Watchdogs Want DA’s Office Off Great Park Investigation

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Two Orange County government watchdogs are calling on the state Attorney General to recuse District Attorney Tony Rackauckas from investigating the Great Park, citing his campaign’s once secret ties to the park’s most controversial consultant.

William R. Mitchell, former chair of the government accountability nonprofit Orange County Common Cause, and Shirley Grindle, the county’s campaign finance watchdog, write in a letter to the AG that Rackauckas has an “actual and perceived conflict” of interest with Forde & Mollrich, the park’s former public relations firm.

DA chief spokeswoman Susan Kang Schroeder refused to address the issue and Attorney General Kamala Harris’ office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Forde & Mollrich’s park contracts – which at one point carried a $100,000 per-month pricetag — have been among the primary targets of Irvine’s forensic audit into over $200 million spent on the park project, which has long drawn accusations of corruption.

Critics of the audit say it’s a politically motivated attack initiated by the City Council’s Republican majority aimed at discrediting the council’s Democrats who managed the park until they lost control in the 2012 election.

The DA’s office has also expressed interest in the audit and requested all documents related to the effort.

But Mitchell and Grindle that Rackauckas has a conflict of interest stemming from a campaign expense to Forde & Mollrich that went unreported until Grindle filed a complaint.

In 2002, a slate mailer from the firm promoted Rackauckas and didn’t show up on the campaign finance filing for the period, the letter says. Grindle, a longtime critic of Rackauckas, caught the violation and called Rackauckas’ treasurer, Betty Presley, but “she had no explanation,” according to the letter.

The expense showed up in the Jan. 31, 2003 filing as a $25,000 debt to Forde & Mollrich, a bill that Rackauckas wouldn’t pay off for four years, the letter states.

“There is no doubt in our minds that but for this inquiry by Ms. Grindle, this cost would have gone unreported,” the letter reads. “We firmly believe the intent was for Forde & Mollrich to include Rackauckas in the slate mailer at no cost to him.”

According to the letter, Rackauckas has still deeper campaign ties with the targets of the park audit.

In 2012, Rackauckas, a Republican, recorded a robocall backing then council majority leader and Democrat Larry Agran’s candidacy for mayor. The call sought to debunk attacks against Agran spearheaded by prominent Republican Jon Fleischman.

“We have a district attorney who stood by for eight years and watched as over $200 million of public resources were misspent with the largest beneficiaries being his political allies,” the letter states. “Under no conceivable scenario will any objective party in Orange County perceive either his involvement or any result as untainted or impartial.”

Please contact Adam Elmahrek directly at aelmahrek@voiceofoc.org and follow him on Twitter: twitter.com/adamelmahrek

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