The relationship between the Imperial Irrigation District and the Imperial Valley Economy Development Corporation is now stone cold due to the discovery of forged signatures used by the economic development group.
IID General Manager Henry Martinez sent a letter to IVEDC Director Tim Kelley regarding “a profoundly disturbing matter has been discovered involving inappropriate conduct by Mr. (Sean) Wilcock.”
Martinez said in the letter that all of this began when Mr. Wilcock requested Tina Shields, IID’s Water Department co-manager, write a letter outlining IID’s Colorado River water rights and the availability of industrial water supplies to support a new project evaluating the feasibility of siting their project in Imperial County. Shields has prepared these letters in the past – at the request of IVEDC – to outline the availability of supplies and IID’s contracting process according to its Interim Water Supply Policy for New Non-Agricultural Projects (IWSP).
“I am assured by Ms. Shields that she has always been cooperative and has often worked at the proverbial “11th hour” to prepare these general statements for IVEDC and their clients under IID letterhead,” Martinez stated.
The problem arose when Wilcock forwarded a letter he indicated was previously provided by Shields on behalf of IID, suggesting that an update of this letter would meet his needs. This letter under Shields’ signature, was dated February 14, 2018, and directed to Jeff Malin, a specialist working for the governor on economic development, and referenced “Project Nomad”, according to Martinez.
Shields reviewed the letter and immediately began to have concerns about its authenticity: she never recalled having sent such a letter referencing a “Project Nomad”. After searching her archives she could find no record of having prepared or authorized such a letter.
After further inspection, Shields noticed the electronic “signature” contained ink smudges above her name. After comparing it to the electronic signature she uses, Shields realized it was not her signature but one that had been copied, cut, and pasted into the Word document that also utilized an IID letterhead template she had created but that had since been modified by Wilcock according to the document’s electronic properties.
The above discovery led to a heated telephone exchange between Shields and Wilcock. When confronted with these inconsistencies, Wilcock admitted he had recycled prior draft letters written by Shields for other specific projects, edited them for a different project, and then copied, cut, and pasted Shields’ signature from another document-all without her permission or consent. Not surprisingly, Shields was outraged over this blatant forgery and immediately terminated the conversation after advising Wilcock that she would be reporting this breach of trust to her management immediately.
After internal staff discussions, and notwithstanding Wilcock’s attempt to apologize for his lapse in judgment, including an email sent later that day admitting to this misrepresentation, this conduct raises fundamental questions about IID’s relationship with IVEDC. IID has supported IVEDC both financially and organizationally, based in large part on an extension of trust that when officers of IVEDC were communicating with third parties these communications would include honest and accurate statements of IID positions and policies.
The district suspended the payment of $75,000 in membership dues to the IVEDC as well as $25,000 of financial support for the IVEDC’s annual renewable energy summit pending the outcome of the investigation.
“This trust has been eviscerated by this evidence of deceit and misrepresentation,” Martinez said. “Moreover, this one-act raises additional, troubling concerns, Mr. Kelley. How can the IID trust that this hasn’t happened on other occasions, and for what other issues? If this forgery was so easily prepared in a matter of a few hours, how many times has this been done for other matters when it suited Mr. Wilcock’s needs? Have he or others fabricated additional IID communications on even more critical issues or made other commitments on behalf of IID without proper authorization? At a minimum, Mr. Kelley, you or an impartial inspector must examine your records to verify the authenticity of all IID-sourced communications,” Martinez asked Kelley in the letter.
Martinez asked Kelley to send all IID correspondence to his office for review. The IID Board met on May 18 but this subject was not mentioned by the board, General Manager, nor the IID attorney.
The only comment came from El Centro resident Peter Rodriguez who asked to IID to cut ties with IVEDC via telephone.
“I thank Mr. Martinez for his leadership but what IVEDC did is an insult to the ratepayers and the IID should terminate all funding to them,” Rodriguez said. “If any of the board members support Mr. Kelley’s crew or want to continue working with them, then it will show you that you have no morals and should resign from the board.”