After the San Mateo County Community College District filed a lawsuit earlier this year against several construction companies for an alleged “pay-to-play” scheme, Allana Buick & Bers (ABB) has filed a claim alleging intentional economic harm and damage to its reputation.
“False accusations by Board Trustee Richard Holober and SMCCCD employees have resulted in significant damage to the company’s reputation, contractual business relationships, and deprived ABB of substantial property interests,” said an Aug. 8 statement from ABB.
SMCCD filed a lawsuit against five companies in February for “fraud, bribery and kickbacks.” The district alleged that former Chancellor Emeritus Ron Galatolo led the scheme. Galatolo was charged with 21 felonies in April 2022 for misuse of public funds during his time with SMCCD.
ABB is one of five companies that the district sought damages and relief from in the lawsuit, filed in San Mateo County Superior Court. The suit alleged that more than $1 billion of taxpayer money was used to fund construction projects and improvements across the college district’s three campuses, and the bids for those projects were largely pre-determined by Galatolo to benefit the companies named in the suit.
The lawsuit also alleged that Galatolo received benefits, gifts and free construction projects on his own properties in return for awarding contracts to the companies for district projects.
"Defendants knew that the benefits and gifts they gave to Galatolo and other college employees were illegal but made them anyway in order to secure massive construction contracts," the filing stated.
But according to ABB’s claim, these “false accusations” by the district “have resulted in significant damage to the company’s reputation, contractual business relationships, and deprived ABB of substantial property interests.”
ABB CEO Karim Allana called it “a smear campaign, pure and simple.”
The February lawsuit alleges that Galatolo pressured the committee responsible for choosing the winning vendor of a solar project at Cañada College to have ABB come out as the top scorer, even though another company scored higher, according to the filing.
Allana claims that the solar project “was awarded long before I had a personal relationship with Ron Galatolo or with any public official alleged to have acted improperly.”
“It’s impossible for us to have influenced contracts with officials before we had a personal relationship with them, and it’s absurd to allege as much when these officials did not have authority over these contracts,” Allana wrote in the statement.
According to the February lawsuit, Galatolo also allegedly traveled on an international vacation with Allana using district funds while claiming to be on an official business trip. The pair allegedly traveled from Dubai to Bali on the district’s dime, alongside former vice chancellor Jose Nuñez. Nuñez brokered a deal with San Mateo County prosecutors to plead no contest to two felonies for participating in the scheme. Former district administrator, Jing Luan, also allegedly joined for parts of the trip and assisted in the scheme.
The district’s law firm, Cotchett, Pitre & McCarthy LLP, told this news organization in February that the firm will not comment on active litigation and is “committed to conducting all business with the highest level of integrity in alignment with our code of conduct.”