MOORLACH UPDATE — Hiking High — May 2, 2013

Recently we discussed the topic of ambulances. When someone has a heart attack and the paramedics arrive, you’re charged for it. We are a compassionate society, so if you find yourself lost in the woods, we’ll do our best to find you. But, if you are doing something illegal, and need to be rescued, shouldn’t you be charged for the ambulance ride and the search costs that saved your life? The OC Register covers this discussion in the first piece below.

The second piece also poses a matter for discussion. The Voice of OC weighs in on the next potential CEO for the County and a lawsuit that he has been a party to. Because Kathleen Tahilramani is a MOORLACH UPDATE subscriber, she has e-mailed me her concerns about her lawsuit with the County. Consequently, I have done as much independent research as I can on the matter to form a conclusion. Once the report from independent counsel is available, our County Counsel will determine whether or not my colleagues and I have the legal right to review it in detail or whether we are only entitled to the summary conclusions.

Rescued hiker charged with drug possession

Criminal complaint says sheriff’s deputies found methamphetamine in Nicolas Cendoya’s car.


SANTA ANA – One of two teenage hikers rescued during a four-day search of the rugged terrain around Holy Jim Canyon has been charged with drug possession after investigators found methamphetamine in his vehicle, authorities said.

Nicolas Cendoya, 19, is facing a felony count of possession of a controlled substance, a criminal complaint filed in Orange County Superior Court said.

News of the criminal charge angered Orange County Supervisor Todd Spitzer, who just a day earlier requested an investigation to determine whether the hikers "acted in a reckless way" that led to their being stranded and setting off "four days of very dangerous rescue maneuvers."

Spitzer said he was told by Orange County Sheriff’s Department personnel Wednesday morning that Cendoya and the other rescued hiker, Kyndall Jack, 18, had admitted to having used what they believed to have been cocaine.

"Why should the taxpayers pay for that?" Spitzer asked about the wide-ranging rescue effort. "It was Cendoya and Jack that set the circumstances in motion … and apparently it is because of their illegal drug use. And my question tonight is why we didn’t hear about this at the beginning."

Cendoya and Jack embarked on their Easter Sunday hike early in the afternoon, hoping to touch low-hanging clouds. By nightfall, they were lost, running out of water and struggling to provide directions on a dying cellphone to emergency dispatchers after making a detour up the mountain.

Cendoya was discovered dehydrated and delirious in an area of thick brush three days later. Jack was found the next day lying on a rock ledge, hypothermic, confused and showing signs of dehydration.

Both recalled little from their ordeal other than hallucinations they suffered and said they didn’t know how they became separated.

During the search, deputies investigating a vehicle for information that could lead to the pair found 497 milligrams of methamphetamine, leading to the felony charge filed against Cendoya this week, said Farrah Emami, a spokeswoman for the Orange County District Attorney’s Office.

Authorities say the rescue effort cost an estimated $160,000, as personnel from the Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles county sheriff’s departments and the Orange County Fire Authority spent more than 1,900 man-hours scouring the wilderness on foot, horseback and by helicopter.

A reserve Orange County sheriff’s deputy was seriously injured while trying to reach Jack.

Sheriff’s Department officials have indicated that they were not planning to seek reimbursement from Cendoya or Jack for the cost of the rescue.

Sheriff’s Department spokeswoman Gail Krause earlier this week indicated that the hikers had not been asked to submit to toxicology testing since the department had "found no evidence to substantiate that, and there is no further investigation."

Spitzer questioned why the indications of drug use weren’t made public sooner. Sheriff’s Department officials didn’t immediately respond to questions regarding the delay between the drugs reportedly being found and charges filed or on the allegations that the hikers had admitted to drug use.

"I am incredibly perplexed. There are so many unanswered questions surrounding this situation," Spitzer said. "I don’t know what to think at this point."

Supervisor John Moorlach said the fact that a criminal charge has been filed "certainly casts a shadow over whether or not the cost incurred should be waived."

Moorlach, who is a hiker, said the possibility of drug use could explain how the two teenagers got lost in the Holy Jim Canyon area.

"It certainly would make a whole lot of sense," Moorlach said. "There is no other way to explain their behavior."

Orange County Board of Supervisors Chairman Shawn Nelson said he didn’t believe Cendoya or Jack should have to pay for their rescue.

"What’s going to be next? Lifeguards don’t save people if they have been out drinking?" Nelson asked.

In addition to the costs of the rescue itself, Spitzer noted that the county would likely have to pay workers’ compensation due to the injuries sustained by the reserve deputy, who slipped and fell about 60 feet. The deputy is reportedly at home recovering from his injuries.

After hearing that Cendoya had been charged with drug possession, Spitzer said that on behalf of the county he called the District Attorney’s Office to assert Marsy’s Law, which guarantees victims the right to speak during sentencing and at other appropriate times during the legal process.

If convicted, Cendoya would face a sentencing range from probation to three years in jail, Emami said. He also would be eligible by law for a drug-diversion program in lieu of jail time.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7939 or semery

Supervisors Haven’t Read Investigative Report on CEO Pick


County supervisors acknowledged Wednesday that they have yet to read the report by a law firm they hired to investigate the actions of Waste & Recycling Director Michael Giancola, whom they’ve informally picked to be the next county CEO.

After announcing this week their decision to place the hiring of Giancola on their meeting agenda, supervisors said they received a briefing on the report but haven’t read it themselves.

Giancola has been accused of being involved with a salvaging operation at the county landfills and using county workers to do private work for him, according to sources and documents filed in a whistle-blower’s lawsuit against the county.

The approach by supervisors regarding the Giancola report is similar to how they handled a law firm’s investigation that resulted in criminal charges being filed against former Public Works executive and Santa Ana City Councilman Carlos Bustamante last year.

Supervisors have maintained they never read that report, receiving only spoken updates. Bustamante was quietly allowed to resign in late 2011.

The ensuing March, supervisors were directly confronted with the results of the investigation because of an internal audit and were forced to refer the matter to the district attorney, who filed criminal charges months later.

It also prompted questions for County Counsel Nick Chrissos about why county lawyers seemingly didn’t refer the case earlier.

The criminal charges triggered the resignation of CEO Tom Mauk and dismissals of other top officials, such as Public Works Director Jess Carbajal. Deputy CEO Alisa Drakodaidis was fired last month largely because of her connection to the affair.

Just after the incident, county officials were inundated with anonymous allegations against a host of elected officials and other executives, including Giancola.

Supervisors developed an approach to flesh out the complaints, creating a special panel that would take such allegations and hand them over to an undisclosed law firm that would investigate.

Last year just before the November elections, Human Resources Director Steve Danley announced that former Clerk-Recorder Tom Daly had been cleared by the law firm’s investigation into a series of sexual harassment charges.

Again, no county supervisor read the report.

This week after Chairman Shawn Nelson announced the Board of Supervisors was ready to appoint Giancola on May 7, it quickly became apparent that they hadn’t read the investigation report.

Nelson slammed the whistle-blower leveling the complaints against Giancola, saying the spoken reports he had received about the investigation led him to conclude the allegations were baseless.

Yet after being pressed by reporters as well as receiving a letter from an attorney representing the whistle-blower, Nelson said he asked county attorneys to give him the actual report.

“We’ve asked to look at it,” said Nelson late Wednesday after announcing Giancola as his choice for CEO.

County Supervisor John Moorlach said after being pressed by reporters that he may also ask to see the report.

Yet neither Moorlach nor Nelson said he expects the written report to change his mind.

“I only care if the conclusion of the investigatory report is what I’ve been told,” Nelson said. Looking over the actual written report, Nelson said, is “just for the sake of reviewing it. I’m certainly not going to reach a different conclusion.”

Nelson maintains that county supervisors are legally limited in what they can review about such allegations, given their defamatory nature.

“I don’t have a right to just walk into human resources and just look at investigations,” Nelson said.

“I need to know what the conclusion is, and that the investigation was thorough,” Nelson said.

Yet an attorney representing whistle-blower Kathleen Tahilramani in a workers’ compensation and civil case against the county alleged the report on Giancola wasn’t even finished.

In a retraction demand sent to The Orange County Register in which attorney Stephen Dial accused the newspaper of misstating his client’s case, he argued that the county investigation was incomplete.

“The investigators and the county’s attorneys informed me as recently as last week that the investigation and report had not been completed, allegedly because of a ‘family emergency’ and both specially denied that the County had a copy of a draft of the report on the investigation,” wrote Dial.

Please contact Norberto Santana Jr. directly at nsantana and follow him on Twitter:


May 2


Steven Greenhut of the OC Register weighed in with “OCTA plays politics with CenterLine” for his weekly Sunday Commentary column. His beef was about using public funds to make a political pitch. Here are two selected paragraphs:

Light rail is a slow, cumbersome 19th-century technology that is pushed forward mainly by social engineers who want to force Californians out of their cars, and by consultants and contractors who depend upon public funds.

Treasurer John Moorlach, whose financial predictions could have spared the county a bankruptcy, and 20 other well-respected local leaders signed a letter to OCTA last month explaining that “CenterLine threatens to become a fiscal black hole, draining off funds needed just to maintain and upgrade our current transportation infrastructure.”

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