A ruling in August may signal an end to a long-standing San Bernardino County corruption scandal ["Addicted to Corruption," November 2002]. A good-old-boy network of former county officials owes the California county more than $5 million, according to a tentative ruling by a Ventura Superior Court judge.
The ruling entitles the county to recover profits from local businessman William "Shep" McCook for the sale of five billboards, a sale approved after then-County Administrative Officer Jim Hlawek accepted bribes. The county will also be reimbursed Hlawek's salary, in addition to money used in bribes, kickbacks and unlawful gifts. The two other defendants are Hlawek's predecessor Harry Mays and Norcal Waste Systems executive Jim Walsh (Mays bribed Hlawek to approve a waste contract selling landfills to the company).
San Bernardino officials and residents have waited six years to see the defendants brought to justice, and the county's besmirched reputation still has not rebounded. In the past three years, the county has appointed five CAOs, and since July 2003 eight department heads have resigned or been fired or forced out.
Hlawek, Mays and Walsh have all pleaded guilty to bribery-related criminal charges in federal court, and McCook still faces a trial in January on state bribery charges.