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State licensing employees accused of taking bribes
CBS News 8
SAN DIEGO, Calif. (CBS 8) -- A bribery scandal is being investigated at the state's Community Care Licensing office in San Diego, a division of the California Department of Social Services.
The state licensing inspectors worked at the offices of Community Care Licensing in Mission Valley. They are identified in court documents as Conchita Valero, Lydia Williams and Christina Nepomuceno.
The employees held the job title Licensing Program Analyst (LPA) and, as such, they inspected and licensed assisted living homes for the elderly in San Diego County.
According to a search warrant dated June 2 obtained by News 8, investigators are now seeking bank records to try to prove that the state inspectors were taking bribes from the owners or operators of several assisted living facilities.
Iris Ramirez, 49, runs four senior care homes in Mira Mesa under the name Ambassador Senior Retreat.
The search warrant alleges Ramirez bought airline tickets to fly LPA Valero and LPA Williams to the Philippines for a vacation, and also gave Valero $2,800 in cash.
In exchange, Ramirez's licenses were fast tracked and "completed in two months or less" instead of the average "five to six months," according to the warrant.
When interviewed by investigators, Ramirez "stated that the airline tickets were a ‘gift'; a ‘thank you' for licensing her facility so quickly," the warrant alleges. Each airline ticket cost $1,044, the warrant reads.
"Ramirez admitted to paying LPA Valero $2,800 cash and that LPA Valero was ‘probably' not documenting deficiencies at the facilities in exchange for the money," according to the warrant.
Contacted at her home in Murrieta, Ramirez told News 8 the airline tickets and the $2,800 in cash were gifts and she refused to answer questions.
"I don't want to say anything more. Sorry," said Ramirez.
Also named in the search warrant is the Eternal Sunshine Care assisted living facility on Quince Street in San Diego's Oak Park neighborhood, owned by Selma Teer, 36.
The search warrant claims Teer had purchased a home in Mira Mesa that she hoped to license as a Community Care facility; and gave LPA Nepomuceno $3,000 in cash.
When Nepomuceno left on medical leave from work, the search warrant claims Teer left the following voice mail message on Nepomuceno's state-issued cell phone:
"(You are) not returning my call. You are not paying my money back. You want a bribe for my application for my license. You lied. You are such a liar. You want a bribe, do your job. You don't do your job; you give me my money back."
In an interview at her Oak Park facility, Teer denied using the word "bribe" in the voicemail message, and said she did not bribe anybody.
"I don't even know what a bribe is. I don't know the meaning of it," Teer said.
Teer told News 8 she believed the $3,000 in cash she paid to LPA Nepomuceno was a loan, and that the payment was set up by her former business partner, Iris Ramirez.
"Iris Ramirez is the one that put me in this position," Teer said. "I'm 100% helping people. So you help people and this is what you get."
The search warrant also names Happy World residential care facility in Poway, once run by 56-year-old Maria Blume; and the Golden Touch III facility in Mira Mesa, formerly operated by Blume's nephew, who gave LPA Williams $5,000 in 2009, according to the records.
Blume initially told News 8 she would answer questions about the bribery allegations, but then did not return a message left on her cell phone seeking comment.
A spokesperson for the California Department of Social Services declined to comment on the ongoing investigation but did confirm the employees in question are no longer on the payroll.
"Each employee has a right to privacy and I'm not going to discuss personnel matters," spokesperson Michael Weston said. "I can just tell you that these three individuals no longer work for the Department of Social Services."
The bribery allegations remain under investigation by the Department of Social Services and no criminal charges have been filed against any of the state employees or the facility operators.
On Monday, News 8 requested access to the public inspection files for all seven assisted living facilities in question. Weston said the records will be made available in the coming days after confidential information is removed.