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Press Release

Former Water District General Manager Pleads Guilty to Conspiracy to Commit Water Theft and Separate Tax Charge

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of California

FRESNO, Calif. — Dennis Falaschi, 78, of Aptos, pleaded guilty today to one count of conspiring to take federally owned water and one count of filing a false tax return, U.S. Attorney Phillip A. Talbert announced.

According to court records, from 1992 through approximately April 2015, Falaschi was the general manager for a public water district in Fresno and Merced Counties (PWD) that sold water to farmers with over 38,000 acres of farmland. PWD obtained water that it sold by purchasing water from the federal government and collecting drainage water from farms. The federal water that PWD purchased came from the Delta-Mendota Canal (DMC), which is a federally owned canal operated by the United States Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Reclamation. PWD purchased federal water from the DMC pursuant to a contract that it entered into with the Bureau of Reclamation.

The federal water that PWD purchased from the DMC was fresh water that could be used for farming immediately. The drainage water that PWD collected from farms was high in salt content and toxins, and it needed to be blended down with fresh water before it could be reused.

Falaschi learned that water from the DMC was leaking from an old standpipe into a parallel canal in PWD. The parallel canal was owned by the then-president of PWD’s board of directors. PWD employees subsequently modified the old standpipe so that it would not leak and could be opened and closed. This allowed for water to be taken from the DMC on demand.

The amount of federal water that was illegally taken for which Falaschi was responsible was valued at over $1.5 million but under $3.5 million. Nearly all of that water was taken to blend down and reuse drainage water.

Moreover, according to court records, from 2011 through 2016, Falaschi entered into private water sales where he received payments. The water sold was legitimately sourced from outside PWD and was not federally owned water. Thereafter, in March 2016, Falaschi signed and filed an individual income tax return with the Internal Revenue Service where he did not report the income that he received from the private water sales.

This case is the product of an investigation by the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Office of Inspector General, the IRS Criminal Investigation, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph Barton and Henry Carbajal III are prosecuting the case.

Falaschi is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 16, 2024, before U.S. District Judge Jennifer L. Thurston. Falaschi faces a maximum statutory penalty of five years in prison and $250,000 fine for the conspiracy to commit water theft and three years in prison and $100,000 fine for the tax charge. The actual sentence, however, will be determined at the discretion of the court after consideration of any applicable statutory factors and the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, which take into account a number of variables.

Updated May 28, 2024

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