Riverside County District Attorney Mike Hestrin talks about the Beaumont investigation during an interview with The Press-Enterprise in his office in Riverside on Monday. (Stan Lim — Staff Photographer)
By Brian Rokos, The Press-Enterprise
Posted: 05/23/16 – 11:28 PM PDT |
After laying out documents from hundreds of boxes seized from Beaumont City Hall and other locations during raids in April 2015, members of the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office’s Public Integrity Unit began the task of poring over the papers, looking for evidence of corruption.
The documents, delivered to the district attorney’s Riverside office in rented trucks, were spread among tables in three rooms.
“Then we were faced with this overwhelming logistical nightmare of going through all these documents, and sometimes it has been described as the proverbial needle in the haystack,” District Attorney Mike Hestrin said. “There’s no magic machine.
“The crime dramas on TV, everyone’s always punching into a keyboard and up pops the answer. That’s not how it works,” he said. “You’ve got (so many) bankers boxes to go through. You know the answer is in one of them, but you gotta go through them page by page.”
Hestrin on Monday, May 23, described the Public Integrity Unit’s actions that resulted in 94 felony charges being filed against seven former top city officials in Beaumont, although because the case is ongoing, he wouldn’t get into specifics about the evidence.
Most of the charges allege embezzlement and misappropriation of public funds totaling $43 million. None of the defendants has entered a plea.
Public Integrity, with five investigators, is one of several fraud units in the district attorney’s Specialized Prosecutions Section. Others include computer crimes, workers’ compensation, auto insurance, welfare, consumer and real estate.
“Corruption is human nature,” Hestrin said. “It’s a fact of life that exists. Where it exists and where we find it, we’re going to prosecute it.”
One member of the Public Integrity Unit is assigned to the six-year-old Inland Regional Corruption Task Force, which assisted in the Beaumont investigation. The other member agencies are the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office, the FBI and the IRS.
“It’s a priority for me,” Hestrin said. “We’re the only game in town as far as public integrity. The sheriff doesn’t have it. The local police departments don’t have this function. To me it’s an absolutely core, essential function of the District Attorney’s Office. … The people who elected me into this position expect me and this office to do that job.”
Hestrin vowed to protect the unit even if looming county budget cuts affect his office.
“You can’t do this just a little bit. The cases are potentially massive. If you have a case like Beaumont, if you have two investigators, you’re never going to get it done. Never.”
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