The state Fair Political Practices Commission has provided the missing link explaining how former Hercules City Manager Nelson Oliva lined his pockets with municipal funds.

While running the city from 2007-10, Oliva recommended about $3 million worth of contracts for his former consulting firm, which, for most of his tenure, was officially owned by his daughters.

Oliva claimed he had transferred ownership when he became city manager. In fact, as reporter Tom Lochner revealed in 2011, Oliva never severed his relationship.

Last week, the FPPC revealed that Oliva used company credit cards for $235,000 of purchases, including airline tickets, groceries, meals at restaurants, parking, hotel rooms and car rentals. In other words, he used the firm as a pass-through to divert city funds to himself.

Nelson Oliva looks over the courtyard outside his city hall office in Hercules after taking over as city manager in April 2007. (Sherry LaVars/Staff
Nelson Oliva looks over the courtyard outside his city hall office in Hercules after taking over as city manager in April 2007. (Sherry LaVars/Staff archives)

Which raises the question: Where are Contra Costa County and federal prosecutors? It's time for them to step up, to send a clear message that public corruption will not be tolerated. They've had more than three years to pull together a criminal case.

Meanwhile, the state FPPC on Thursday fined Oliva $70,000 for failing to report the payments from the company, for accepting payments far in excess of the legal limit and for conflict of interest.

Two days earlier, the Hercules City Council announced settlement of its civil suit against Oliva that sought recovery of money siphoned from city coffers. The city avoided costly litigation and probably got as much as it could have hoped for.


Advertisement

Unfortunately, officials oversold the deal as a $3.15 million judgment, a sum the city will only collect if it finds other assets of Oliva or the consulting company. Otherwise, if Oliva lives up to the terms, over the next 10 years he will repay a separate $250,000 loan he owed the city and pay about $432,000 more for his abuses. Out of that, the city must pay its attorney fees.

As long as Oliva makes required monthly payments, he can keep his home and half his long-term disability payments, and he and his wife can keep her income as a teacher.

Given the magnitude of his abuses, the FPPC fine and city lawsuit settlement are slaps on the wrist. The big issue is the criminal case, or lack thereof. Oliva siphoned funds from the city he ran and directed contracts to his family firm. While the scam hasn't drawn attention like the malfeasance in the city of Bell, it's just as repugnant.

We've been hearing about an FBI investigation for years. It's time to file charges and put Oliva on trial.