Tommy Jones, a former Los Banos mayor recently charged with bribing public officials in his capacity as a member of the city’s school board, now is considered a fugitive, the Merced County District Attorney’s Office said Tuesday.
Jones, 68, was charged Monday with two counts of bribery in connection with allegedly paying off another member of the Los Banos Unified School District to secure a vote on a controversial expansion project at Mercey Springs Elementary. Jones spoke with investigators on Monday, but declined to meet with them in person, District Attorney Larry Morse II said.
The Sun-Star reached Jones by telephone Tuesday morning. He said he and his attorney, Kevin Little, have a meeting scheduled Wednesday afternoon with investigators at the Merced County District Attorney’s Office, where he presumably would surrender to authorities.
That meeting, however, was news to the District Attorney’s Office.
“Nobody knows anything about that meeting,” lead investigator Anna Hazel told the Sun-Star. “We all are of the same opinion that he’s a fugitive.”
Jones referred questions to his attorney.
“I don’t know why they don’t know about it,” Jones said. “That’s what my attorney told me and that’s all I know.”
Hazel said investigators do not know Jones’ whereabouts.
“If we knew where he was, we’d be there right now,” Hazel said.
I was pretty insulted that they’d think I was up for sale.
Dominic Falasco, speaking about his role uncovering alleged public corruption in Los Banos
Jones’ status as a fugitive comes a day after his alleged co-conspirator, construction manager Greg Opinski, was arrested on bribery charges in the same case.
Opinski has not responded to telephone messages seeking comment.
According to the District Attorney’s Office, Opinski and Jones paid Trustee Dominic Falasco to vote on July 26 in favor of awarding the $541,000 construction contract to Opinski’s company. Falasco, however, was cooperating with investigators and recorded “more than 10” conversations over about 10 months between himself, Jones and Opinski.
Prosecutors on Monday said Opinski has been charged with four counts of bribery of a public official and one count of aiding and abetting a conflict of interest with a public official. If convicted, Opinski faces a maximum of seven years in state prison. Jones was charged with two counts of bribery and faces up to five years in prison, if convicted.
Speaking with the Sun-Star on Tuesday, Falasco said he was relieved the “cloak and dagger” portion of the case has ended.
“It’s been very stressful. My family didn’t have any idea what was going on and, of course, I couldn’t talk about it with anybody,” Falasco said. “It’s a very uncomfortable situation that I wish I hadn’t been put into, but I knew I had a duty to do the right thing and protect the kids of Los Banos.”
Morse has credited Falasco with coming forward and exposing the alleged bribery.
“We absolutely could not have uncovered these allegations of corruption without him and the people of Los Banos owe Mr. Falasco a genuine debt of gratitude,” Morse said Monday.
Falasco said he was first approached by Jones late last year and felt “outraged when I realized what was going on.”
“I was pretty insulted that they’d think I was up for sale,” Falasco said. “And I was saddened too, because I’d always thought of Tommy Jones as a friend and I was outraged he’d think I would do that, outraged that he’d put me in that position.”
Falasco’s full interview will be published online later today or you can read it in Wednesday’s edition of the Merced Sun-Star.