federal criminal violation, and proceed as appropriate, whether by investigating or referring the matter to relevant partners,” Bernd said. “A review of complaints or referrals does not necessarily result in the opening of an investigation.”
Joseph Brusic, the Yakima County prosecuting attorney, said his office has not been engaged any further with the investigation.
“I have not heard anything further on the City of Wapato,” he said in a written statement.
Kathleen Cooper, a spokeswoman with the Washington State Auditor’s Office, said the agency was scheduled to start Wapato’s financial and accountability audits for 2019 in mid-May. That audit would cover the administration of Orozco and former Mayor Dora Alverez-Roa, who was appointed by Orozco.
But the agency agreed to push back the audit so Kim Grimm, the city’s clerk-treasurer, had more time to prepare financial statements.
“It’s quite common to reschedule audits for a variety of reasons,” Cooper said. “In this case, if the financial statements aren’t prepared, we can’t audit them. Cities generally are required to finish their financial statements by the end of May, but sometimes circumstances intervene.”
Cooper said Wapato’s circumstances involved a lack of staff, as cited by Grimm.
“We rescheduled both audits to ensure the city’s audits are done as efficiently as possible,” Cooper said. “It’s good time management for our auditors as well as one of the ways we keep audit costs down for governments and their taxpayers.”
Cooper said the audit work for Wapato should start in mid-September, if there aren’t any additional hiccups, and reports could be issued by the end of the year.