UPDATED March 11, 2020: As reported in the Fresno Bee on February 21, 2020, "Valley water district official dismissed from embezzlement case. Two others to stand trial", charges against Atomic Falaschi were dismissed after a judge found there was not sufficient evidence for a trial.
FRESNO – Five people in Fresno County are facing felony charges for the misuse of public funds following an investigation into widespread corruption at the Panoche Water District (PWD) in the Central Valley. The scheme resulted in an estimated loss of over $100,000 in public money.
Dennis Falaschi, Julie Cascia, Atomic Falaschi, Jack Hurley, and Dubby West were arrested or surrendered for booking on February 21, 2018, and charged in a felony complaint with a total of ten counts:
- eight counts relating to the theft of public funds and
- two counts relating to crimes involving hazardous waste disposal.
The defendants allegedly spent public money for personal expenses, such as illegal slot machines, kitchen remodeling, and residential landscaping.
“This case is an example of the types of investigations state law enforcement officers and enforcement representatives conduct every day,” said California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) President Alan Barcelona. “CSLEA represents state investigators and agents and are proud of their professionalism and their commitment to enforcing laws, public safety and consumer protection.”
Both Falaschi’s, and Cascia were arrested and booked in the Fresno County booking center; while Hurley and West surrendered themselves to be booked on the charges.
The arrests were the product of a joint year-long investigation by the California Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC).
“In California, those in public posts who abuse the public's trust for personal gain will be held accountable,” said Attorney General Xavier Becerra. “The California Department of Justice will investigate and prosecute those who embezzle and misuse public funds. We will work with our law enforcement partners to get the job done.”
The criminal complaint alleges that Dennis Falaschi, the ex-General Manager of PWD, ran the District as his own personal operation and bank account, spending excessive amounts of District money using credit cards issued by PWD. Under the direction of Dennis Falaschi, Julie Cascia allegedly used PWD credit cards and money orders for personal expenses, while mischaracterizing the charges as business expenses. Dennis’ son, Atomic Falaschi, allegedly took items from PWD, including trees, equipment, and other goods, and used them on his own personal property. The remaining defendants, Hurley and West, allegedly illegally buried barrels of hazardous waste without permits or authorization from DTSC, acting under the direction of Dennis Falaschi.
“These arrests send the strong message that violations of the state’s hazardous waste laws are taken seriously and will be pursued and prosecuted to the maximum extent possible in order to protect public health, the environment and public resources,” said DTSC Director Barbara A. Lee.
PWD is a California Water District and public agency formed and existing for governmental purposes. PWD’s primary purpose is to distribute water for irrigation, municipal and industrial uses, and to own, operate, and maintain a water delivery system for Central Valley families.