Updated: Supervisor backed by DMB’s law firm during campaign

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Supervisor Jaime De la Cruz is seen in this June 2008 file photo on election night at the Broken Wing. De La Cruz had this to say about attorney Jeff Gilles' support during his campaign: 'He's just like anybody else - a member of the community who contrib

A Hollister law firm that represents DMB-El Rancho San Benito
organized two fundraisers during Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz’s
recent reelection campaign, while Lombardo
&
amp; Gilles also oversaw the county official’s election-night
party in June at the former Broken Wing bar and arranged to pay for
the balance on the festivities, a Free Lance investigation has
confirmed.
HOLLISTER

A Hollister law firm that represents DMB-El Rancho San Benito organized two fundraisers during Supervisor Jaime De La Cruz’s recent reelection campaign, while Lombardo & Gilles also oversaw the county official’s election-night party in June at the former Broken Wing bar and arranged to pay for the balance on the festivities, a Free Lance investigation has confirmed.

When pressed on details surrounding his reelection parties and the support from Lombardo & Gilles, which represents the company proposing to build a 6,800-unit development off Highway 25 northwest of Hollister, De La Cruz denied involvement in any “shenanigans.” But when questioned over the events, he also acknowledged that he neglected to report an in-kind donation on his campaign finance reports – from the same law firm – for costs involved with organizing a fundraiser held at Bedolla Family Vineyards months before his reelection.

It was one of three fundraisers – at least two of which Lombardo & Gilles employee Nathalia Carrillo organized – before De La Cruz’s reelection in June. De La Cruz reported donations and remaining costs for one of the three events on his campaign finance reports, a December 2007 fundraiser at the Tres Pinos Inn, but did not report activity for the two others at Bedolla Family Vineyards, one in May 2007 and another in March 2008.

De La Cruz also did not report any campaign finance activity from the June 2008 election-night party at the Broken Wing. Larry Otis, owner of the former downtown bar, confirmed to the Free Lance that Carrillo had arranged for Jeff Gilles from Lombardo & Gilles to pay for the party’s remaining balance. That was after Carrillo had “set everything up” for the party – which had a no-host bar – such as handling menus and choosing appetizers, Otis said.

When the party was over election night, Otis said, Carrillo told him someone would come back the next day to settle the bill. Gilles came back – Otis said it was either a day or two after – to pay the balance. Otis handed Gilles the bill, and the attorney gave him his personal credit card in return, Otis said. But Otis said that while walking away, he realized how small the bill was, around $100, and decided to give Gilles back his credit card and to “consider it my contribution.”

Neither De La Cruz nor Gilles have returned phone calls from the Free Lance before publication seeking comment on the Broken Wing party. Both had, however, responded to Free Lance inquiries earlier.

DMB-El Rancho San Benito’s overseer in Hollister, Mike Roberts, said he had “no real knowledge first-hand” of what Lombardo & Gilles has done to support De La Cruz.

Roberts noted how he had not moved to Hollister until July, which was after the election following the death of Ray Becker, who had managed the project before him.

“With his passing, I’ve had to step to the forefront and take on some of the more heavy lifting,” Roberts said.

‘You can’t do a campaign by yourself’

De La Cruz over the course of several interviews with the Free Lance has, meanwhile, acknowledged Lombardo & Gilles’ involvement in organizing a fundraiser at the vineyards property by sending out invitations and accepting RSVPs, but he has denied that the firm paid for any other party costs during his campaign. De La Cruz responded to questions over Lombardo & Gilles’ support for his campaign – the firm also donated $300 to De La Cruz in April 2007, according to his reports – by noting that Gilles represents “a lot of farming members of the community.”

“He’s just like anybody else – a member of the community who contributes,” De La Cruz said.

He went on later in the interview: “My wife helped out. My brother helped out. Everybody helped.”

Regarding Lombardo & Gilles’ organizing of his party at the vineyards property on Cienega Road last spring, De La Cruz said the law firm offered its services and he “gladly accepted it.”

He pointed out, however, that he now believes he should have reported the law firm’s costs for organizing the party, what he described as postage, as an in-kind donation on his campaign finance reports. He said he would request an “in-kind letter” from Lombardo & Gilles describing the firm’s costs to determine potential reporting requirements.

“I appreciate you brought this to my attention, so I need to amend (my reports),” De La Cruz said.

In Gilles’ response to the Free Lance over the firm’s assistance to De La Cruz, he said he backs him because the supervisor has supported the agriculture industry while he maintained that much of the firm’s client base is comprised of residents in the farming community.

“We think he represents a lot of ideals that are really important to the agriculture industry,” said Gilles, noting that the firm often assists with political events and helps nonprofits such as the San Benito County Farm Bureau. Gilles said the firm, based in the Central Coast region, is “actively involved in supporting Democrats and Republicans throughout California.”

Gilles addressed his firm’s representation of DMB and said “we are one of DMB’s attorneys, absolutely.” He went on to say that it would be “very misleading” to portray Lombardo & Gilles as earning a majority of its income from the development company.

“At least 50 percent relates to agriculture and agriculture-related businesses,” Gilles said.

When the Free Lance asked De La Cruz whether he considered the DMB connection before accepting the firm’s support, the supervisor said he sought help “throughout the community.”

“You can’t do a campaign by yourself,” he said.

Calls ‘third party’ notation a ‘typo’

De La Cruz and other supervisors ultimately will consider whether to approve the development, proposed on a 5,800-acre property, and send it to the ballot for voters to decide. As for his stance on the project, De La Cruz noted Thursday how it is going through a public review process and the board has the option of putting it on the ballot. “How can I vote on DMB until they go through the whole process,” he said.

The supervisor, though, was adamant in saying there are “no shenanigans here” when asked about the DMB attorney’s support on his campaign events. He responded in detail at times to questions over Lombardo & Gilles’ assistance with the pre-election parties and stressed that “everything was paid through the campaign.”

For the March 2008 fundraiser at Bedolla Family Vineyards, for which Lombardo & Gilles handled invitations and RSVPs, De La Cruz contended that his campaign provided all the food and beverages. He said he received the wine through in-kind donations and that he brought it – “10 bottles at the most,” he said – to the event. As far as catering services go, De La Cruz said there was no charge from Bedolla Family Vineyards. Owner Elias Bedolla responded later that day by saying he “took care of that for Jaime.”

Reached again today, Bedolla described the event as “no different than having a Super Bowl party at my house.” He did, however, note that he provided the wine and food for the fundraiser. Bedolla depicted it as “a few tri-tips, a couple of cases of wine I donated on my own and some pasta,” and he confirmed he supplied all of the event’s food and wine, contradicting De La Cruz’s prior contention.

A source familiar with the May 2007 Bedolla Family Vineyards fundraiser, meanwhile, estimated to the Free Lance that there were “about 100” at the event, while the supervisor’s report did not include campaign activity from that day.

The second confirmed pre-election party organized by Lombardo & Gilles was in December 2007 at the Tres Pinos Inn. When first reached Thursday morning, Tres Pinos Inn owner Mike Howard relayed that the event’s bill had been settled in full and that the check was split “several different ways.” Asked whether Lombardo & Gilles contributed to the event’s costs, Howard responded “yes.”

Phoned later Thursday afternoon for more detail, Howard said he had just walked into the restaurant when reached earlier and that De La Cruz was in the process of paying off the bill through installments. When pressed about his prior comments, Howard said the supervisor has an outstanding balance and he noted, regarding the firm, “I know they were an attendee that night.”

“They (Lombardo & Gilles) basically said to me, ‘Do you mind if we make a reservation?’ There were several people here who were contributors. I’m assuming, don’t those people give checks to the guy running for office?”

De La Cruz’s campaign finance reports indicate the bill that night was more than $7,000 and that Howard contributed $2,000 as an in-kind donation. The remaining balance noted on his reports is $3,761 – the balance has decreased through gradual payments – and the filed documents are marked with a notation “Paid by Third Party.” Regarding that notation, De La Cruz said it was a “typo” and he is paying back the restaurant.

When questioned over organization of the Tres Pinos Inn party, Gilles said he had wanted to introduce De La Cruz to “people in the ag-business world” and that the firm was “one of many asked to be involved in an already established event.” Informed of Howard’s statement that Lombardo & Gilles made the party’s reservation, Gilles responded, “We were one of a few people who directed Jaime to do an event at Tres Pinos with Mike Howard.”

He went on: “We were involved with setting up the event. We were one of a few people involved in it.”

FPPC spokesman describes the law

A California Fair Political Practices Commission spokesman today said he is barred from commenting on specific cases. He did, however, explain the laws related to submitting campaign finance reports – or Form 460s – and noted that candidates must disclose money or in-kind contributions of $100 or more.

If there are violations of the Political Reform Act, FPPC spokesman Roman Porter said they are punishable with fines of up to $5,000 or further prosecution.

“Any violation of the Political Reform Act is punishable as a misdemeanor,” Porter said, “but that charge would have to be brought by a local district attorney or the attorney general.”

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