By Emily Mibach
Daily Post Staff Writer
The three-college San Mateo County Community College District has filed a lawsuit against five construction firms it says participated in an alleged “pay to play” scheme where former Chancellor Ron Galatolo received lavish vacations and trips and in return gave the firms expensive contracts paid for by a $1 billion in bonds approved at the ballot box.
The lawsuit lays out ways that Galatolo misused his post as chancellor to get the district to foot the bill for various trips and would exert pressure on district employees to influence who contracts would go to.
For instance, firm Allana Buick & Bers was granted a bid to install solar panels at Canada College in Redwood City, even though another firm should have gotten the contract. Questions have since arisen about whether AB&B was best suited to install the panels. But, Galatolo has a friendship with Karim Allana, and a few years after the solar panels were installed, the two went on a trip to Dubai, Nepal, Pakistan, Singapore and Indonesia, the lawsuit claims. The district paid for Galatolo’s portion of the trip, the lawsuit says.
The district in its suit says it is suing the five firms in order to claw back some of the money the district lost due to Galatolo’s alleged misdeeds.
The five firms named are Allana Buick & Bers, McCarthy Building Companies, Bunton, Clifford & Associates, Robert A. Bothman Inc. and Blach Construction Company. All were major contractors who helped renovate the district’s three colleges – College of San Mateo, Skyline in San Bruno and Canada in Redwood City – during Galatolo’s time as chancellor.
The Post reached out to all of the firms and Stephen Pahl, who not only has previously talked to the Post as Allana Buick & Bers’ attorney but is mentioned in the lawsuit as a co-conspirator of Galatolo’s. Only a representative from McCarthy responded, saying the company is “committed to conducting all business with the highest level of integrity in alignment with our Code of Conduct. We are not able to specifically comment on active litigation.” The lawsuit says that Pahl represented Galatolo “in connection with a dispute with the” district. The suit says Galatolo and Pahl allegedly “hatched a scheme” for Pahl’s representation to be paid for by the district.
Previously, Pahl told the Post that the DA’s Office asked AB&B for information related to proposals and met with some employees. AB&B has worked with the college district for well over 20 years, Pahl said. He said that AB&B was never aware of anything inappropriate going on at the district.
When asked if AB & B gave Galatolo, Nunez, or anyone else at the district gifts, Pahl told the Post in December 2021 they didn’t receive anything more than the standard gifts the company sends out at Christmastime to its clients. That year’s gift was a bottle of wine.
The DA’s Office searched Pahl’s firm, to which Galatolo’s defense attorney, Chuck Smith, objected. As a result, Galatolo’s criminal case, where he has been charged with multiple counts of 21 felonies related to perjury and misappropriation of public funds, has been held up while Smith and attorney John Halley fight a special master’s decision to release the records to the DA’s office. The decision is currently being appealed to the state Court of Appeals. The special master was appointed by a judge and is a neutral party to sort through the seized material to determine what can and cannot be used in a court trial.