FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) – A hidden gate to transfer water from a federally owned canal into a parallel canal owned by a local water district is what the Department of Justice says was used to steal over $25 million worth of federally owned water.

The unidentified water district served the Fresno County and Merced County communities of Dos Palos, Firebaugh, and Los Banos.

According to the DOJ in a statement released Thursday, 75-year-old Dennis Falaschi of Aptos was made aware in 1992 of an abandoned drain turnout on the Delta-Mendota Canal that leaked water from that canal into a parallel canal. Falaschi was the general manager of the water district that operated the parallel canal. The leak was traced back to a gate and valve that had been cemented closed years earlier – but the cement had since started to crack.

After he had been made aware of the crack causing the leak, federal prosecutors say Falaschi instructed an employee to install a new gate so the site could be opened and closed on demand – and place a lid with a lock on top of it to hide it.

Prosecutors add that Falaschi then instructed employees to use the site to steal federally owned water from the Delta-Mendota Canal on multiple occasions, using the proceeds of the theft to pay himself and others what prosecutors say were “exorbitant salaries, fringe benefits, and personal expense reimbursements.”

DOJ officials say the thefts of federally owned water continued until April 2015, when the site was discovered.

On Thursday, a federal grand jury returned a five-count indictment against Dennis Falaschi. He is being charged with theft of government property, which faces up to 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, and filing false tax returns from 2015 until 2017, failing to declare over $900,000 of income to the IRS from private water sales. He is also facing other federal charges.