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Skullduggery Alleged at Ventura County DA’s

VENTURA, Calif. (CN) - Two former investigators claim the Ventura County District Attorney's Office forced them to resign after they exposed abuses and gross mismanagement in the office, and offered testimony in civil and criminal cases that revealed the abuses.

Mark Volpei and Joseph Cipollini filed separate Superior Court complaints against Ventura County, its District Attorney Gregory Totten, and other employees of the office.

Volpei claims the retaliation included repeated downgrading his job duties, demotions, and constructive termination. He also says that after he suffered a disabling, on-the-job injury, the DA's office refused to engage in a good-faith interactive process to find a reasonable accommodation for him.

Volpei said his problems began in 2001, after a reliable informant told him the ex-girlfriend of a high-ranking official in the District Attorney's Office was providing confidential information to a member of a notorious motorcycle gang, facing felony criminal charges.

"As was his duty, plaintiff Volpei provided the informants' recorded statements to the defendants," the complaint states. But he say his supervisors protested, saying that "the possibly exculpatory information he had documented in two separate reports would not be produced to the attorneys for the criminal defendants."

Also in 2001, Volpei says, he angered his supervisors by testifying to "the unscrupulous behavior on the part of a local law enforcement agency and the defendants in exploiting [a] witness."

Volpei said the retaliation began when he questioned the ethics and possible criminality of these acts.

In 2007, Volpei said, he discovered that several routine but important aspects of an earlier investigation had not been completed by the local police agency in which the case originated. While completing the investigation, he said he learned that the criminal defendant was sexually involved with the highest ranking manager of that agency.

"Despite the implications the reported relationship had on the bearing of the criminal investigation, plaintiff Volpei was ordered by the defendants not to further investigate, discuss or disclose the reported sexual relationship to anyone," the complaint states. "The defendants further ordered plaintiff Volpei not produce his police reports detailing the sexual relationship between the highest ranking officer and the defendant to her defense attorney."

In 2008, Volpei says, he learned that hundreds of elders and disabled people under the conservatorship of the Ventura County Public Guardian's Office had been victimized by misappropriation and mismanagement of personal funds and assets by employees of the agency. He says he also found that the Ventura County Superior Court had failed to monitor case files and failed to insure that required audits had been done.

Again, Volpei says, he was ordered not to document the failures of the county agencies.

"Plaintiff Volpei's internal documents were censored and corrected by the defendants to minimize and exclude information that exposed the magnitude of the thefts and mismanagement of funds," the complaint states. "He was ordered to disregard the overwhelming evidence of mismanagement but to only investigate the lowest level of mismanagement."

Volpei said he would later offer trial testimony about the DA office's improper pre-trail tactics, and testimony in a sexual discrimination lawsuit brought against Ventura County. After each appearance, he said, he was again subjected to prolonged and aggressive retaliation.

Volpei's claim of disability discrimination also arose in 2008, after he sought medical treatment for physically disabling shoulder injuries he suffered over a period of time on the job.

"After his shoulder surgery, plaintiff Volpei sought to return to work as he was aware that other employees with similar disabilities were accommodated," the complaint said. "However, the defendants refused to reasonably accommodate [him.]"

He finally opted for medical retirement in July 2010.

In a separate lawsuit, former investigator Joseph R. Cipollini said he too was subjected to retaliation and harassment after testifying in the sexual harassment lawsuit against Ventura County, and that like Volpei, he was denied reasonable accommodations for disabilities that developed over the course of his work.

"As a result, on March 26, 2010, after suffering through months and months of retaliation, harassment and discrimination, plaintiff Cipollini could no longer tolerate the unbearable working conditions that had been created by the defendants and he was constructively terminated and forced to resign his employment," his complaint states.

Both men seek punitive damages for disability discrimination, failure to engage in a good faith interactive process, failure to provide a reasonable accommodation, unlawful retaliation, failure to prevent discrimination, and other violations.

Volpei is represented by Lanny Tron with Tron & Tron of Westlake Village.

Cipollini is represented by Mark Pachowicz of Camarillo.

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