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California Prison Guard Union Scandal Goes Public

The current leadership of the California Correctional Peace Officers Association has charged 10 current and former leadership members with wrongdoing.

In internal documents received by the Lassen County Times, current President Mike DeWitt of the local CCPOA said both Mark Viale and Andrew Wellborn, past president and vice-president are guilty of "utilizing misappropriated funds for political gain _ large donations were made on multiple occasions to local charitable organizations that possess the ability to directly influence local politics." According to CCPOA bylaws both Viale and Wellborn are in violation of Chapter 12.

DeWitt and the local chapter also claim both Viale and Wellborn are guilty of "Supporting political candidates with authority from HDSP-CCC Political Action Committee under Mr. Viale's direction."

Specifically DeWitt said in a letter to Perry Speth, secretary of the CCPOA headquarters in Sacramento, "It should be noted that Mr. Viale's and Mr. Wellborn's choice of donations and professed support may have been influenced by the personal political aspirations and the promise of support in best `quid pro quo' fashion."

DeWitt claims donations to District Attorney Bob Burns were politically motivated and Viale's appointment to the Lassen County Grand Jury is evidence of political cronyism.

Both Burns and Superior Court Judge Stephen Bradbury deny any appearance of impropriety as do both Viale and Wellborn named by DeWitt. DeWitt said, "I don't have any political ambitions. Lassen County is my home and I am not going away. I have been living here 26 years."

Wellborn, who is mounting a defense to be presented at a meeting of the CCPOA local chapter on June 29 said the charges "are ridiculous."

DeWitt said the contributions to Burns constituted a "conflict of interest no matter if the donation was $1 or $15,000."

DeWitt claims Burns was given $15,000 but both Burns and Wellborn said the donation was for $7,500. Two checks to the candidate were written. In the official CCPOA ledger it appears $15,000 was given to Burns.

"I only received $7,500," said Burns. "The first check was lost so they issued a second check. That is documented. I am pleased to have the support of CCPOA, but I think they should stop fighting among themselves."

The CCPOA also endorsed then donated to the campaign of Lassen County Sheriff Bill Freitas a total of $2,500 along with giving $3,000 to District 5 Supervisor Jack Hanson.

Wellborn said when High Desert Prison opened in 1995, it was perceived by the members of CCPOA that residents didn't like the idea of a new prison coming in.

"That was our driving force," said Wellborn. "To introduce ourselves to the community. We're here and we are going to be a vital part of this community in a lot of areas. "But the gain part of this was us volunteering our time if you want to call that gain."

Wellborn said donations were made to candidates and to local civic organizations to enhance scholarships to whatever individuals the organizations chose to honor.

Wellborn denied getting political favor from Bradbury even though he was appointed by Bradbury to sit on the Juvenile Justice Commission. "There is absolutely no basis to any suggestion of under-handed activity going on," Bradbury said.

"This is nothing more than a political fight between members of the CCPOA," Wellborn said. "I am standing behind the mission statement we ran on. Making a positive difference in our community is the goal of CCPOA. We proudly represent the officers from High Desert and CCC who contribute their time and efforts to benefit local youth activities, sports and academics. CCPOA is committed to working with Lassen County."

DeWitt said the CCPOA meeting on June 29 will be open to the public. "All I want is the truth to come out," DeWitt said.

Charges were also brought by DeWitt against Rich Planer, Brian Wilbur, Mike Sanchez, Steve White, Mike Armstrong, Rhonda Gore, Larry Runyon and Richard Baughman who either are current CCPOA board members or ex-board members.

This article is reprinted with permission of the Lassen County Times. It was originally published in the June 15, 2004, edition of the paper.

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