Photo: Moreno Valley
RIVERSIDE (CNS) - Moreno Valley Mayor Tom Owings was recalled today by a more than 3-1 margin following state and federal criminal probes over alleged fraud.
The recall was approved 77.2 percent-22.8 percent, with all 1,577 vote- by-mail ballots tabulated.
Former Moreno Valley Parks & Recreation Director was elected to replace Owings in the Third District seat on the City Council, receiving 47.65 percent of the vote in the six-candidate field.
A group named Recall Moreno Valley's City Council began a petition drive in 2013 following a federal and state criminal probe into alleged public corruption at Moreno Valley City Hall. The investigation resulted in felony charges against then-Councilman Marcelo Co, who resigned in August.
Co pleaded guilty five months later to accepting bribes in connection with a real estate development deal. He is scheduled to be sentenced July 7. The longtime Moreno Valley businessman is also facing state welfare fraud charges for allegedly taking money intended for his mother's care when she was, in fact, overseas.
Owings was the only other member of the City Council to be subject to a recall. He insisted in May 2013 on testifying before a federal grand jury when he was not even summoned to appear, telling reporters he could speak for ``25 to 30 hours'' about his innocence of any wrongdoing.
During comments at a council meeting three weeks ago, Owings told attendees that he had never ``abandoned my principles.''
``The bar has been raised by the quality of people holding positions (on this) council,'' Owings said. ``We can never go back to the good-old-boy days where people lied and said whatever they had to in order to keep the money flowing.''
The Moreno Valley City Employees Association opposed the recall effort, stating that under Owings' leadership, the city's economic fortunes improved.
According to recall supporters, Owings has close ties to the same developer implicated -- but not charged -- in Co's case, Iddo Benzeevi.
Recall activists also pointed to multiple cases in which public funds were allegedly mismanaged by Owings and other council members. According to the recall campaign, in one case, a former city attorney, Robert Hansen, was fully compensated while taking six months administrative leave -- even as the city government was laying off employees in the face of a budget shortfall.
In their complaints, activists further noted Owings' push for a new city charter, apparently modeled after a proposed one drawn up by his attorney six years earlier.