Former Adelanto city manager sues city and mayor, alleging illegal firing for exposing corrupt activities

Former Adelanto City Manager
Adelanto City Manager Gabriel Elliott denies allegations of sexual harassment by former employees. He says the allegations are made up, and that Mayor Rich Kerr may have had something to do with it.

By JOE NELSON | | San Bernardino Sun

PUBLISHED: November 1, 2018 at 5:56 pm | UPDATED: November 2, 2018 at 12:47 am

Republished November 8, 2018 by The San Bernardino American News

Former Adelanto City Manager Gabriel Elliott filed a lawsuit Wednesday alleging he was wrongfully fired for speaking out against illegal activity and trying to expose corrupt practices.

The suit, filed in San Bernardino Superior Court, names the city, Mayor Rich Kerr, and City Manager Jessie Flores as defendants. Elliott, 58, a Rancho Cucamonga resident, served less than a year as city manager before he was fired in July. He filed a claim against the city in August as a precursor to his lawsuit.

In September 2017, according to the lawsuit, Kerr and Flores conspired to sell the city’s public works yard and emergency operations center — below market value — to a man who planned to sell the property to marijuana cultivators at a “substantially higher price.” Kerr and Flores, the suit alleges, were expected to receive financial kickbacks from that sale.

Adelanto Mayor Rich Kerr

Elliott, who has been cooperating in an FBI investigation into alleged corrupt practices in Adelanto, also alleged Kerr and Flores were receiving bribes from the marijuana growing industry and ordering code enforcement officers in the High Desert community to “stand down,” preventing them from enforcing violations against several marijuana businesses.

On Nov. 15, 2017, Elliott and then-City Attorney Ruben Duran, according to the suit, met with the FBI and Elliott told special agents that Kerr received a $200,000 bribe from the sale of the city yard. It resulted in further attacks by Kerr and Flores against Elliott. They would bypass his authority and continued to humiliate him and undermine his authority in front of his subordinates, the lawsuit states.

On numerous occasions, Kerr ordered Elliott to fire certain employees who were not loyal to Kerr. When he refused, the suit claims, Kerr became “enraged and threatened (Elliott) with his own termination.”

“It kills (Kerr and Flores) not to be able to get a cut of the action. So they resort to corruption,” Elliott’s attorney, Tristan Pelayes of the Riverside firm Wagner & Pelayes, said in a statement Thursday. “Now they are ruining people’s lives and careers who discovered and reported their schemes.”

Elliott also alleges Duran was complacent about the conduct of Kerr and Flores and was a “tacit co-conspirator in allowing the illegal conduct to occur without protest or resignation.”

In a statement Thursday, Duran said: “The allegations in the complaint related to my alleged conduct, action or inaction are utterly without merit, completely untrue and outrageous.

“Moreover, I am bound by the attorney-client privilege not to disclose the details or content of any communications with or on behalf of my client, and I would never discuss any meetings or interactions with federal law enforcement unless authorized to do so.”

Elliott also informed the FBI that Kerr allegedly solicited donations from businesses for his wife’s nonprofit, which made the donors feel forced to give in exchange for Kerr “getting things done.”

When Kerr and Flores were unable to gain support from other City Council members to fire Elliott, they solicited three employees or contract employees to file sexual harassment complaints against the then-city manager, according to the suit. It led to his suspension on Dec. 20, 2017.

Elliott maintained from the beginning that the allegations were trumped up, that Kerr was behind it, and, as stated in the lawsuit, it was a “sham investigation.”

Still, the investigation, completed in December 2017, led to Elliot’s termination in July 2018. “The investigation was a sham, had no factual basis, and calls into question whatever the investigator did to reach a predetermined conclusion while claiming an attorney-work-protected privilege to justify keeping the investigation confidential,” according to the lawsuit.

Adelanto spokesman Michael Stevens said in an email Thursday that the city does not comment on pending litigation.

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