Hanford

Pair of Hanford lawmakers cleared of bribery allegations

Hanford City Council members Art Brieno and Francisco Ramirez are in the clear from allegations that they took bribes in pursuit of favorable government action by a local businessman. 

The Kings County Sheriff’s Office announced earlier in August that there was no evidence found from the allegations. 

Detectives began their investigation in May after both councilmen were accused of receiving a $400 bribe from Richard Aguilar, who owns the Richard Aguilar and Sons auto repair shop in Hanford.  

According to the Kings County Sheriff’s Office, there had not been a formal complaint filed, but the California Attorney General’s Office did receive an informal letter. 

The letter claimed that Brieno and Ramirez demanded and accepted bribes in July 2020 from Aguilar after his auto shop was facing a shutdown by city code enforcement. 

However, the letter did not lead to an investigation from the California Department of Justice or the Kings County District Attorney’s Office. 

Detectives investigated the auto shop involved in the allegation and did not find any evidence after the business fully cooperated and showed its bookkeeping records. 

The letter also alleged that there was a witness to the bribery, but the alleged witness told detectives that he never witnessed a bribery. 

Brieno and Ramirez’s exoneration is the latest in the controversial events that have surrounded them in their time on the council. 

Brieno is the subject of 16 harassment allegations from former city community development director Darlene Mata. 

In independent investigation commissioned by the city found that 14 of the allegations were supported by evidence. 

Mata filed a government claim for a $1.25 million settlement, but the city chose not to settle. 

That led Mata to file a lawsuit against Hanford and Brieno over the harassment and discrimination allegations. 

She also named Ramirez in the lawsuit for his advocating to lift the censure that had been placed on Brieno last year. 

In May, the Hanford City Council approved an agreement with Visalia-based Farley Law Firm to represent the councilmen.

Daniel Gligich is a reporter for The San Joaquin Valley Sun, focusing on Fresno State Athletics and the southern San Joaquin Valley. Email him at daniel.gligich@sjvsun.com.