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.