Baja California: Director of FISAMEX captured on video snorting “white powder”

 Chivis Martinez Borderland Beat   Reforma MexicoNow

“When time comes that these cases
are decided in court, (Governor)Bonilla will be off in La Jolla having a margarita,”…..

Who and What: Manuel García,
director of Fisamex, (auditor) was captured on video consuming a white powder,
presumably a drug, inside a small room.

García does not belong to the
payroll of the State Government, but was hired by the public administration to
determine who owes water in Baja California and to collect, for which his
company obtains 20 percent of the recovered.

In one of the shots of the video
a mug with the legend “Fisamex” is observed on a table; the room of
most of the images, where a camera was hidden, only has a bed and a window.

Some of the clips in the
recording have dates in the upper left, for example, July 11, July 12, and July
13 of this year.


According to what García said in
live broadcasts with Governor Jaime Bonilla, the State Commission of Public
Services of Tijuana (Cespt) has a lag in billing of 2.5 billion pesos.

As of September 9, 2020, the Ministry
of Honesty and the Public Function reported that 1,697 companies had been ruled
throughout the state for water debts and other concepts, for an amount of 3
thousand 772 million 249 thousand 791 pesos.

“Of which one thousand 66
million 143 thousand 618 pesos have been recovered, there is still 2 thousand
706 million 106 thousand 173 pesos to recover,” said Bonilla’s report of
that day.

The Governor also criticized the “robberies” within Cespt.

“All these numbers all do is
confirm what we have known all our lives, there has been not nothing more
inefficiency within the Cespt, but robberies”, he stressed, “here has
been the ‘holy water pile’ of the bandits to come to support all their
campaigns “.

On July 22, 2020, the Secretary
of Honesty and Public Function, Vicenta Espinosa Martínez, highlighted the
efficiency of the private firm Fisamex, which is paid a commission of 20
percent of what was recovered.

According to some former state
officials, Fisamex had already provided services to the government of former
PAN president Francisco Vega de Lamadrid and, previously, was engaged in the
sale of water savers, mainly in Sonora.

Allegations for decades are that
large companies in Baja California were given unfair breaks on their water bill
— sometimes paying nothing — in exchange for political support of the prior
administration under the National Action Party, or PAN.

Baja California businesses and
business groups are accusing the Baja California Governor Jaime Bonilla of
extorting payments for water by threatening to cut off services for alleged
unpaid bills.

Multiple businessmen say his
administration has threatened their businesses with greater enforcement actions
and long-term shut down if those organizations try to defend themselves against
public allegations of theft and corruption.

The state governor insists he’s
trying to clean-up widespread corruption that for years has plagued the state
utility.

Even his critics acknowledge
prior corruption within what is called the CESPT or the Comisión Estatal de
Servicios Públicos de Tijuana (Tijuana Public Services Commission). CESPT’s
substandard water delivery and drainage system frequently causes sewage to
spill across the border onto San Diego beaches.

But some worry about the
governor’s motivation for the high-profile investigation. The businessmen
described similar encounters with the CESPT which they say amounts to
extortion. Most of the meetings happened when the court systems were closed
because of the coronavirus, leaving them with no legal recourse to defend
themselves against the accusations. One company has won an amparo (Federal
Court injuction) protecting them from having to pay.

Some allege the high-profile
investigation is aimed at Bonilla’s political enemies. And they worry that it
could be used to build up his own nest of funds.

Bonilla strongly denies the
allegations, insisting his actions have nothing to do with politics or building
a nest of funds. He says his aim is to clean up the pollution that plagues both
Tijuana and San Diego beaches, resulting from years of underfunding and corruption
within the water agency.

Bonilla commissioned an audit
that alleges former employees of the utility colluded with giant international
corporations – like Coca-Cola and Hyundai –  
to defraud the state out of millions of dollars. Local and international
corporations like Coca-Cola, Hyundai, FedEX, Home Depot and Walmart strongly
deny the accusations.

This is an additional controversy
that Baja California and Mexico do not need, as it comes on the heels of the
Constellation Brands polemic whereby the beer manufacturer’s water use rights
were unilaterally canceled abruptly halting the US$1.6 billion project in
Mexicali, which was already US$900 million invested in construction of the
facility.  

Five businessmen agreed to talk
with BORDERNOW anonymously about the current water controversy process, which
they say amounts to extortion. They agreed to speak under the condition they
would not be named because they said they fear retaliation against their
businesses from the state government for speaking out.

“In our case it was just easier
to pay the new charges than to fight them, but what is going on is not right,”
said a businessman who asked not to be named because he feared retaliation
against his company.

“Why would a multimillion-dollar
company like Coca-Cola risk federal prosecution in both the U.S. and Mexico to
rob $100,000 worth of water?” he asked, using the company as an example even
though he is not affiliated with Coca-Cola.

All five business owners
independently described a similar process and encounters with the CESPT and the
external auditing company FISAMEX, which is collecting 20% of all the money it
recuperates for the state, according to its contract. All owners claimed they
were given very little time to examine the new charges and threatened with a
shut-down if they did not pay immediately.

The businessmen each
independently described being summoned to the office of the CESPT’s deputy
director, Juan Pablo Guerrero Mercado. They said when they and/or their legal
representatives arrived at the meetings they were told they had a debt of
several million pesos detected by an external auditor, FISAMEX. They said they
were told they have only a few days to pay the back charges or their services
will be cut.

“They’re charging for like ten
times the amount of water you used. It’s way too high,” said one businessman
who asked not to be named. “And you have to go wait five to seven hours in line
to pay the bill. We were only consuming 5 cubic meters and they charged us for
fifty.”

The businessmen all claim the
governor and the new state government is implementing a new fee schedule – not
approved by the state constitution – to collect back pay on charges allegedly
not collected up to a decade ago – when the water cost much less per unit.

A few business groups and
attorneys for some of the companies swept up in the audit, as well as
independent political analysts, agreed to speak on the record about their
concerns.

“Here the issue is that what they
are doing is practically extortion because instead of giving the business a
reasonable time for the person to go present and clarify the issue or to
receive the information from the agency, they are simply threatening to close
the supply of both drinking water and residual discharges, and obviously that
is quite a problem, because immediately after this COFEPRIS (an environmental
agency) arrives and closes your business, industrial park or residence,” said
Carlos Higuera EspIritu, the president of the Economic and Industrial
Development of Tijuana (Deitac).

“What they are doing is criminal.
And they want to be the victims?” Bonilla responded to the allegations. “Even
in Mexico, it is illegal to dump toxic material into a water channel. We are
doing the right thing.”

Independent political analyst Dr.
Benedicto Ruíz Vargas, a writer and researcher who studies water issues and
Baja California politics, said corruption within the water agency has been a
well-known fact for decades.

Bonilla’s staunchest critics
belong to the PAN and its candidates are the strongest opponents of MORENA, the
political party of both the governor and nation’s president. Ruíz said
Bonilla’s efforts could be seen as trying to debilitate the PAN before the next
election cycle by probing the acts of previous PAN administrations in the Baja
governorship.

More than 833 companies statewide
have been implicated in the water agency’s billing irregularities.

So far, prosecutors have filed
criminal complaints accusing 129 current and former officials of the water
agency of bribery and conflict of interest.

Baja officials have already
collected $27.3 million of the $34.2 million they say the prior administration
did not collect from companies.

Meanwhile, some companies say
they have or they will take their beef over the audit to the state’s legal
system.

Tijuana attorney Aristeo Montaño
said he has filed a claim as a precursor to a lawsuit against Baja California’s
state-owned water company on behalf of his client, a U.S.-based company accused
of water theft that he declined to name.

He said his legal brief claims
the CESPT is unconstitutionally setting its own water-fee schedule, and that
investigators failed to document the past water use for the new charges.

“They told us we owed 4,400,000
pesos ($195,373) and we had three days to pay,” he said.

The U.S. company was threatened
with a water shutoff that would have caused its operations to come to a
grinding halt during a critical production period and it was never given a
receipt or bill detailing the new charges, Montaño said.

A spokesman for the CESPT
confirmed several U.S. companies had filed claims against the agency about the
retroactive charges, but the spokesman said he could not release copies of the
claims, which should be a public record, because they were in the possession of
FISAMEX, the outside company conducting the audit.

Since Bonilla is only serving a
two-year gubernatorial term, Montaño said he will likely avoid some of the
political and public fallout when the cases make their way through the state
legal system.

“When time comes that these cases
are decided in court, Bonilla will be off in La Jolla [California] having a margarita,”…..

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