Five people charged in water district corruption scheme

After discovering the Panoche Water District was illegally disposing of hazardous waste, a state audit was mounted that found widespread corruption and misuse of public funds.

The California Attorney Generals Office announced Thursday that five current and former water district officials — including former General Manager Dennis Falaschi — are facing felony charges in the corruption probe. Dennis Falaschi, Julie Cascia, Atomic Falaschi, Jack Hurley, and Dubby West were arrested or surrendered under a felony complaint that includes ten counts, eight counts relating to the theft of public funds and two counts relating to crimes involving hazardous waste disposal.

“In California, those in public posts who abuse the public’s trust for personal gain will be held accountable,” said Attorney General Becerra. “The California Department of Justice will investigate and prosecute those who embezzle and misuse public funds. We will work with our law enforcement partners to get the job done.”

Authorities said that Dennis Falaschi, the ex-General Manager of Panoche, ran the district as his own personal operation and bank account, spending excessive amounts of district money using credit cards issued by the district. Under the direction of Dennis Falaschi, Cascia used district credit cards and money orders for personal expenses, while mischaracterizing the charges as business expenses. Dennis’ son, Atomic Falaschi, took items from district including trees, equipment, and other goods, and used them on his own personal property.

The remaining defendants, Hurley and West, illegally buried 86 barrels of hazardous waste without permits or authorization from the district board, acting under the direction of Dennis Falaschi. The drums — which contained chemicals such as chlorine, antifreeze, used solvents and used oil — were leaking into the ground

“These arrests send the strong message that violations of the state’s hazardous waste laws are taken seriously and will be pursued and prosecuted to the maximum extent possible in order to protect public health, the environment and public resources,” said Panoche Water District Director Barbara A. Lee.

The Panoche Water District is a California Water District and public agency formed and existing for governmental purposes. Panoche’s primary purpose is to distribute water for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses, and to own, operate, and maintain a water delivery system for Central Valley families.

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