Facing attorney general's lawsuit, Wapato official resigns

WAPATO, Wash. (AP) — A city official in Wapato has resigned following allegations that he used his former position as mayor to enrich himself.

Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson sued the official, Juan Orozco, in June for violating ethics and open meeting laws. Orozco agreed to resign Friday, to forfeit his severance pay, and to pay a $500 ethics fine to settle his part of the lawsuit.

Ferguson's lawsuit was based on an investigation by the state auditor's office, which found that as mayor, Orozco directed the city attorney to write legislation creating a new city administrator position with a generous salary of $95,000 and a guaranteed seven years of pay.

The city council adopted the ordinance in a meeting without proper notice last year. Orozco then immediately resigned; Councilmember Dora Alvarez-Roa was named as mayor; and without discussion, she appointed Orozco to the new city administrator job.

"Serving the public is an enormous privilege and responsibility," Ferguson said in a written statement. "Mr. Orozco's abuse of his authority violated the trust the people of Wapato placed in him. As a result of our case and the Auditor's work, Mr. Orozco is out of office for good."

State Auditor Pat McCarthy described the case as an "appalling disregard for accountability in the city's administration."

The council later reduced Orozco's guaranteed pay, giving the position nine months of severance if he got fired. But he will forfeit that under the settlement.

Orozco did not comment, the Yakima Herald-Republic reported . But Alvarez-Roa — who is also named as a defendant in the attorney general's lawsuit — defended him.

"He made promises to our community and kept them, and more: Remodeled and opened our municipal swimming pool, remodeled and opened our Community Center, lowered utility taxes, fixed our streets and beautified and maintained our cemetery," Alvarez-Roa wrote in a news release. "He accomplished every single promise made to our community members."

Orozco and other city officials remain under an ongoing criminal investigation by the Yakima County Prosecutor's Office and the Yakima County Sheriff's Office, the newspaper reported.