More victims come forward accusing San Bernardino City Mayor John Valdivia of sexual abuse, hostile workplace

Courtesy photo:  Three of the four new accusers shared their experiences on Thursday, Feb. 27, joined by the two victims who broke their silence three weeks prior. From left: city commissioner Alissa Payne, Field Representative for the mayor Don Smith, and recently terminated city employee Jackie Aboud.

Four new victims have come forward alleging sexual harassment and hostile workplace by San Bernardino City Mayor John Valdivia; three of them shared their experiences during a press conference in front of City Hall on Thursday, Feb. 27, three weeks after former city employees Karen Cervantes and Mirna Cisneros broke their silence.

According to attorney Tristan Pelayes who is representing all six victims, there have been over a dozen individuals – elected officials, community members, current and former employees of the mayor – who have come forward over the past two weeks as witnesses and victims of the mayor’s alleged unethical behavior.

“Through this a distinct pattern has become evident, a predatory pattern by Mayor John Valdivia was seeking out young women, people who are vulnerable, experiencing hardships, or just starting their careers in government,” indicated Pelayes. “This pattern consists of sexually inappropriate behavior, manipulation through bullying and verbal abuse and quid pro quo by promising promotions and career advancement opportunities; it extends beyond just females.”

Two of Valdivia’s accusers are male – Don Smith, current field representative to the mayor, and an unnamed accuser.

Pelayes underscored Smith’s bravery in coming forward while still a subordinate of Valdivia, who Smith accuses of mental and verbal abuse over the past year-and-a-half in the form of threats to his job security if he refused to abide by his requests to work for uncompensated overtime, calls to work on scheduled days off, sometimes 10 – 12-hour shifts without a break, and requiring him to run personal errands such as servicing the mayor’s car during city hours.

According to Smith, a struggling part-time employee who can’t afford to lose his job, Valdivia was upset when he took time off when his grandmother died, reprimanding, “I don’t give a f*** when someone in your family dies, you need to be at work.” 

“I’m scared of what the mayor will do, but I cannot let him continue on his path of destruction and victimization,” said Smith who struggled a few times to maintain his composure. “I took this job and endured the abuse because I wanted so badly to make a difference. I owe it to the people of San Bernardino. We must hold him accountable.”

Another victim, Alissa Payne, a single mother and current commissioner for the city, shared how she was subjected to inappropriate conduct, manipulation and predatory behavior by the mayor who went as far as to offer her an apartment. She described an incident when the mayor allegedly tried to get her intoxicated during an evening event, repeatedly putting his arm around her lower back, and pulled her in for an unwanted hug. Payne added that he would direct her how to vote during commission meetings, asked to spend time alone after meetings, and guaranteed her a seat on the dais representing the 2nd Ward.

“What made it harder to come forward and the abuse harder to endure was the fact that council members were aware and enabled his behavior,” Payne said, alleging that on more than one occasion Council person Sandra Ibarra told her the mayor liked her because she was pretty and young, and all she had to do was “sit there and look pretty.” Payne alleged Ibarra told her that Valdivia had been watching her for some time before asking the council person to encourage her to apply for a seat on a commission.

“The mayor was preying on me, and Sandra and the others (council members) not only knew about it but encouraged it. I was hurt that a fellow female who was supposed to be a leader would sexualize me to nothing more than my looks and my body,” Payne remarked. “As a single mom I’m afraid of retaliation and coming out against the mayor and the city council, but I know in my heart how little they made me feel, and what they did was wrong.”

The second victim to come forward over the past two weeks, Jackie Aboud, was a field representative for Valdivia who was fired on January 6, 2020 after not giving in to the mayor’s demands to invest more time into building a personal friendship with him after hours. She began to share her concerns with a Human Resources employee starting in July of 2019 (and again when she was terminated) but was never contacted for an investigation and nothing was done. She was cautioned about coming forward because he was an elected official and they said they couldn’t do anything to control him.

“He told me I needed to spend time with him after hours and invest in a friendship with him if I wanted to reach my career goals. He also told me that my job was not to serve the community which I really love, but to be serving him and his personal needs,” Aboud alleged. “(Valdivia) doesn’t care about the community, he only cares about certain areas that supported him on his election and ordered me not to partner with parts of the community that didn’t support him.”

Courtesy photo: Valdivia supporters chanted, “Hell no, the mayor won’t go,” prior to the press conference.

According to Pelayes, he only learned recently that the city opted to hire its own investigator rather than to work collaboratively with his office to hire an independent investigator to ensure a fair and impartial investigation, which Pelayes states will not only delay the case, but will cost the city significantly more money.  

“We have received additional information regarding Illegal campaign activities and quid pro quo with businesses and developers who contributed to his campaign. Due to the nature of those allegations we are cooperating with law enforcement in the investigation,” The agency is the San Bernardino County District Attorney’s Office.

“I want to thank each and every one of you for your bravery and for coming out,” a community member addressed the victims. “I want you to know that we stand behind you, that we believe in you, and San Bernardino deserves better – thank you!” at which time community members bellowed at Valdivia supporters, “Shame on you! Shame on you!”