Weekend News Briefs from CVBT

October 20, 2017 9:01pm
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•  Feds indict another in ongoing real estate scam

•  EPA enters the wildfires cleanup efforts

•  And more!

Real estate investor indicted for San Joaquin County bid rigging

A federal grand jury in Sacramento has indicted real estate investor Yama Marifat. accusing him of bid rigging at public real estate foreclosure auctions, says the U.S. Department of Justice.

Mr. Marifat has been charged with conspiring with other real estate investors to rig bids when purchasing selected properties at foreclosure auctions in San Joaquin County, beginning in or about April 2009 and continuing until in or about October 2009.

The indictment alleges that Mr. Marifat and co-conspirators carried out the conspiracy by agreeing not to bid against each other on selected properties. Instead of bidding against one another, they designated one conspirator to bid at the public auction, then held second, private auctions and made payoffs to each other.

An indictment merely alleges that crimes have been committed, and all defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

“Bid rigging subverts the competitive process, undermines consumers’ confidence in the market, and will not be tolerated,” says Assistant U.S. Attorney General Makan Delrahim of the Department of Justice Antitrust Division.

This case is part of an ongoing investigation of fraud and bidding irregularities in certain real estate auctions in San Joaquin County. As a result of this ongoing investigation, 12 individuals have pleaded guilty or been convicted in federal court. Ten of these individuals have been sentenced to serve prison terms ranging from five to eight months. In addition, the defendants have been ordered to pay a total of more than $6 million in criminal fines and restitution.


Wildfires mop up moves in a new direction

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says it is expanding operations in Napa and Sonoma counties, including assessment, removal and disposal of oil and hazardous materials, as part of the ongoing interagency response to multiple wildfires in Northern California.

The EPA says the efforts will reduce potential threats to public health and safety and allow other agencies to remove solid waste, debris and ash in the affected areas. EPA’s work is initiated under a FEMA-issued federal disaster declaration mission assignment for wildfire operations and recovery.

In coming weeks, EPA will develop staging areas for the Sonoma County and Napa County cleanups and will seek access agreements for property where EPA will be working. EPA’s response will include removal, consolidation and disposal of hazardous materials from fire-affected areas.

Multiple wildfires began burning on October 8 in Napa and Sonoma counties. The fires have killed 42 people and destroyed or damaged more than 7,000 structures.


State reminds fire damage adjusters of their legal obligations

In light of the devastating fires that tore through northern and southern California damaging and destroying thousands of homes, business, vehicles, and equipment, and the need for residents to begin the long road to recovery and rebuilding, state Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones has directed the licensing department to issue a notice to all licensed public adjusters and admitted carriers to remind them of the rules, regulations, and limitations on solicitation and compensation that govern public adjusters' work in California.

Public adjusters do not work for insurance companies but rather directly for policyholders who hire the adjuster for a fee to work to settle their insurance claim. Public adjusters' fees are paid by the policyholder and are typically a percentage of the settled claim, which means it comes out of the funds used to recover from the loss.

"When people experience such devastating losses the emotional need is to return to normal, which leaves many people vulnerable," says Mr. Jones. "We strongly suggest people take their time when considering a contract for a public adjuster or hiring a contractor. It is difficult to make business decisions when you are most vulnerable emotionally."


UC Davis studies ways water utilities can cut energy use

University of California, Davis, researchers are working with the Moulton Niguel Water District and Helio Energy Solutions to figure out how water utilities can cut energy use as the state works to meet its greenhouse-gas reduction goals.

The California Energy Commission awarded the Center for Water and Energy Efficiency at UC Davis $3.1 million to pilot-test a system to help water utilities optimize their energy use and reduce operational costs while continuing to meet customers’ water needs.

If successful, the pilot program could help balance the electrical grid’s intermittent distribution of renewable energy, while providing substantial savings to ratepayers.

Moulton Niguel Water District spends approximately $2 million per year to power its water services for 170,000 customers in southern Orange County. Researchers will combine water system hydraulic modeling with Helio Energy Solution’s software platform to create a demand management system designed to reduce Moulton Niguel’s energy consumption.

“If adopted widely by urban water systems in California, the strain on the grid during peak hours could be reduced significantly, leading to more reliable electricity at lower costs to consumers,” says Frank Loge, faculty director of CWEE, professor of civil and environmental engineering and principal investigator on the grant.


New facilities opens in Sacramento to help hundreds of homeless

Saint John’s Program for Real Change has opened a new facility accommodating an additional 90 homeless women and children daily, 450 annually. However, the Saint John’s daily waitlist continues to grow — up from 250 to 430 in the last three months, the organization says.

“We are extremely proud of the hard work and dedication it has taken to open this facility and help an additional 450 women and children every year,” says Michele Steeb, CEO of Saint John’s. “We wish we could say that it is a job well done – but this job isn’t done. We still maintain a waitlist of over 430 names each night, and it continues to grow.”

Founded in 1985, Saint John’s Program for Real Change has offered more than just a shelter. It says its 12-18 month program combines temporary housing with education, job training with a 96 percent job placement rate, and counseling to permanently escape the cycle of poverty and abuse.


Highway closure set for next weekend

The California Department of Transportation says it will close the Highway 33 bridge at Interstate 5 for 56 continuous hours for repairs.

Work is scheduled beginning at 8 p.m. on Friday, October 27, until 4 a.m. on Monday, October 30.

The project is designed to improve the road surface, efficiency of travel and safety for motorists. The sidewalk on the bridge will remain open throughout construction for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Motorists should expect 20 minute delays. Alternate routes should be taken whenever possible.

Work is scheduled to begin as listed, but is subject to change due to traffic incidents, weather, availability of equipment and/or materials and construction related issues.

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