We have been your lifeline during the pandemic, economic fallout, wildfires, protests and the election. Support us with a tax-deductible donation.
Irvine’s forensic investigation into the Great Park’s finances has caught the attention of the Orange County District Attorney’s office.
The county’s top prosecutor asked the city to provide “copies of interviews, depositions and any supporting documentation that is associated with the audit, including the final report,” according to an Aug. 26 letter from Senior District Attorney Michael Lubinski.
This is part of what Lubinski refers to as a “review process.” The letter doesn’t indicate whether that means a full investigation is under way, or if the DA’s office is just keeping an eye on things as the city’s forensic audit is in its final stages.
There have long been accusations of political corruption at the Great Park as consultants — who funneled tens of thousands of dollars to campaigns to reelect the former Democratic City Council majority — were awarded no-bid contracts that critics called excessive and wasteful.
Critics consider Forde & Mollrich’s $100,000 per-month public relations contract the poster-child for everything that went wrong with the park. They argue there is little to show for the more than $200 million spent, and auditors are trying to determine whether the consultant massively overcharged for its services.
Councilwoman Christina Shea, who sits on a subcommittee overseeing the audit, said the DA’s office entered into a “partnership” with the forensic audit team to uncover wrongdoing.
“I’m very, very pleased that the DA is stepping in to support our audit team, our legal team, because we believe we need the DA’s support to move forward into another segment of this review,” Shea said.
Ironically, Rackauckas in the past teamed up with political consultant Arnold Forde, one of the two partners in Forde & Mollrich and former Irvine Mayor Larry Agran, who led the city when the Great Park’s contracts were awarded.
The OC Weekly’s R. Scott Moxley reported in 2012 that Rackauckas had to apologize to county Republican leaders for trying to help Agran defeat Steven Choi, who was endorsed that year by the GOP in the race for Irvine mayor. Choi won but Rackauckas had made an election eve robocall on behalf of Agran.
According to the Weekly, Forde and Rackauckas “worked together as close political-campaign associates for as many as four years beginning in the 1980s.”
And, the paper reported, “in 2002, Agran and Forde came to his (Rackauckas’) rescue by critically bolstering his re-election campaign against Wally Wade, a veteran, high-ranking prosecutor…. Forde and Agran let the DA appear in widely distributed, pro-Great Park slate mailers (Taxfighters Voting Guide, a project of the Voter Education Project) and described him as a “vigorous” law enforcer solidly against the (proposed El Toro) airport.”
Finally, the Weekly wrote: “Neither Rackauckas nor Forde nor Agran publicly disclosed the arrangement in a timely fashion. In violation of California law, the DA waited 10 months to reveal he owed the Forde/Agran slate $25,000, mislabeled the reason for the cost and post-dated the deal by at least five months. Forde and Agran were mum for an entire year.”
Moxley reported campaign finance reports showed Forde and Agran allowed Rackauckas to wait nearly five years, until 2006, to finish paying his share of the 2002 campaign expenses.
Forde & Mollrich have in recent weeks been locked in a back-and-forth over production of financial records, with the city’s investigative attorneys threatening to take the firm’s partner Stu Mollrich to court for ignoring a subpoena demanding the documents.
At this week’s council meeting, Republican Councilman Jeffrey Lalloway said Forde & Mollrich had finally dropped off more than 20 boxes of documents. By 11:30 a.m. that day, he said at the meeting, the documents hadn’t been responsive to what auditors have demanded to see.
But since then, Shea said auditors found financial records responsive to the request in more recently dropped off boxes. While she didn’t specifiy, she said the records revealed “serious problems.”
Have an opinion on this story? Join the conversation… In lieu of comments, we encourage readers to engage with us across a variety of mediums. Join the open conversation on our Facebook page. Message us via our website form or staff page. Send us a secure news tip. Share your thoughts in a community opinion piece.