The school board, at its April 19 meeting, commissioned an ethics investigation after Orozco-Lopez, a second-term trustee on the school board, was arrested on three felony charges related to lying about her place of residence as a candidate in an election, following a three-year investigation that was initiated by the Colusa County Grand Jury.
Hummel stated in their open session meeting that his investigation was to answer specifically whether Lopez’s legal residence was in the district boundaries.
His report concluded that Lopez is allowed to have two residences, as other elected officials do, and absolved Lopez of any wrongdoing.
“My investigation shows that (Lopez) declared her Williams home as her legal residence in 2012, her domicile, that her domicile is indeed in Williams, Calif. and that she has not violated (the) Board Governance standards in this regard,” Hummel said.
A public record request by the Pioneer Review for the documents Hummel claims to have used to conclude that Lopez did not lie about her residence when she ran for election in 2012 and 2016 was not received by press time, but according to the report, Lopez admitted that she has not stayed at her parent’s home in Williams for several years for various reasons, but stated her intent was to eventually retire there and live out the remainder of her life.
To be eligible for election, Williams Unified School Board trustee candidates are required to live within the boundaries of the district, election officials confirmed.
Public court records obtained by the Pioneer Review related to the DA’s investigation indicate that the Williams home is the residence of her father, Gernaro Orozco. The statement of probable cause for search warrants indicate that Lopez allegedly just made an attempt to appear that she lives in the home.
Tax and utility records indicate the home are in Genaro Orozco’s name, and utility records for the separate residence where Lopez now claims she resides is in her brother’s name.
According to the statement of probable cause related to a search warrant of Genaro Orozco’s home, the room he claimed was his daughter’s, on the day the search was conducted, contained two small children’s beds.
At the time, Genaro Orozco was a foster parent licensed out of Butte County. A separate investigation initiated by the state, as a result of the District Attorney’s office investigation, resulted in Orozco being cited for having children of opposite genders share the same room. Orozco allegedly later changed his claim that Lopez resided in his home to her residing in the cottage behind his home.
According to court records, Genaro Orozço is under investigation for providing false statements to investigators and actively facilitating in the concealment of his daughter’s residence, a felony if he is charged and convicted.
For his report, Hummel said he interviewed Hector Gonzalez, who was Lopez’s supervisor at Butte County Office of Education from 2012 to 2017, and whose duties were to verify her residence.
Hummel said Gonzalez did periodic visitations to Lopez at the Williams home, and that Gonzalez was confident that the Ninth Street residence was where she lived. The report did not state if the “check” visits were unannounced or arranged in advance.
Court records indicate that during the investigation, the majority of cell phone “ping” records in the early morning and evening hours bounce off the cell tower less than a mile from Lopez’s Yuba City home. Surveillance by investigators also place Lopez’s vehicles at the Yuba City address, confirms travel to and from Yuba City for work, and neither of the vehicles she has used were observed at her parent’s home, the record states. The statement of probable cause also indicates that Lopez’s vehicle remained a fixture at her residence in Yuba City during the summer school break.
Although Hummel’s report did not reveal the actual information gleaned from the documents he said he reviewed, he answered Lopez’s residency question with a possible motive leading to the investigation.
Hummel stated that union employees and parents that support them have been at serious odds with the WUSD school board and its administration.
“It did not take me long to figure out this case is a witch-hunt by disenchanted former board members and parents that wanted to manipulate the system by forcibly removing sitting board members and replace them with ones that would vote their way,” Hummel said. “I rarely state things like this, but in this case, it seems warranted.”
Parents, former board members, and members of the community, however, said they have made no secret that they hoped to rectify their dissatisfaction with the current board and superintendent, either in the next election cycles or by recall, something they said is not a manipulation of the system but the legal right of voters within the district to decide the makeup of the board.
Board president Sylvia Vaca and Trustee George Simmons were served for a second time with a notice of recall at Thursday’s meeting. The first recall attempt failed because of a filing error.
Hummel also pointed to District Attorney Matthew Beauchamp as a possible motive for the investigation.
Hummel said that while Beauchamp was in private practice, Lopez hired him to defend her son, but later fired him for failing to meet her expectations. Hummel also claimed that Beauchamp’s ownership and use of two homes (Colusa County and Nevada County) are exactly the same circumstances as Lopez’s.
Beauchamp, on Monday, denied the insinuations.
“The District Attorney’s public integrity investigation of Ms. Orozco–Lopez went on for over three years,” Beauchamp said. “Our investigation was initiated by my predecessor John Poyner based on citizen complaints and a Grand Jury request for an investigation and not as the result of any animus towards Ms. Orozco–Lopez. My office’s investigation was not rushed, and the outcome was not predetermined. Experienced investigators put in hundreds of hours investigating the conduct of Ms. Orozco–Lopez. The result of the investigation of Ms. Orozco–Lopez are the present charges. Because this is an open case, I am not at liberty to discuss the underlying facts of the matter.”
The investigation also predates most dissatisfaction by parents, teachers and previous school board members with current school board decisions and superintendent, according to those involved in the recall and the primary witnesses on which Hummel based his opinion.
“This report made me physically sick,” said Paula Dutil, a former board member, who claimed Hummel directed the conversation toward current events, and then manipulated her comments or directly lied about her answers.
(The Pioneer Review has requested the recorded interviews or a transcript of the interviews from Paradox Technology.)
Dutil, on Monday, said she told Hummel, who arrived at her home as she and her husband were sitting down to dinner, that she could not make a statement relating to Lopez’s residency.
It was then, Dutil said, that Hummel began questioning her about her feelings about the current board and the situation in the district.
Dutil said Hummel did not interview anyone from a list of people that she suggested he interview, but primarily focused on those who have been vocal about problems in the district or involved in the recall effort of the board.
“He defiantly had an agenda,” Dutil said of Hummel.
Dutil claims Hummel lied when he inferred that she said she would run again for school board, as well as other comments she claims he took out of context or misrepresented.
Kathleen Bautista also discredited Hummel’s report.
“I feel that he took my information and put a “spin” on things,” Bautista said. “I was eager to talk to him in hopes of getting the truth to the school district, but he took my statement out of context and then added his blurb about how my way of stating things matched a call to CPS. Complete and utter fabrication.”
Although she admits to raising Lopez’s residency issue, she too felt that Hummel, once she read the report, was hired to defend the school board and Superintendent Edgar Lampkin’s agenda, not to investigate Lopez.
So did former board member Selene Tapia.
“The statements he reports that I made have been taken out of context and twisted to fit his agenda,” Tapia said. “I did not ‘go on’ for 10 minutes stating my disapproval of the current board and/or superintendent. He asked me questions and I gave him short, concise answers. I referred him to ask Ms. Lopez for her reasons why she ran for the board and whether she had kids in the district, as I am not in her head and would have no reason to know this information.”
Tapia said that while she acknowledged Lopez had been investigated by the District Attorney’s office and had been arrested, as Hummel stated in the report, it was only because she read about it in the newspaper. She also denies that said she would run for the school board in the future.
In addition to the comments of the three women he referred to as “detractors,” Hummel’s report included comments Board President Sylvia Vaca, who stated she believed the investigation was brought forward by people wanting to create “vacancies,” on the board.
Hummel said that Vaca acknowledged that the previous board members typically gave in to union demands without regard for financial issues, and that the board has been investing in other areas to meet the needs of the students. (See Part II in the Williams Pioneer Review on May 30).
Although the Lopez investigation predates the move toward the hotly opposed programs the school board wants to invest in, Hummel concluded Lopez was the victim of powerful and vengeful people who have “misused” their authority.
“This is a case about a woman elected to a school board where she receives no pay, no benefits and often no appreciation from union and detractors when the board makes difficult decisions,” Hummel said.
A request for comment from Lopez was not returned by time of press.