Fairgrounds Sale Struggle ends with whimper and adoption of new policies.


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“ENOUGH ALREADY!  This Fair Sale Review Committee has done great work, but we can’t go any farther without subpoena power which we don’t have.  I move that we pack up everything we have into a big box and bring it over to the DA and ask him to take over from there, and then get on with putting on this summer’s Fair.

“Reggie [Mundekis], I love you and you have done incredible investigative work here, but STOP DREAMING about getting these ‘boxes of documents’ from LSA, from CCA, from Nossaman and Ackerman, from Fuller, from Platinum Advisers.  YOU ARE NOT GOING TO GET THEM, without subpoena power.  These are CRIMINAL matters we’re talking about here, and they know it.  I’m sure they ALL have criminal attorneys by now who are telling them NOT to co-operate with us.  And Dick Ackerman is the most vulnerable of all.

“I know how little faith you all have in our DA.  He’s fine going after violent crimes or crimes against property, but when it comes to political corruption like this, not so much.  But you know what, elections have consequences, and maybe you’re all just going to have to remember this next time you’re able to vote for DA.  Maybe we need a new one.

“But we have done all we can on this, on looking at what happened with the attempted sale.  We’ve been putting like 80% of our time into it, and we’ve gotta move on now.   We have a Fair to put on.”

Thus spake the Lion of the Fair Board, the Warrior Nick Berardino, or words to that effect, and many, many, many more words in fact.

And thus died (in all probability) our chances of finding out any more and seeing any justice – even a healthy fine and some public embarrassment – for the men who attempted and nearly succeeded, through secretive and illegal means, in pulling off the biggest land heist in OC history.

And thus ended, also, the hopes of the Fair Board’s other stalwart warrior, Stan Tkaczyk, to conduct an independent “forensic audit” into the matter, and to attempt to retrieve the tens of thousands of public funds that were secretly misdirected in the quest to further The Great Fairgrounds Swindle in 2009.

This last brings up…

Two Priceless Dave Ellis Moments (from the Feb. 28, 2013 meeting)

Here’s a moment near the beginning of the meeting that I think went mostly unnoticed (Norberto wasn’t even there yet, for one thing.)  It was during public comments, and set off by something Reggie said about the $45,000 in public money paid to consultant Richard Fuller (through Ellis’ usual money-laundering mechanisms) for an appraisal of the property that either never happened or is still being hidden.  Discussion, growing in righteous outrage, ensued among the voluble male board members, with the exception of Ellis who sat silently.

This was public money, the public trust!  We need to either see the work product, or get back the public’s $45,000!  In fact, this was a matter of principle, they began to contend.  Even if it costs us $70,000 in legal fees to get back that $45,000 it’s still the right thing to do, opined Director Mouet.  Added Director Jahangiri,  no offense to our fine but pricey Manatt-Phelps attorney, but this might be something we should contract out to a less-expensive lawyer.  Finally, when it looked like this lawsuit against Fuller was on the verge of actually possibly happening, Ellis broke his silence:

“It seems to be my half-recollection, that, we wanted to know how much the property was worth, and started the ball rolling on that appraisal, but then the Governor [Schwarzenegger] came out with the figure of $100 million for the starting point of an auction, and then it no longer seemed important to have our own figure.”  Hm.  This may or may not be the way it happened, but at least it sounded plausible, and the talk of suing Fuller subsided.

BUT – the way Dave waited till the very last minute to say that, when he could have said it ten or twenty minutes (or months) earlier, got ME wondering at least, What would have come out about Dave if we’d have sued Fuller?

***

The second priceless Ellis moment was much, much later.  After sitting and nursing his bile for several hours, he hauled out the Big Stupid Guns:  Why did the Fair Sale Review Committee only investigate up to late 2009, with the demise of Ellis’ “Foundation?”  What about what happened in 2010 – what about the formation of “American Fairs and Festivals?”  Obviously Jeff Teller and Theresa Sears are just as sneaky and greedy as Dave – they wanted to buy the Fairgrounds just like he did!  And what the hell was Theresa doing on the Review Committee investigating Dave when she’s no better than him? And HEY – WHOSE PAYROLL IS THERESA SEARS SECRETLY ON ANYWAY?

Nick was too busy trying to be conciliatory and even-handed at that point to respond properly, and nobody else did either, so allow me:  The difference between Ellis’ Foundation and American Fairs isn’t one of quality or degree, but one of night and day;  just like the difference between July 2009 and April 2010.  There would have been no danger of a Fairgrounds sale if Dave hadn’t formed the Foundation and secretly lobbied to pass ABx4-22 in July 2009.  (The formulation I always used was “Ellis’ Foundation shook the tree, and the fruit fell, but it did not fall into their hands.”)  Nine months later it was obvious Governor Schwarzenegger was intent on selling the Fairgrounds no matter what;  the cash-strapped city of Costa Mesa was desperately looking for a partner/financier so that the property wouldn’t fall into the hands of unprincipled developers like Facilities Management West;  Teller and other locals who cared about the Fairgrounds as a local cultural treasure quickly formed AFF in a valiant attempt to fill that need but were outmaneuvered;  they deserve our THANKS for their noble effort.

Theresa, snowbound in Vermont last week with Debbie Cook, responds by phone:  “That weasel would never have said that in front of me.”

Those Policy Changes

I’ll go through this briefly before it puts you to sleep, but hey, these policy changes are our victory spoils such as they are, and hence must be cherished.  Of nine recommendations made by the Review Committee to make similar abuses a little more difficult in the future, eight were adopted – all but the Forensic Audit, which would have meant more money and time spent on this issue by the Board.

These changes are mainly a reaction to the way Dave had accomplished most of his mischief – in a secretive two-person “subcommittee” with the easily manipulated Kristina Dodge, and the enthusiastic co-operation of Fair CEO Steve Beazley.  New and re-inforced policies will now dictate better “training” in relevant laws and ethics issues; closer Board oversight of JPA expenses, lobbying contracts and “warrants;” placing any future two-member subcommittees under the same open government rules as other subcommittees;  and lowering the CEO’s signing authority from the outrageous $200K to the still-high $50K.  (Of course, had the miscreants cared about such rules they wouldn’t have done what they did, but at least the rules are a little CLEARER and stricter now.)

Interestingly, the recommendation that Ellis supported most enthusiastically was to “work towards repealing” ABx4-22, the legislation authorizing the sale, which is still on the books even though Governor Brown has called off the actual sale.  I say “interestingly,” because that law probably would never have passed without Ellis sending up lobbyists Ackerman and Platinum to make sure it passed.  But still Dave’s right now – as long as that law is sitting on the books, there’s always the danger that some future covetous governor or some future Dave Ellis (perhaps now still in infancy) could drag us through the whole mess again when we’re least expecting it.

As I said, the forensic audit was the only recommendation that didn’t pass … because presumably when we hand all this material off to the D.A., HE will have a forensic audit done.

Yeah, right…

…and T-Rack’s Long Reign of Indifference Grinds On.

Innocent people have been inquiring, in comments threads and also the real world, why we don’t just ask the California AG, Kamala Harris, to step in.  I hear you.  I wasted my whole three-minute speech suggesting that too;  someone should have interrupted me.  Turns out it’s already been established that the California AG has a conflict, due to the fact that the AG’s girl was representing the Board back when they did their mischief.  Yes, it’s still a conflict even though that woman advised Ellis and his colleagues against what they were doing and they stubbornly ignored and defied her advice,  and it’s still a conflict even though shortly thereafter she withdrew her services.  We are stuck with T-Rack.

Our do-nothing D.A., with his deputy and reported hand-picked successor Susan Kang Schroder.

NOW. 

If you are a political insider in the County, even a well-connected promising Republican politician, and you commit a crime, our district attorney Tony Rackauckas WILL go after you … but ONLY if you lure WAY too many unsuspecting young female underlings into your office, for way too many years, tell them the door is locked and the room is soundproofed, and jerk off in their faces.  If you do that, I’m sorry, sir.  You have gone TOO far, and there’s just nothing old T-Rack can do for you.

OR.

If you are a policeman in Orange County, our righteous D. A. WILL go after you for abuse – but only if you and your buddies beat a small defenseless homeless white man to death with taser blows to the face, AND the whole thing gets caught on videotape.  If you do all that, then, I’m sorry, sir.  You have gone TOO far, and there’s just nothing old T-Rack can do for you.

Short of all that, if you’re a political insider or a cop, even if Tony is absolutely FORCED to investigate you, you’re home free, it’ll be “nothing to see here.”  It’s not just a Republican thing either – Tony would never shine a bright light on such well-connected Democratic politicians as Miguel Pulido, Larry Agran, Tom Daly, or Jordan Brandman.

On the other hand this is the DA who:

  • through over-charging, trying a 16-year-old as an adult, manufacturing gang ties and fabricating a “criminal record” (out of sidewalk chalking and going along on a joy ride), managed to get Buena Park teenager Jesus Aguirre a LIFE SENTENCE at PELICAN BAY for being peripherally involved with a “murder” that NEVER EVEN HAPPENED;
  • has tirelessly persecuted Muslim student activists the Irvine Eleven, for daring to interrupt a UCI speech by an Israeli politician;
  • is still going Javert-like at OJ blogger Debbie Tharp for “trespassing”  when she was gathering signatures for a medical marijuana petition;
  • throws the book at no-name politicians who have their signs up the wrong way – as recently in Costa Mesa.

Ackerman drinking at a journalist.

Meanwhile, look at Dick and Dave!

  • Three years after illegally lobbying for the Fairgrounds to be sold, illegally backdating his contract and knowingly being paid with laundered money, career politician Dick Ackerman is considered a frontrunner to be appointed to Tom Daly’s old Clerk-Recorder position.
  • And Dave Ellis, who set all this criminality in motion and sarcastically refers to his actions as “crimes against humanity,” is busy creepily stalking Anaheim citizen activist Cynthia Ward, for God knows what purpose or on whose dime, demanding every document that the City Hall can provide on her.

What better illustration of Anacharsis’ cynical dictum that “Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful will easily break through them!”

Maybe I shouldn’t be so defeatist about this;  Theresa was more upbeat when she spoke with the Daily Pilot, and she’ll probably scold me:

This time, she said, after news of Bell and exposed political corruption elsewhere, there may be more “pressure to actually do it right.”

“Hopefully, a young D.A. will get in there, sink their teeth into it, not be politically connected and do the right thing,” Sears said.

It’s just that I’ve personally been through this before, in what may be a little-remembered episode from January 2012.  Back then, I was hanging out with Tony Bushala, and we were remembering the Feccia Whitewash a year before that. (Bill Feccia is the “investigator” T-Rack assigned to the case.)  And we were remembering how Feccia didn’t interview any lawmakers or anyone else who might have said anything critical or illuminating, and apparently made no effort to uncover documents that we citizens found pretty easily.  And we were remembering how after that whitewash, Deputy DA Schroeder told the Voice of OC that if anyone had any more evidence they should bring it to her and they’d look into it.

And Tony (who for his own reasons wanted to rattle Ackerman’s cage at the time) said, “Why don’t you take S-Kang up on that offer, get together all that other evidence you were talking about and bring it to her?”  And so I did, in a nicely bound 80-page volume containing newly found billing records and phone records – but mostly consisting of Gus Ayer‘s excellent Annotated Version of the DA’s report.

Had to hand it to a guard instead of S-Kang.  Didn’t hear back for months.  Finally ran into S-Kang at the Bustamante presser.  “Yes, I got your package,” she hissed, “and I handed it to that gentleman over there.”  “Who’s that gentleman?”  “That’s Bill Feccia.”  Oh, great, the guy who ran the whitewash the first time, and who was roundly criticized in our work.  Yeah, I’m sure that went real far with him.

But of course, now we have a lot MORE evidence and details, and we can only hope for the best.  Anyway, what was that Nick said?  “Remember this at election time – maybe we need a new DA.”  I know a candidate that WOULD take this seriously – or so he tells me – and the statute of limitations will NOT have run out on at least SOME of these crimes by 2015.


About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist in Orange County. Performs regularly with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem, and at regular concerts at the Huntington Beach Central Library.