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Media Coverage
D.A. To Aid Richmond Agency Probe
July 29, 1998



Wednesday, July 29, 1998
Section: News
Page: A01
Shawn Masten

RICHMOND The Contra Costa County District Attorney's Office has agreed to help Richmond police investigate allegations of financial misconduct in the city's Recreation and Cultural Services Department.

Deputy District Attorney Jim Sepulveda said the decision was prompted by the city's request for assistance and by public calls for an outside investigation of the department.

"It just seemed appropriate to do so," Sepulveda said Tuesday. "A number of people, including the city, want us to be involved so the citizens will have confidence that it will be done in an objective manner."

Allegations of financial misconduct in Recreation and Cultural Services have emerged in the wake of the forced resignation of the department's manager, Brad Baxter. City officials say Baxter was forced to resign because he falsely claimed to have a master's degree on his job application.

But Baxter said he was ousted because he was trying to uncover financial improprieties in his department. He has made claims of widespread graft, including unpaid bills, kickbacks, nepotism and theft of city funds, particularly at the Richmond auditorium.

Richmond police were asked to investigate last week. The decision to launch a criminal probe was made during a closed session of the City Council on July 21. According to several people who attended the meeting, city leaders argued heatedly over whether the inquiry should be handled solely by police and city officials or if should be done independently.

City officials who had pushed for an outside investigation said they were glad to hear of the district attorney's decision.

"The more outside involvement there is, the more confidence I have," Councilman Tom Butt said.

Sepulveda said his office will help Richmond police investigators interview past and present employees and people who rented the auditorium. Sepulveda declined to name names, but Baxter said Tuesday he's scheduled for an interview.

"It's good," Baxter said. "This has to be uncovered."

Investigators will look for evidence of criminal activity, fraud and public corruption, Sepulveda said. The outcome of those interviews will determine the level of district attorney's continued involvement, he said.

Sepulveda prosecuted former Contra Costa County Supervisor Gayle Bishop for misappropriation of public funds. Bishop is one of the few public officials in California successfully prosecuted for official misconduct.

"He's well regarded for his no-nonsense approach to fact finding," said City Manager Isiah Turner, who initiated the probe after seeking Baxter's resignation. "(His participation) also dismisses the perception that an internal investigation might not have been thorough and convincing."

Turner, who was appointed city manager in late May, said he knew nothing of Baxter's allegations of misconduct until he read about them in the Times.

"This is a situation I've inherited, and I want to face it head on," Turner said Tuesday.