Two months ago, mystery man SteveRocco won his board seat in the Orange Unified School District (OUSD) without making a single campaign appearance. He was voted into office by a combination of zealous Christian conservatives who felt Rocco would “bring a breath of fresh air” to the school district and thousands of people who chose him as trustee for no apparent reason except he identified himself on the ballot as an “educator.”
It wasn't until his Dec. 9 swearing-in ceremony that Rocco finally unveiled his campaign platform: battling the biggest threat to the education of thousands of Orange, Santa Ana and Villa Park school kids. In his speech, Rocco named that threat: “The Partnership.”
As a visual aid, he distributed copies of a self-produced flier—titled “Hey, Man: You Have to be Afraid”—that exposed the people behind the evil conspiracy. “All the information you need is in here,” Rocco said, pointing at the densely typed flier. “This is an expos, not a manifesto. . . . We're living in a time of secret organizations, corruption and, most of all, dictatorship.”
In that handbill, Rocco warned voters of unspecified “public corruption.” Using the third person, he claimed Steve Rocco's life is in danger.
“He warned the entire OUSD board members [sic] of corruption years ago,” stated Rocco, of Rocco. “Now, all OC residents have become victims of our corruption. Running unopposed—people fear you, man! We'll get him! Rocco has a murder contract out on him/drug dealers, not us, man!”
The flier is decorated with the names and photographs of key players in “The Partnership.” They include former OUSD board president Robert Viviano, current Rancho Santiago Community College District trustee John Hanna, Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido and Orange County Superior Court Judge B. Tam Nomoto Schumann.
Through a secretary, Schumann declined to comment on Rocco, citing judicial ethics. Her reluctance to talk stems from the fact that Schumann presided over Rocco's 1990 trial for shoplifting several rolls of film and a sausage from a Santa Ana supermarket—an episode Rocco covered extensively in his self-published book ROCCO Behind the Orange Curtain: Secret Chronicles N Public Record Accounts of Corruption, Murder N Scandal of Corporate N Political California. In it, he exposed the nefarious conspiracy between Albertsons supermarket, Kodak Co. and SmokeCraft Sausage Co.—a conspiracy Rocco claims led to his ultimate conviction for shoplifting.
“Judge Schumann caused this,” Rocco asserts in his flier. “She fixes cases and gets to hide behind aliases.” As if to prove some sort of subterfuge on Schumann's behalf, Rocco listed several alleged variations of the judge's name: Barbara Christina Tam, Barbara Tam Thompson, Barbara T. Nomoto, B. Tam Nomoto, B.T. Nomoto, Barbara Nomoto, and Barbara Tam Nomoto Schumann.
Another key player in “The Partnership” also refused to talk: Pulido, who defeated Rocco during his 2000 mayoral campaign. But the Weekly did manage to track down Hanna and Viviano, the two public figures most prominent in “The Partnership.” In one photograph on Rocco's flier, the trustees are shown shaking hands above a massive one-word caption: “Conspiracy.”
In an interview with the Weekly, Hanna said he first became aware he was part of “The Partnership” in 2002, when he defeated Rocco in Rancho Santiago's Board of Trustees race.
“He did these fliers and distributed them in areas where he wasn't supposed to be,” Hanna said. “He may have distributed the same flier when he ran against Pulido two years before.”
So what's Hanna's connection to Pulido?
“The senior partner in the law office I was in, Frank Barbaro, gave money to Pulido,” Hanna said. “And I worked for this firm, so there was this connection. I know Pulido. I would say I'm a friend of Pulido's, but I don't know what 'The Partnership' means. I am certainly not involved in any formal or informal connection with Miguel or Tam Nomoto.”
Hanna, who said he's never actually met Rocco, did spot him once riding his bicycle at Santa Ana College, where Rocco has obtained several educational degrees. Hanna said he believes Rocco's grudge against him goes back 20 years.
“[Rocco] asked our law office to represent him in a case,” Hanna said. “We had it reviewed internally, and the person who reviewed it said we should not take it. I agreed, and [Rocco] took umbrage to that. In his writings, he was going after Pulido primarily, but also Judge Tam Nomoto and it may have had something to do with Albertsons.”
Hanna added that the photograph of him shaking hands with Viviano was taken at a 2002 dinner where OUSD and Rancho Santiago trustees met to mediate a conflict over a non-credit program.
“I wanted to get the two boards together,” Hanna said. “I've known Bob off and on for years, but I've had no real association with him.”
Viviano, who in November finished serving as a trustee on the OUSD board, acknowledged shaking hands with Hanna but denied being part of “The Partnership.” He expressed frustration with all the attention Rocco has earned in recent months.
“I wish him good luck,” Viviano said. “If the guy does as much research as I am told he has done in the past, he might be a good influence on the board because we need to have somebody there cutting the cards before they deal. That would be a refreshing event.”
Of course, all this goodwill may have just been an attempt to throw the Weekly off the trail of “The Partnership.”
“Is this going to get me in the newspaper again?” Viviano asked before signing off. “I'm trying to retire, my friend.”
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is Editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).