Pictured: Attorney Ron Bamieh (left) speaking Tuesday night representing Jeff Barry (right), who was scheduled to give a presentation but chose not to speak under threat of litigation. Photo by Kimberly Rivers. 

by Kimberly Rivers

On Tuesday, Nov. 2, many of those seated in the full house at the Regency Santa Paula 7 movie theater gasped audibly when attorney Ron Bamieh revealed that the presentation scheduled that night would not take place due to his client being threatened with a lawsuit by a Missouri based law firm. 

“Jeff got a letter…threatening him with a lawsuit should he talk about his experience investigating the case…He was fully intending to speak and make a presentation about the truth behind the investigation,” said Bamieh standing at the wooden lectern in front of a bare white screen. “I’ve advised Jeff not to speak.”

Jeff Barry, wearing a dark grey suit, stood off to Bamieh’s left. A tall man, he looks the part of a strong investigator, but that night he was pursing his lips, and slightly swaying side to side, shifting his weight back and forth, obviously upset at being silenced. 

Jeff Barry. Photo submitted.

Barry was slated that night to give a presentation about his personal experience as the lead investigator with the Ventura County District Attorney’s office on the multi-year criminal investigation into the 2014 chemical explosion and fire at Santa Clara Waste Water, a waste disposal facility on Mission Rock Road just outside the city limits of Santa Paula. The investigation led to 71 charges filed against nine SCWW employees and executives. 

The actions of those individuals, who were convicted, were found to have led to injuries sustained from chemical exposure. Some first responders, including two firefighters, were permanently disabled. 

Barry retired from the VCDA in 2018 following an 18-year career in investigations into fraud, human trafficking and financial crimes. He holds a doctorate in management and a master’s degree in business administration focusing on management and organizational leadership. Barry has served as an instructor for the California District Attorney’s Association and is currently working in the private sector as a director of investigations at a publicly traded company. 

Bamieh read the entire letter, interjecting his legal opinion about what it was saying, what it meant, and then responding to claims the letter made. 

“Everything he was going to talk about is publicly out there,” including search warrants, said Bamieh. 

The letter obtained by the Ventura County Reporter (linked below), was addressed to Barry, but initially emailed to an address set up by the Santa Paula Times newspaper for RSVPs for the Nov. 2 presentation. 

Melted plastic chemical storage totes after the spontaneous chemical fires burned out on Nov. 18, 2014 at Santa Clara Waste Water on Mission Rock Road in Santa Paula. Photo from court records.

Dated Oct. 28, 2021, the letter was signed by Greer Lang, a litigator at the Kutak Rock law firm in Kansas City. Lang wrote that the firm represents C3 Capital, an investment firm,  which as stated in the Oct. 28 letter, is the “senior secured creditor” for Santa Clara Waste Water. She alleges that Barry  scheduled the presentation “shortly before” a Nov. 8 public meeting being held by the Ventura County Planning Division about the current application to renew the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) for the wastewater treatment and disposal facility and further accuses him of “using your prior position and presumably information you obtained while acting as an investigator . . . to promote the same.” 

Bamieh countered that accusation saying that Barry had been “invited by the community” to give the presentation several months ago and that he was not involved in planning or scheduling the event. 

The letter continues to criticize Barry’s plans to tell his story, stating “there is no legitimate reason for you to intentionally insert yourself into this process and that your sole reason for doing so is to intentionally interfere with Ri-Nu’s ability to secure a CUP Permit for the Facility and its efforts to re-open and operate the same.”

Ri-Nu Services LLP is the current applicant to reopen the facility. The Ventura County Planning Division is holding a community meeting about the environmental review portion of the application process on Nov. 8, in Santa Paula. 

Lang goes on to refer to the 2019 agreement the VCDA made with the defendants in the criminal case that tied the full restitution payment to victims to the county approving the permits needed to reopen the facility. In fact the VCDA is listed as an “agent” on the deed of trust for the 815 Mission Rock Road property. 

Lisa O. Lyytikainen, chief assistant with the VCDA, confirmed that as an “agent” on the deed the VCDA in effect holds a lien on the property to ensure that the victims receive the compensation they are entitled to, in the event the property is ever sold. 

According to documents online with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, SCWW also must compensate the USEPA for their cleanup response to the incident. An official with the EPA confirmed that SCWW has made an initial payment pursuant to their agreement, and two more payments are scheduled for a total of $111,000. 

The full restitution amount agreed upon between the defendants and the VCDA for the victims is $3,597,621. Some payments have already been made and as of Monday, Nov. 1, the remaining balance owed to victims is $2,633,658, which must be paid within 30 days of Ri-Nu Services obtaining the required permits to reopen the Mission Rock Road facility. 

The “disposition” agreement filed with the court in June 2019 solidifies that arrangement and states that the parties “expressly [ understand ] and agree[d] that the issuance of such permits…and clearances is a condition precedent to the obligation to make payment of the balance of such victim restitution amount.” 

Lyytikainen further explained that while the VCDA did secure the restitution amount during the criminal proceedings and agree to the timeline triggering payment of that amount being tied to the granting of the necessary operating permits for Ri-Nu, “Restitution is a legal obligation regardless of permitting,” she said responding via email to the Ventura County Reporter.  “Corporate defendants Santa Clara Waste Water Company and Green Compass Environmental Solutions were ordered by the court to pay victim restitution on August 23, 2019. Under Penal Code section 1202.4(i), victim restitution is enforceable as a civil judgment in the full amount owed regardless of whether or not a foreclosure occurs on the Mission Rock Road site.”

So in the event that the permits are not granted the judgement for restitution still stands as an enforceable order of the court. The question now becomes, who enforces the order. 

If the permits are granted, then pursuant to the disposition agreement the VCDA would enforce the restitution payment timeline which would require the full $2.6 million to be paid within 30 days of the permits being granted. 

C3 Capital reports on its website that it has $500 million in invested capital. 

However, Dominic Kardum, supervising deputy district attorney with the VCDA confirmed that in the event that the permits are not granted, then the victims must enforce the civil judgement for restitution. 

“No, the VCDA would not enforce the judgment in that scenario,” Kardum replied via email. 

This effectively leaves the victims on their own, to hire their own attorneys, to try and recover the remaining amounts they are due. 

On Tuesday night Bamieh challenged the notion in the letter that Barry was somehow required to ask the VCDA for permission to speak. “I find that interesting.” He explained that he also formerly worked for the VCDA, from 1992-2002. “I have not sought their permission to speak here tonight. Do you know why? It’s called the First Amendment, you don’t have to ask permission,” to speak. Bamieh did encourage the crowd to call Lang and ask why their clients want to keep Barry from speaking. “Who decided it was a good idea to threaten Jeff Barry?…What are you so scared of?” He answered a few questions from the crowd, some of whom said they would be going to the Nov. 8 meeting to ask the county why a full Environmental Impact Report was not being conducted.  

Lang’s letter concludes, “You need to be extremely careful with regard to what you do, say and disclose…Although you had certain protections while acting on behalf of the District Attorney’s office in your official capacity, as a private citizen, those protections are gone…You are hereby advised that our clients and those harmed by your actions will take all actions necessary and appropriate to protect their interests to the maximum extent permissible under the law.” The letter concludes with,  “Govern yourself accordingly.”

Bamieh said to the crowd,  “How you respond to this is up to you…the truth doesn’t seem to hurt many people who are looking for justice.” 

Resources and information. Scroll down further for links to previous reporting from the Ventura County Reporter on the explosion, fires, investigation and convictions : 

  1. Click to read the Oct. 28 letter from Greer Lang of Kutak Rock law firm to Jeff Barry: 2021.10.28 Letter to Jeff Barry Oct 28 from Kutak Rock
  2. The disposition agreement filed with the Ventura County Superior Court in June 2019 between the Ventura County District Attorney and defendants: SCWW Disposition Statement June 2019.
  3. Deed of Trust for Santa Clara Waste Water property on Mission Rock Road: Recorded copy of Assignment of deed for SCWW Mission Rock Road June 2019.
  4. The Ventura County Planning Department’s page for the Ri-Nu Services LLC application, with information on the Nov. 8 community meeting in Santa Paula is online at: https://vcrma.org/ri-nu-wastewater-treatment-facility.
  5. Information on the involvement of the USEPA is online at: https://response.epa.gov/site/site_profile.aspx?site_id=9634 
  6. KADY TV video of Ron Bamieh speaking to the theater audience on Nov. 2: