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Travel plaza sues Lathrop; alleges fraud
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He threatened it at a Lathrop City Council meeting almost two months ago.

And now Darwinder Dhoot – the owner of Joe’s Travel Plaza – has made good on his promise to sue the City of Lathrop for what he claims was an orchestrated attempt to defraud the public in the run up to the 2012 election so that the one-cent sales tax increase initiative Measure C could pass without incident.

Despite never so much as sending a representative to the dozen-plus meetings that were held before the matter went to the voters in November of 2012, Dhoot has become the face of what he says is a consortium of small business owners that are getting crushed by the fact that people have to shell out an extra penny out of every dollar that they spend.

On Oct. 28 Dhoot filed a suit in San Joaquin County Superior Court that named the City of Lathrop and Mayor Sonny Dhaliwal as defendants for perpetuating, as he sees it, a massive fraud on the people of Lathrop based on faulty information.

“’Mayor Dhaliwal’ and ‘City Manager Salvator (Sic)’ were aware of excessive and wasteful city spending and thus crafted a new measure to increase a 1 percent business sales tax (Measure “C”),” read a section of the lawsuit. ‘Mayor Dhaliwal,’ ‘City Manager Salvator (Sic)’ and representative from the Fire Department Chief Officer ‘Gene Neely’, along with several other powerful individuals, both within and outside the City of Lathrop, have conspired to effectuate the Defendants claim to eliminate ‘Dhoot’ from conducting any business in the City of Lathrop by imposing the 1 percent sales tax increase – ‘Measure C’ – by targeting ‘Dhoot’ by threats and making it difficult for ‘Dhoot’ to stay in business for the City of Lathrop. Further, on or about January 24 of 2012, Dhoot felt that he had no choice but to file a petition for a Writ of Mandate against the ‘City of Lathrop’, by and through its City Council, filed in the county of San Joaquin, Case No: 39-2012-00275411, to challenge the ‘City of Lathrop’ in which they violated one of the key precepts of the California Environmental Quality Act (hereinafter referred to as ‘CEQA’).”

Inside of the 22-page summons that was filed, Dhoot’s attorney brings up Dhaliwal’s much publicized brush with the California Fair Political Practices Commission which had little to do with the matter at hand, and uses the City of Lathrop’s 2011 capital facility fee outlay and statement of net assets as the smoking gun that showed that Lathrop had more than enough money in their bank accounts to get by without the sales tax increase.

The only problem is that municipal financing is much, much more complex than that.

The city’s statement of net assets shows not just the money that comes into restricted funds – funds like the water department kitty that can only be used to make repairs or upgrades to the existing water system – but also the buildings and the equipment and everything else that a municipality has.

And at the time that the tax increase passed, the City was sitting on just under $7 million in general fund reserves while the Lathrop-Manteca Firefighters were virtually broke – facing a loan repayment to the city that helped keep them afloat when they were hardest hit and the discontinuation of a grant that gave them the numbers they needed.

The handshake agreement between the City of Lathrop and the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department was good for 40 percent of the money that came in as long as its expenditure was approved by a civilian oversight committee.

The lawsuit, however, claims that members of the council and city staff actively defrauded the public by disseminating dishonest information.

“They were well aware that they city was sitting on enough total net assets to afford safety for the citizens of Lathrop,” it says. “Council member defendants approved Measure C and intended to take more money from the citizens of Lathrop for misleading agendas.

“Additionally, the alleged factual basis and purported justification for Measure C was false. The factual justification for introducing Measure C was not to provide a safer Lathrop for the residents, but was justified by the city council along with Mayor Dhaliwal to gain votes and aimed towards personal agendas.”

More than 77 percent of Lathrop voters approved Measure C when it was on the ballot before them. Since then that money has been used to hire back firefighters and police officers that were cut when the housing crisis decimated Lathrop’s city budget.