VERNON, Calif. (AP) – The body of a former administrator of the embattled city of Vernon was found in the water off a San Francisco Bay area island on the same day the California auditor’s office issued a report criticizing the way he and others managed the tiny, scandal-plagued industrial town.
The body of Eric T. Fresch was discovered Thursday floating off Angel Island, said Park Superintendent Amy Brees. She said his bicycle was found nearby.
Brees told The Associated Press that Fresch, 58, had taken a boat to the island and park rangers went looking for him when he didn’t return to the mainland.
She said results of an autopsy by the Marin County coroner’s office were pending. Meanwhile, investigators were attempting to locate witnesses to determine how he died.
Earlier Thursday, the California State Auditor’s office had issued a 185-page report accusing the city of implementing few of the reforms it promised after state officials threatened last year to disincorporate Vernon amid corruption allegations.
About 50,000 people work in Vernon, a 5.2-square-mile warren of warehouses and factories in the shadow of Los Angeles, but only about 100 actually live there.
Among other things, the report said, Vernon lacks sufficient controls on its contracting for services.
Auditors noted that Fresch’s law firm was given a contract for legal services in 2010 that contained no spending limit, and that between 2005 and 2011 his firm was paid more than $5 million.
Vernon paid Fresch $1.65 million in 2008, according to documents released by then-Attorney General Jerry Brown in 2010, when Brown announced an investigation into exorbitant salaries paid to public officials of small Southern California cities.
California Auditor Elaine Howle told the Los Angeles Times her office tried to interview Fresch as it prepared the audit, but he repeatedly ducked calls and the efforts of subpoena servers.
“I have never experienced something like this before,” she said. “From our perspective, it’s very suspicious.”
Several other former Vernon officials have been paid more than $1 million a year and several, although not Fresch, have been convicted of corruption charges.
The City Council itself paid its five part-time members $60,000 to $100,000 a year while providing them with city subsidized housing that rented for $120 to $360 a month.
Word of the salaries and perks led state Assembly Speaker John Perez to introduce a bill to disincorporate Vernon last year, but the effort died after the city adopted a number of reforms, including limiting council members to two, five-year terms and slashing officials’ salaries.
Thursday’s audit said the city has not put in place policies that would actually implement many of those reforms and that others will take years to achieve.
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