Public relations firm Forde & Mollrich, which is among the targets of a forensic investigation commissioned by the city of Irvine into spending on the Great Park project, has apparently launched an investigation of the investigation.
The firm has submitted a California Public Records Act request to City Hall for a slew of documents related to the investigation by Newport Beach-based Hagen, Streiff, Newton & Oshiro Accountants (HSNO), which has already claimed to have found significant waste and abuse surrounding no-bid contracts.
Forde & Mollrich’s request seeks some of the same records about HSNO that HSNO sought under a city issued subpoena to Forde & Mollrich earlier this month. Forde & Mollrich’s request, dated May 21, asks for text messages, memos, emails, timesheets, payment records and invoices, among other documents related to the investigation.
Councilwoman Christina Shea -- who sits on a subcommittee tasked with getting reports about the HSNO investigation – called Forde & Mollrich’s request “political harassment,” “intimidation,” and an attempt to bog down HSNO’s work.
“This could impede the efforts of the investigation which is very troubling to me,” Shea wrote in an email to Voice of OC. “It is like if a grand jury was investigating someone and then that someone asks the grand jury for all their documents.”
Shea and the rest of Irvine's Republican council majority commissioned the forensic audit immediately after being sworn in last year following their victory in the 2012 election. They say it is needed in order to find out what happened to over $200 million spent on the 1,300-acre park project, which the city has little to show for.
The Great Park was supposed to compete with the likes of Central Park in New York and Balboa Park in San Diego. Instead, it has become a poster-child for government boondoggles, with millions of dollars in no-bid contracts awarded to political allies of former council leader Larry Agran.
Chief among the controversial contracts is Forde & Mollrich’s former $100,000 per-month agreement to promote a park that largely didn’t exist.
Forde & Mollrich partner Stu Mollrich did not return a phone call seeking comment. In the past the firm, along with Agran and other targets of the forensic investigation, have argued that the new council majority is engaged in a political witch-hunt.
While Shea and fellow Republican Jeff Lalloway criticized the firm's Public Records Act request, Democrats Agran and Councilwoman Beth Krom said everyone has the right under the state law to make such requests.
“Any time somebody makes a public records act request, I regard that as a good thing,” Agran said. “My response to that always was make sure you respond fully and in a timely fashion. People are entitled to that information under the law.”
Lalloway, who sits with Shea on the subcommittee, said that the request looked like “political payback” for the subpoena issued to Forde & Mollrich.
“I’m not certain they know what they’re looking for, it seems to me like it’s a fishing expedition to apply political pressure against the council and the auditors,” Lalloway said, adding that the subpoena issued to Forde & Mollrich wouldn’t have been necessary had the firm cooperated with auditors.
Lalloway also said that Forde & Mollrich collected $20 million through city contracts over the years.
“You would think that amount would cause them to cooperate with any and all requests by our auditors, but that’s not the case,” he said.