Bribery case involving Hanford City Council deepens

Copyright 2021 Hanford-Lemoore Future

Art Brieno’s Facebook picture at the Sacramento Railroad Museum was captured around February 4th.

HANFORD – Within days of the Valley Voice and Hanford – Lemoore Future releases, articles were published claiming Mayor Francisco Ramirez and Councilor Art Brieno took bribes from auto repair shop owner Richard Aguilar and incriminating Facebook images on their accounts have been removed .

The Hanford-Lemoore Future received copies of the removed pictures of Russ Curry, a former Hanford mayor and a Hanford Police detective.

A complaint from the California State Department of Justice (DOJ) not only alleges bribes, but also accuses Hanford developer Jerry Irons of paying for Ramirez and Brieno for several vacation trips. Images of these trips have been removed from their Facebook accounts.

The alleged bribes occurred last year when Aguilar’s auto repair shop was closed by the city and is documented in the DOJ complaint. The complaint states: “On July 7, 2020 and July 8, 2020, we alleged that Hanford Mayor Francisco Ramirez and Hanford City Councilor Art Brieno had received bribes from Hanford-based businessman Richard Aguilar requested and received in the amount of 400.00 USD each. “

Also, Cheyenne Strawn’s Facebook pages with photos of those trips have been removed, Curry said. Strawn is a Hanford Parks and Recreation Commissioner. Strawn accompanied Ramirez and Brieno on two or more of these trips.

Irons has denied that he paid for the travel of the two councilors and Strawn. According to the complaint, Irons reportedly paid for the trips to aid his efforts to have Hanford Community Development Director Darlene Mata sacked for thwarting his projects’ approval.

According to the complaint, Brieno and Ramirez also wanted Mata fired. Though Brieno later told the city council that he wanted Mata to be transferred to a different position.

In response to the allegations, Ramirez, Brieno and Strawn said they paid for their own way. Brieno said he has credit card statements and will present them when the matter goes to court, while Ramirez and Strawn said the trips were years ago and they had no receipts.

Two of the different trips in question were May 2019 and April 2020.

Regarding the Facebook photos, one shows Ramirez at the Luxor Hotel in Las Vegas, another on a street in New York City, and a third in a room in San Francisco. Another photo on Ramirez’s Facebook page shows Ramirez in Bryce Canyon National Park with Brieno and Strawn, Utah. It was dated May 12, 2020.

The September 7, 2019 picture previously posted on Strawn’s Facebook pages shows a trip to Sacramento with Brieno and Brieno’s son, who lives there. A trip to Parkfield, CA, is mentioned in a May 19, 2019 Strawn Facebook post, Curry said.

The three men had three different stories about why the photos were removed from their Facebook.

Ramirez said the trips will not appear on his current Facebook page because he was censored by Facebook as Vice Mayor and had to create a new Facebook page. He said whoever is making these allegations should get in touch. They are made, said Ramirez, “by people who want to see me out of office.”

When asked why the pictures are no longer on his Facebook, Strawn said: “I don’t look back a year. As far as I know, I don’t think they’re down. “

He added, “It gets ridiculous when you choose little things. We pay our own way, split accommodation. Irons had nothing to do with these trips. “

When asked why the pictures of his travels were removed from his Facebook, Brieno said the allegation is only being used as a “… campaign to kill characters against him.”

Responding to allegations that Irons paid for his trips to Bryce Park and Sacramento, Brieno said, “This is new to me. We went on trips, but Jerry wasn’t part of them. “

Brieno said that after the stimulus checks came out along with the extra unemployment benefits, it was so much money that people bought cars and went on trips. He said the latest stimulus check for a family with two children will be over $ 5,000.

“People don’t need it and will go on trips.”

The state Justice Department has refused to confirm the existence of an investigation, and Curry said he did not write or file the complaint with the state. A copy of the complaint was received from Hanford-Lemoore Future, but the newspaper is unaware of the author’s identity.

Strawn also denied part of the complaint filed with the Justice Department according to which he attended lunchtime meetings with Brieno, Ramirez, Councilor Kalish Morrow and Aguilar in the summer of 2020 that were closed by the city for various violations.

Strawn and Morrow said they did not attend any meetings with these parties.

Ramirez said there was lunch at Colima’s restaurant to discuss Aguilar’s problems.

Other Facebook posts, shown on or about November 9, 2020 and removed, show Brieno and Strawn took a trip to Arizona and New Mexico, Curry said. Ramirez’s pages showed trips to Bend, Oregon and Vancouver, Washington on or about September 4, 2020, Curry said.

The Facebook posts also show that Ramirez, Brieno and Strawn made numerous trips to Parkfield and Barstow, CA during the 2018-2019 period, Curry said.

Ramirez and Strawn said they were not contacted by Justice Department investigators.

Catherine Doe contributed to this article