Fed indictment alleges district manager stole $25 million worth of water

Cropped photo of the Delta Mendota Canal by flickr user Dave Park under CC license https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

published on April 15, 2022 – 07:52
Written by the staff of The Business Journal

A federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment Thursday against Dennis Falaschi, 75, charging him with conspiracy, theft of government property and filing false tax returns, the prosecutor said. American Phillip A. Talbert.

According to court documents, Falaschi — currently a resident of Aptos, Calif. — was the chief executive of the Panoche Water District in Fresno and Merced counties near the communities of Dos Palos, Firebaugh and Los Banos. He allegedly exploited a leak in the Delta-Mendota Canal and devised a way to steal more than $25 million in federally owned water.

According to court documents, in 1992 Falaschi was told that an old abandoned drain turnout near mileposts 94.57 and 94.58 on the Delta-Mendota Canal was leaking water from the Delta-Mendota Canal into a canal. parallel controlled by the water district. The drain was connected to a standpipe on the bank of the Delta-Mendota Canal which used a gate and gate to redirect water from the Delta-Mendota Canal to the water district canal. The door had been cemented closed years earlier, but had since cracked, allowing water to pass through.

After that, authorities say Falaschi had an employee install a new door inside the fire hydrant so the site could be opened and closed on demand. Later, he allegedly had the employee install a lid with a lock on top of the riser and an elbow pipe about two feet from the riser valve that angled 90 degrees into the water district canal. The cover hid the theft as it prevented people from seeing that the door inside the standpipe was working. The bent pipe further concealed and accelerated the theft because it enclosed the water flow of the Delta-Mendota Canal within the Water District Canal and was installed in such a way that it was generally submerged under water.

Falaschi then had employees use the site to steal federal water from the Delta-Mendota Canal on several occasions until the site was discovered in April 2015. He used the proceeds of the theft to pay himself, and others, exorbitant salaries, social and personal benefits. expense reimbursements, according to court documents.

Additionally, Falaschi is accused of filing false tax returns from 2015 to 2017. According to court records, he failed to report to the Internal Revenue Service more than $900,000 in income from the sale of private water.

The case is the product of an investigation by the Office of Inspector General of the United States Department of the Interior, the IRS-Criminal Investigation and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorney Joseph Barton is prosecuting the case.

If convicted of stealing government property, Falaschi faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of conspiracy, he faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. If convicted of the tax charges, he faces a maximum sentence of three years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000. Any sentence, however, would be determined at the discretion of the court.

Daniel E. Murphy