D.A. orders preliminary investigation of IID and ZGlobal

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EL CENTRO – A yearlong investigation by Palm Spring’s major newspaper on the relationship between the Imperial Irrigation District, their electric energy consultant, ZGlobal, its owner, Ziad Alaywan, and the energy related companies doing business with the IID has led to a preliminary investigation by the Imperial County district attorney’s office.

According to Imperial County District Attorney Gilbert Otero, the main instigation for the legal investigation was a person walking into the office and filing a formal complaint directing the office towards the Desert Sun’s series on the financial dealings between the energy concerns. Once the County considered the newspaper’s articles by Sammy Roth detailing ZGlobal’s connections between the IID and solar developers, Otero said his office assigned attorneys to look into the matter.

The interconnections also dealt with energy management within the IID. In 2013, Carl Stills was named energy manager for the IID. According to articles by The Desert Review’s investigative reporter, Gary Redfern, by December of 2015, IID’s General Manager Kevin Kelley had brought in a former ZGlobal consultant named Vicken Kasarjian. Kasarjian first worked with Stills as co-manager, then as sole manager for the District. Also in the shakeup, Paul Peschel, a thirty-year IID engineer was fired, along with several other top energy management positions which were replaced by ZGlobal consultants.

Peschel subsequently filed a claim against the IID alleging age discrimination and whistle blower status in June of 2016, according to Redfern’s reporting.

in a March 2016 article, Redfern uncovered that IID could possibly owe ZGlobal for $9 million in unbid work and fill key spots in the IID energy departments. Kasarjian told the Desert Review’s reporter concerning the noncompetitive bids, that ZGlobal was uniquely qualified due to past work with the IID.

Desert Sun began its three-part series outlining the battery storage contract between a former IID board member, Mike Abatti, and the IID. The battery storage facility was promised by the IID to federal regulators after a major blackout. The $35 million battery contract was won by Abatti’s company, Coachella Energy Storage Partners (CESP) after cheaper bids were disqualified for not having a certain contractor’s license, which the Desert Sun claimed CESP did not have either.

In the article, Desert Sun raised the question if the IID violated California’s public contract code which watches over contract solicitations when public funds are used.

Jesse Montayo, a former IID employee now running ZGlobal’s Imperial Valley office, defended the battery operation in the article, telling the Desert Sun the storage facility has benefitted the Valley during times of peak usage during the hottest days.

“Right now, this is a preliminary investigation to find out if any laws or regulations have been broken. We are looking into several areas. Everyone is agreeing to comply with our requests for information,” District Attorney Otero told the Desert Review.

Otero was quoted in the Desert Sun that Deputy District Attorney Deborah Owen is purposely kept off the case as her brother-in-law was one of the investigative subjects.