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California officials charged with misspending public funds

February 22, 2018

FILE - In this Jan. 24, 2018, file photo California Attorney General Xavier Becerra talks during a news conference in Sacramento, Calif. Becerra filed criminal charges against five people accused of misusing funds at a rural water agency on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018. The felony charges range from conspiracy to misappropriate public funds to unlawful disposal of hazardous waste. The investigation alleges the five used public funds for things including housing, baseball games, and a Katy Perry concert. The prosecution follows a 2017 state audit report on the Panoche Water District in Central California's farm hub. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — California has filed felony charges against five people accused of mishandling hazardous waste and misspending public funds at a rural water district, purchasing items including a kitchen remodel and concert tickets.

The charges, brought Wednesday by Attorney General Xavier Becerra, allege former officials at the Panoche Water District in central California misused more than $100,000 in public funds. Items purchased or misappropriated for personal use include slot machines, kitchen appliances, vehicles, housing, baseball tickets, and tickets to hear Katy Perry, according to the charges.

The prosecutions follow a 2017 state audit of the Panoche Water District. State officials at the time called the public water agency’s lack of financial oversight “shocking.”

Former general manager Dennis Falaschi, former office manager Julia Cascia and a third employee are named in the financial charges, which include conspiracy to misappropriate public funds. Falaschi and two others also are accused of unlawful disposal of hazardous waste, in connection with barrels of hazardous chemicals found buried at the water district, the state Department of Toxic Substances Control said.

Current general manager Ara Azhderian said Thursday the water district had overhauled its management staff and policies since the state brought the alleged abuses to light. “It’s an entirely different district” now, Azhderian said.

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