May 6, 2021

Victorville unemployment case could spell bad news for Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz – Orange County Register

Victorville unemployment case could spell bad news for Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz – Orange County Register


As Huntington Beach officials scratch their heads over a puzzling unemployment claim filed against the city by Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz, leaders in Victorville face a similar situation.

And, so far, the Victorville case’s trajectory does not bode well for the success of Ortiz’s assertion that he has lost city wages due to the coronavirus crisis.

Public city records obtained by a Huntington Beach resident show that Ortiz, whose legal name is Jacob C. Ortiz, sought unemployment benefits on Feb. 22 – suggesting he experienced reduced hours “related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).” However, all council members have continued to get their regular checks of about $1,600 a month from the city in stipends and expense allowances.

“We have a lot of questions but have not received an explanation,” said Huntington Beach Mayor Kim Carr when asked about Ortiz’ claim. “I’m confused about why he would file for unemployment from the city when his pay and responsibilities have not been cut. On the surface, it’s very concerning.”

The city learned about the filing when the California Employment Development Department (EDD) submitted a routine questionnaire as part of the approval process. City Manager Oliver Chi said Thursday, May 6, that he does not know if the EDD is done reviewing Ortiz’s claim.

One hundred miles to the northeast, in San Bernardino County, Victorville Councilwoman Blanca Gomez collected almost $5,000 after filing for unemployment benefits in May of 2020 – despite continuing to receive a monthly stipend from the city.

In that case, Victorville officials sent the EDD a letter alleging that Gomez had committed unemployment fraud, and an administrative law judge agreed. “Benefits were received as a result of this misrepresentation,” Stephen H. Tyler wrote in a ruling issued two months ago.

Victorville paid $1,398 for Gomez’s unemployment claim. More than two-thirds of the money she received came from the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, which for much of 2020 provided an extra $600 per week to help those financially impacted by COVID-19. The federal government now supplements state unemployment benefits with an additional $300 weekly.

Gomez has appealed the judge’s decision, said Victorville spokesperson Sue Jones. Gomez did not respond to a request for comment.

Victorville unemployment case could spell bad news for Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz – Orange County Register
Victorville Councilwoman Blanca Gomez, like Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz, filed for unemployment against the city although she continued to receive her stipend throughout the coronavirus crisis.

In his filing, Ortiz  gave his first day of work as Dec. 7, 2020 – when he was sworn into office. He stated that his last day of work was Feb. 9, 2021, although he still serves on the council.

On the section of the unemployment application asking for a “reason for separation,” Ortiz listed, “Still working part-time or on-call.”

Ortiz did not return a request for more information.

The mixed martial arts celebrity, who owns a house in Huntington Harbour valued at about $4 million, has two Huntington Beach businesses – Punishment Athletics clothing store and Punishment Training Center gym. Though late March, Ortiz has received $32,600 in forgivable loans for those businesses via the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program.

In his ruling against the Victorville councilwoman, the judge sited a California Unemployment Insurance section that says the term  “wages” does “not include any payments, regardless of their designation, made by a city of this state to an elected official.”

“As a consequence, the claimant is ineligible for UI benefits based on the fact that she is an elected official,” Tyler wrote.

The EDD communications office did not respond to requests for clarification about whether all elected council members in California are excluded from unemployment benefits from their cities.

After the judge’s decision, Victorville Mayor Debra Jones said in a statement, “I have no choice but to reach out to (San Bernardino County) District Attorney Jason Anderson to ask that he consider this a criminal matter.”

It is unclear whether Ortiz’s case would ever rise to that level of investigation.

Without referring to Ortiz specifically, Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer said in an email Thursday: “When the criminals are running out of places to put their money and hardworking Americans can’t pay their bills because their unemployment benefits have been frozen, you have a major problem.

“This isn’t just an Orange County problem. It isn’t just a California problem. This is a breakdown of catastrophic proportions that has failed the American taxpayer – and we need the necessary resources to stop it.”

With the exception of the temporary federal bonus – a debt that’s spread among all United States taxpayers – Huntington Beach residents foot the bill for unemployment benefits when it comes to city workers, Chi said.

“It is the city’s responsibility to protect our local taxpayers,” Chi said, “by insuring that claims for unemployment benefits are appropriate.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



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