UPDATE: Judge throws out several charges in case alleging embezzlement by water district officials

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- UPDATE - The judge threw out five of the 10 charges, including both against Atomic Falaschi.

The other two defendants had their exposure significantly reduced as well if the case moves forward.

Original story follows.


New evidence emerged Tuesday of officials accused of using a Valley water district's bank account like their personal piggy banks.

Eighty-six drums of chlorine, used antifreeze, and other hazardous waste turned up on Panoche Water District property in 2017, and the illegally dumped waste created a trail to the district's leadership.

The district makes sure people in western Merced and Fresno counties get water.

But when auditors dug into the books, they found a steady drip of credit card expenses for the administrator's personal items.

"They purchased things from Macy's, JCPenney, Nike, Adidas, concert tickets to Katy Perry, Raiders tickets, A's tickets," said state controller's office auditor Michael Cheng.

He says former general manager Dennis Falaschi racked up more than $21,000 in personal expenses. Former office manager Julie Cascia did it too.

Defense attorneys have indicated this was standard operating procedure long before Falaschi and Cascia's time, and the expenses got paid back.

"Did you find that employees paid (Panoche Water) back for personal expenditures?" a prosecutor asked Cheng.

"Sometimes," the auditor said. "Not consistently."

In one case, Cheng says Dennis Falaschi's debt was paid back, but by a man who got hundreds of thousands of dollars in unreported contracts from the water district.

Investigators say Dennis also essentially gave his son, Atomic, 1500 of the district's pistachio trees.

And employees got interest-free loans from the district that didn't seem like they'd ever get paid back in full.

"It was poorly documented," Cheng said. "We weren't able to obtain any written evidence that these loans were properly approved."

In all, investigators said district employees spent more than $100,000 in public money.

A judge is expected to decide this week whether there's enough evidence for a trial on embezzlement and conspiracy charges against both Falaschis and Cascia.

Two employees have already admitted to illegally dumping hazardous waste.
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