Arrest warrants for two Merced County school board members, one of whom is a former mayor of Los Banos, were issued Monday on allegations of bribery, according to the Merced County District Attorney’s Office.
Greg Opinski, 54, a general contractor and elected member of the Merced Union High School District was taken into custody early Monday morning, booked and released on bail. Tommy Jones, 68, a member of the Los Banos Unified School District Board and former mayor of Los Banos, was advised by telephone Monday afternoon that a warrant had been issued for his arrest. He declined to meet with investigators at that time and said his attorney would contact the investigator. Until he surrenders Jones will remain subject to arrest by any law enforcement agency in California.
The charges were announced following a ten month investigation by Merced County District Attorney investigators. According to Morse, cash payments were made to fellow Los Banos School Board member Dominic Falasco to support Opinski’s bid for a $541,000 contract for expansion of the Mercy Springs Elementary School in Los Banos.
The issue first came to light in October of 2015 when Falasco requested a meeting with Morse at the District Attorney’s office in Merced and informed him he thought a bribe attempt had been made. Morse assigned DA Investigator Anna Hazel to conduct an investigation.
Over the next several months Falasco had numerous meetings with Jones and Opinski in Merced and other counties. These conversations were surreptitiously recorded using equipment provided to Falasco by the District Attorney’s office. On July 26, Falasco, in furtherance of the investigation, cast the fourth and deciding vote to award Opinski the contract.
The Los Banos School Board had been plagued by dissension among board members in the months leading up to the contract with Opinski being announced, including allegations of corruption.
“Holding any elective office, especially one that is responsible for ensuring our children’s educations, is a sacred trust,” Morse said. “To use that position to line one’s pockets is an affront to democratic government and violates our most basic obligation to those we serve.”
Opinski was arrested on four counts of bribery of a public official and one count of violating Government Code Section 1090(b); his bail was set at $40,000. The charges carry a maximum of seven years in state prison.
The arrest warrant against Jones alleges two counts of bribery. The charges against Jones carry a maximum of five years in state prison.
Morse lauded the role that Falasco played in bringing this matter to light. “(Falasco) could very easily have simply ignored the first offer of money, but he was righteously offended that anyone would use their position on a school board to engage in graft. His nearly year-long cooperation in this investigation required him to record numerous private conversations and has subjected him and his family to enormous personal stress and criticism. We absolutely could not have uncovered these allegations of corruption without him and the people of Los Banos owe Mr. Falasco a genuine debt of gratitude.”
The investigation is ongoing, Morse said, and he encouraged anyone with additional information to contact DA Investigator Hazel who Morse singled out for her “consummate skill and professionalism” in conducting a lengthy and complex investigation.