Former Adelanto city manager claims he was fired for whistleblowing to feds
Former Adelanto City Manager Gabriel Elliott filed a claim against the city on Friday alleging whistleblower retaliation for pushing back on alleged illegal activities committed by Mayor Rich Kerr and now interim City Manager Jessie Flores.
Elliott, 58, of Rancho Cucamonga served less than a year as city manager before he was fired last month. The city has gone through seven city managers since Kerr was elected mayor and took office in January 2015.
Elliott alleges he was fired because he thwarted the sale of the city’s public works building, which doubled as the city’s emergency operations center, to a marijuana cultivator who allegedly was an “agent” for U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach. Elliott claims the property was undervalued, and that Kerr and Flores expected to receive kickbacks from the buyer of the property once it was sold.
Kerr, according to the claim, told Elliott the buyer was C.B. Nanda, and that Rohrabacher had ensured the mayor that the city, in exchange for the sale of the property, would be protected from “any federal raids of the marijuana cultivation and consumption industry within Adelanto.”
Rohrabacher: Claims are ‘absurd’
In a telephone interview Friday, Rohrabacher called the allegations “absolutely absurd.” .
“It sounds like whoever is doing this is pretty damn unsophisticated in their thinking,” said Rohrabacher, who authored the Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, a law passed in 2014 that precludes federal authorities from superseding state medical marijuana laws.
Rohrabacher acknowledged knowing Nanda, and that he had had lunch with Adelanto city officials to discuss his legislation, but he said his legislation affects every municipality in the country that has passed medical marijuana laws.
He said he has “zero interest” in the sale of Adelanto’s public works building. “I don’t know what these people’s motive is to say something that is totally wrong and has nothing to do with reality,” Rohrabacher said.
Elliott accused of sexual harassment
Last December, Elliott was accused by two former city employees of sexual harassment and placed on administrative leave, but the city has not publicly released the findings from its administrative investigation.
Elliott’s attorney, Tristan Pelayes, said Friday that eight of more than 20 allegations were sustained, but that it essentially boiled down to a “credibility issue” between Elliott and his accusers. Elliott maintains the allegations are untrue and that Kerr is behind it.
“The reason they sustained these allegations is because the investigator said, ‘I believe her more than you because she had more credible body language; therefore, this allegation is sustained,’ ” Pelayes said. “This thing is ridiculous. We’re going to go to court and I’m going to drive a truck through them. There’s absolutely zero concrete evidence, by way of documentation or any eyewitnesses, against Mr. Elliott.”
Mayor allegedly wielded a sword
Elliott and Kerr locked horns so often that “on numerous occasions Kerr would draw his military-issued sword and brandish it towards Elliott,” according to the claim, a precursor to a lawsuit against a city. “On one occasion, Kerr had his sworn drawn, entered Elliott’s office, and walked briskly towards Elliott. Another time Kerr simulated a jousting motion with his sword and yelled, “I will stick somebody” as he did so,” according to the claim.
Neither Kerr, Flores, nor city spokesman Michael Stevens responded to requests for comment Friday.
On numerous occasions, Kerr instructed Elliott to terminate certain employees who were not allied with him, including former City Clerk Cindy Herrera, but when Elliott refused to do so out of concern it would violate the city charter, Kerr became “enraged and threatened Elliott with termination,” the claim states.
FBI probing corruption for a year
The FBI has been investigating allegations of corruption in Adelanto involving the marijuana industry for the past year. In May, the FBI raided Kerr’s home and Adelanto City Hall, carting away cardboard boxes and plastic storage bins stuffed with documents and other materials. Agents also served search warrants at the Jet Room, an Adelanto marijuana dispensary, and the Professional Lawyers Group in San Bernardino, which is the law office of Jet Room attorney Philip E. Rios.
In November, the FBI arrested former Adelanto Councilman Jermaine Wright on suspicion of taking a $10,000 cash bribe from an undercover agent posing as someone wanting to start a marijuana transportation business in the city. Wright also is accused of hiring another undercover agent to burn down his fast-food restaurant, Fat Boyz Grill, to collect on a $300,000 insurance policy.
Wright has since posted bail. His trial is scheduled for Feb. 26, 2019 in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.
The undercover FBI agent from whom Wright allegedly received the $10,000 cash bribe posed as someone looking to start a marijuana transportation business in the city. The undercover agent reached out to Wright for assistance rezoning property for such a purpose. Wright’s asking price was $10,000.
Range of allegations
Elliott, who has been cooperating with the FBI in its investigation, also alleges in his claim that:
- Kerr prevented code enforcement officers from enforcing code violations at numerous marijuana businesses in the city.
- Upon learning Elliott had been cooperating with the FBI, Kerr began a “campaign of harassment and retaliation” against Elliott.
- Kerr’s campaign escalated when Kerr learned Elliot had told the FBI and the City Council that Kerr received a $200,000 bribe for the sale of the city’s public works building/emergency operations center.
- Kerr solicited current and former city employees to trump up the sexual harassment allegations against Elliott in retaliation for Elliott thwarting Kerr’s and Flores’ efforts to sell the public works/EOC building and cooperating with the FBI.
Pelayes said Kerr and Flores are running the city essentially like cowboys — at the expense of other people’s livelihoods well being.
“They have a false sense of security because they think they are protected by other politicians, and I think greed is a powerful thing that blinds people,” Pelayes said.