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FBI arrests former county VIDA program manager

June 08, 2001|By RUDY YNIGUEZ, Staff Writer

SAN DIEGO — A former county employee was arrested Monday and charged with fraud in connection with a Valley of Imperial Development Alliance scandal.

Holtville resident Clark Dale Koerner, 49, was charged with two counts of violation of theft or bribery of federal program funds and 12 counts of false or fraudulent claims against the United States government.

Koerner is alleged to have awarded contracts to construction businesses that were either silently owned by him or owned by his close friends while managing the VIDA's program designed to identify and contract for home renovations for low-income housing residents.

Koerner managed the county program from 1995-98.

In a press release, the FBI states Koerner is thought to have filed numerous false claims with VIDA for construction work not completed. He may have personally received more than $100,000 in payments through the VIDA contracts, it states.

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The issue of problems with VIDA's housing program surfaced in June of 1999, when a series of letters from the Imperial County Planning Department to VIDA's then-director alleged improprieties at VIDA. The problems reportedly involved, among other things, the misspending of grant funds and insufficient work on some 24 homes that were part of the VIDA program.

Koerner is named in the letters, although at the time he said the content of the letters was nothing but lies. Koerner was in charge of the VIDA housing program before he was fired in 1998. It was during his employment that the reported problems occurred in the housing program. The county has never confirmed Koerner was the employee fired over the housing program problems.

When the issue was later investigated by the Imperial County grand jury it was concluded the county did not take sufficient steps to deal with the problems and the report went so far as to recommend that numerous VIDA employees be fired and that certain Auditor's Office employees be reassigned.

On the day the grand jury report was issued in 1999, VIDA's executive director and assistant executive director announced their resignations.

It was initially estimated the misuse of funds could have cost the county up to $1.7 million. Supervisor Wally Leimgruber said today the county ended up paying about $1 million to make whole the homes that had discrepancies stemming from the housing program. He said several sources of money were used to pay for the repairs, including the county's general fund, though he did not know how much came from the general fund.

Supervisors Chairman Tony Tirado, the only other supervisor on the board at the time, could not be reached for comment.

A May 17 warrant for Koerner's arrest followed an indictment handed down by a federal grand jury here. He was booked into the Metropolitan Correctional Center in San Diego after his arrest Monday. His initial appearance in court was Tuesday. The result of that appearance is unknown. Information on his custody status was not available.

Helping in the investigation were the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office of the Inspector General and the Imperial County Planning Department.

Staff Writer Rudy Yniguez can be reached at 337-3440.

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