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San Bernardino mayor embezzled public funds, investigation finds

San Bernardino Mayor John Valdivia has embezzled public funds by charging the city for invitations to a private event as well as trips that include fundraising, according to an investigation commissioned by city council.

On December 1, the council will decide to officially censor Valdivia.

Investigation by law firm Garcia Rainey Blank & Bowerbank found that Valdivia had printed more than 2,000 postcards for a private event on June 15 at the Hilltop Collection restaurant, charging the town $ 2,500.

Valdivia stood out on postcards inviting recipients to the “Mayor’s VIP Reception” at the restaurant after delivering her State of the City address.

Virtually no city official was invited to the private event, according to the report.

Instead, the postcards were distributed primarily to people on Valdivia’s Personal Christmas Card List.

“City staff and other City officials were kept in the dark about the event and were only informed after a voter brought it to the attention of some members. City staff, ”says the report, which city council commissioned after residents accused the mayor of embezzling funds.

Valdivia used the event to promote herself and not the city, according to the report.

Valdivia requested that the city’s logo be removed from a gift item, in place of its own mayor’s logo.

He also did not report a $ 5,000 payment from the Inland Empire Health Plan to the city that was intended to offset the costs of the event, according to the report.

The payment should have been reported to the city clerk’s office, violating the state’s Fair Political Practices Commission guidelines, while the postcards violated state regulations on mass mailing, according to the report.

Inland Empire Health Plan did not respond to requests for comment.

Valdivia, 46, joined city council in 2012 and was elected mayor in 2018. He is running for re-election in 2022.

The independent report also found that Valdivia was combining campaign fundraising with city business.

Between September 2019 and April, Valdivia asked the city for reimbursement of travel and hotel expenses that coincided with the large contributions received by his re-election campaign, according to the report.

Those contributions increased during the first part of 2021, when Valdivia made unexplained trips to Southern California, according to the report.

Valdivia did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday, but he denounced the censorship attempt.

In a meeting on August 4, Valdivia called on the city council to “do nothing” and said it had blocked its efforts to improve the city.

“I have worked hard to bring responsible, world-class development to our downtown area,” said Valdivia.

At the same meeting, city council voted unanimously to go ahead with the censorship hearing and for the city attorney to investigate Valdivia.

While censorship would not prevent Valdivia from performing his duties as mayor, it would constitute an official reprimand.

The last time the city council took a similar step was in 2001, when it censored the then Atty. James Penman for giving a Latino resident a one-way ticket to Mexico.

Penman has announced he is running for mayor in next year’s election.

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