Will the Sheriff Have to Come After Larry Agran in Great Park Case?

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Former Irvine City Councilman Larry Agran will be deposed as part of the city’s ongoing investigation into spending on the Great Park project, but it might take an Orange County Sheriff’s deputy to convince Agran to show up.

At a special council meeting Monday afternoon, council members decided to ask a Superior Court judge to force Agran, who lost his council seat in the November election, to appear for his deposition. Their decision came after Agran failed to comply with a city-issued subpoena to appear for his scheduled deposition on Feb. 25.

“As a witness, as anyone, no matter who you are, you can’t just avoid a lawful subpoena,” Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway said at the meeting. “None of us are above the law. None of us.”

Supporters of Agran — whose council career stretched back to 1978 and was in many ways the face of the hugely controversial Great Park project  — attended the meeting and called the audit everything from a “sordid, embarrassing charade” to a criminal misuse of public funds for political purposes.

Meanwhile, a slew of anti-Agran letters urged the council to sue Agran, accusing him of wasteful spending and even theft of public funds.

Agran could be one of the final witnesses — if not the final witness — to be deposed in the city’s investigation into over $200 million spent on the 1,300-acre park project, which was envisioned to rival New York’s Central Park but has so far failed to live up to expectations.

The investigation was launched at the behest of the Republican council majority that seized power in the 2012 council election, which ended the rule of the Agran-led Democratic majority that for several years had controlled the park project.

The Democrats and former park consultants now in the Republicans’ crosshairs say the investigation is nothing more than an attempt by Republicans to smear their opponents while they usher in a plan to privatize the park.

Two of those consultants, San Diego-based Gafcon and Newport Beach-based Forde & Mollrich, have fought back the hardest. Last year, Gafcon released an hour-and-a-half long video deriding the preliminary audit’s findings as false or misleading.

And like Agran, attorneys and auditors with the city have accused the consultants of not cooperating with the audit, dragging it out and driving up the cost, which now stands at nearly $1.5 million.

Anthony Taylor of the firm Aleshire & Wynder, which has been assisting the investigation, claims Agran has not fully cooperated in turning over documents and securing a date for the audit within a reasonable timeframe, and that Agran has demanded the city pay for his legal fees.

Councilwoman Beth Krom, the only Democrat left on council and sole vote against the action, said Taylor could have scheduled a deposition within two weeks and that going to court was unnecessary.

Krom also railed against the audit for having sole source contracts with Aleshire & Wynder and a retired judge brought in to mediate and give the investigation independence and credibility, indicating that the audit itself might be engaged in the kind of cronyism that critics of the Great Park have alleged.

“This theater is going to continue. I’m sure this action was predetermined even before we got here,” Krom said.

While city leaders try to depose Agran, Gafcon and Forde & Mollrich continue their counterassault.

In a Feb. 25 letter, Forde & Mollrich partner Stu Mollrich requested a meeting with the retired judge, Nancy Wieben Stock. Among other things, he asked for confirmation that the audit would adhere to “Generally Accepted Government Auditing Procedures.”

And in Sacramento, a state legislative committee this week seemed posted to ask for a state investigation of the city’s investigation, Mayor Steven Choi said at the council meeting.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) – who according to campaign finance reports received a $3,900 campaign contribution from Gafcon in December, 2012 — placed the matter on Wednesday’s joint legislative audit committee meeting agenda.

But according to Lalloway, the discussion item has been pulled from the agenda. Why isn’t exactly clear – Gonzalez’s office didn’t return a phone call for comment – but a letter from the Orange County District Attorney’s office sent on Monday to the committee chairperson might provide an answer.

The letter, penned by Michael Lubinski of the DA’s special projects unit, states that the DA’s office has asked for all documents related to the audit, and that “a deputy district attorney has been assigned this matter for criminal prosecution review.” It also refers to a “local federal task force investigating public corruption.”

“We consider this investigation to be pending and will continue to review all available information to determine if any criminal laws have been violated,” the letter states.

Lalloway said it would be “inappropriate” for the committee to interfere while the DA’s office is also investigating.

“At this time, with the DA investigating the matter, I think it would be highly inappropriate for the state legislature to look into anything regarding the Great Park,” Lalloway said.

Nick Gerda contributed to this report.

Correction: A previous version of this article stated inaccurately that Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez received a campaign contribution from Gafcon last year. She received the contribution in 2012.

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

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  • Paris Merriam

    Wow, state and federal investigations? This is serious business folks. $200 million for an orange balloon and a few parks seems like a lot of money. It all started with an audit by the city, and it has now snowballed to a potential criminal investigation? In the end, all we want in Irvine is a park that was envisioned to be great.

  • Sharona Toranto

    Anyone watching the auditors or those 2 people in charge of the auditors , Shea and Lalloway that spent 1.5 million dollars on the audit with no oversight. They also have developers spend dark money on their campaigns on their behalf and then give 600 plus acres to the developer of OCGP land and the new majority along with the school board decided to build a High School on a toxic site in which toxic materials are still being detected. We demand oversight of the new majority and their reckless disregard for public safety and wasteful spending. Shea was on the board then!

    • David Zenger

      Sharona, did you ever demand oversight of the previous majority and their reckless disregard for wasteful spending and transparency?

      Don’t worry. It’s a rhetorical question.

      • Sharona Toranto

        There was oversight but you have people running for office that felt the need to not pay for ads but they somehow did not know others were going to run ads for them, Choi Lalloway and Shea and then decide to give control to the park to developers with no oversight and then they decide to let a School be built on Toxice Waste and toxic materials are still being found and with no oversight and expect our children to attend and not far from a growing jail complex. Why is the audit behind closed doors and why isn’t there an outside agency not 2 political opponents controlling the audit. It is the Foxes guarding the hen house and we are paying for it. Irvine open space and planning is a result of great leadership of Larry Agran and Others that allowed open space planning and input from residents instead now you have leaders that give over the planning to the developers.

        • David Zenger

          Well, you know, I think most people outside of Agran’s coterie of admirers see that there were funky no-bid contracts, sloppy or non-existent accounting, no accountability, behind closed door deals, and at the end of his “majority” almost nothing to show for hundreds of millions spent on PR, shifting and then vastly reduced goals.

          Let’s face it: the Great Park should never have been handed over to Irvine in the first place.

          And Agran needs to respond to his subpoena like a good little boy.

      • Sharona Toranto

        The park had numerous buildings and many family oriented events that brought in revenue and if you ever spent time there you would have seen it and enjoyed the events instead we have a park controlled by developers that paid ads for the new majority and now we are going to have more dwellings and this is not what Irvine and OC residents want. If you ever decide to read you can lookup how long Central Park too to be built out as as well as New Orleans Central Park. Demand Full Disclosure in campaigns!

  • Alan Travis

    Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. Larry Agran’s most recent deceptions, as those of his supporters, began with the deception that El Toro International Airport would destroy Irvine. It would kill people. He would build a fabulous park, and give every supporter of his everything they could ever want. Ten years and $200 million+ later, they are still lying. His supporters smear everybody else with pejoratives and accusations, while they paint Larry as pure as fallen snow. His supporters now repeat “public funds, public funds,” which they never mentioned once as $200 million+ was burned.

    Now Larry has ducked a legal subpoena, and attempts to cover up his activities with delays and legalese . That is cowardice, not the actions of the city council to compel Agran to answer simple questions. If he is not guilty he has nothing to fear. Obviously Larry is afraid. Very afraid. It’s about time for him to be held accountable for his years of lies and mismanagement.

    • David Zenger

      No, Larry is not afraid. In OC politicians can get away with anything. It’s been that way since Mike Capizzi was run out by the Smash ‘N Grab Club.

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  • David Zenger

    Krom is right. It’s all political theater. Just like the political theater she and Agran starred in for years pretending the Great Park was a going concern and everything was on the up-and-up while a couple hundred million bucks vanished into the ether.

    • Paris Merriam

      You mean their pockets? Where is justice?