2 ex-city transportation employees to plead guilty in work-theft cases

Were among 5 linked to unauthorized private jobs done on taxpayers' dime
2013-01-08T00:00:00Z 2013-01-08T13:40:15Z 2 ex-city transportation employees to plead guilty in work-theft casesKim Smith Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
January 08, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Two former city Transportation Department employees suspected of using city materials and equipment on private construction jobs will enter guilty pleas next month, attorneys announced Monday.

The plea agreements will be finalized once city officials determine how much restitution should be paid by Kurt Hough and Robert Palomarez, Assistant Arizona Attorney General Michael Jette told Pima County Superior Court Judge Michael Miller.

Jette did not reveal the exact terms of the agreements. A hearing was set for Feb. 19.

Hough and Palomarez were among five transportation supervisors and workers who resigned or were fired on Sept. 6 after an investigation revealed that several private construction jobs were done by city workers on city time.

Hough and Palomarez are both charged with conspiracy and illegal control of an enterprise. In addition, Hough is facing four counts of theft, and Palomarez is facing seven counts of theft.

Monday's announcement comes less than one month after Hough's attorney, Janet Altschuler, filed a motion to dismiss the case against her client, saying, in part, that grand jurors were misled into thinking Hough was the "man in charge" of the city's streets department.

Hough reported to former Transportation Director Jim Glock. Above Glock in the hierarchy are Deputy City Manager Liz Miller, City Manager Richard Miranda, Mayor Jonathan Rothschild and council members, Altschuler said.

The person "who truly had power to do things in the Transportation Department" was Miranda, Altschuler said.

She contended in her motion that Miranda used his power to have "city employees, using city equipment and on city time, clean the parking lot of the city manager's family-owned restaurant," something she asserted had been done annually for years.

Miranda did not become interim city manager until September 2011. Before that, he was deputy city manager.

City spokesman Michael Graham confirmed one occasion, in November 2011, when the Molina's Midway Mexican Food parking lot, 1138 N. Belvedere Ave., was cleaned up by city workers. But Graham said they were just cleaning up a mess deposited there from an earlier city job on an adjacent property.

Graham said workers cleaning up the Midway Wash failed to remove trimmed branches and debris, which were swept into the parking lot of Molina's Midway, which is owned by a Miranda family member.

"A complaint was made to the City Manager's Office, and per protocol, the department head who oversees the department that the complaint is being made against was contacted. In this case it was the Transportation Director (Jim Glock)," Graham said.

Graham said he contacted Glock, who has since retired, and Glock was unable to recall any other times when Molina's parking lot was cleaned.

Hough has been accused of ordering the construction, for $7,883, of an unauthorized concrete motorcycle pad at a city lot near East Ajo Way and South Park Avenue.

The reality is Hough was told to create more parking spaces at the city lot because an east-side facilities work center was being closed, Altschuler said. All the work was approved by the Tucson Department of Transportation.

No one questioned during the investigation said Hough used the motorcycle pad, although he does ride a motorcycle, Altschuler said.

Altschuler also wrote in her motion that while Hough asked Palomarez to deliver dirt to a private citizen in Vail, he did not order Palomarez to do it on city time or with city equipment.

Altschuler said Hough couldn't possibly defend himself against allegations he illegally hauled dirt 47 times between 2004 and 2007 because prosecutors failed to provide exact dates and times of the alleged hauls.

Jette declined to comment on Altschuler's motion Monday because the case is still pending.

Miller allowed Altschuler to withdraw the motion to dismiss the charges because of the pending plea agreement, but gave her permission to refile it if the deals fall through.

Contact reporter Kim Smith at 573-4241 or kimsmith@azstarnet.com

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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