An investigative report commissioned by the Anaheim Union High School District found evidence that former board trustee and current Anaheim Councilman Jordan Brandman used district resources for personal business -- possibly for work on his city council campaign. It also raises questions about the Orange County District Attorney’s probe of the allegations.
The report, by attorney Daniel Shinoff of Los Angeles-based Stutz, Artiano, Shinoff & Holtz, quotes a district employee as saying Brandman used a school district office during his 2012 campaign for council and directed her to “print things for him” that had nothing to do with district business. The witness said the material Brandman told her to print led her to believe that he was preparing for his campaign.
A district office became “Brandman’s working office,” for a few weeks while it was hot and he had no air conditioning at home, according to testimony from another witness in the report.
Former Superintendent Elizabeth Novack had at first allowed Brandman – who is also a candidate for the seat in the U.S. Congress that Loretta Sanchez is vacating in order to run for the U.S. Senate -- to use the office, according a witness quoted in the December 2014 report obtained by Voice of OC. But she eventually had enough and instructed an employee to tell Brandman not to use the office anymore, according to the witness.
The report also contains witness testimony that Novack misused a district fund, verbally abused district employees and found that her termination in late 2013 was warranted.
Brandman didn’t return a phone call seeking comment and Novack couldn’t be reached for comment. All witnesses quoted in the report are district employees. Voice of OC is withholding their names to protect them from retaliation.
Misusing public resources for personal gain is punishable by a $1,000 fine and can result in criminal prosecution. In 1976, former county Supervisor Robert Battin was convicted and served jail time for directing county staff to work on his campaign for lieutenant governor.
In 2012, District Attorney Tony Rackauckas' office said it had opened an investigation into the allegations against Brandman.
However, the report raises questions about the DA's investigation, with testimony revealing that a DA investigator made no attempt to keep witness interviews confidential during the course of the investigation, leaving a key witness fearful that her testimony would be relayed back to Novack, who was a Brandman ally.
As a result, the witness said she “was vague with the investigator during the interview,” the report states.
According to witness testimony in the report, DA investigator Paul Carvo setup witness interviews through the school district bureaucracy. Carvo then conducted the interviews at district headquarters and in the presence of school district attorneys, according to the report. That left the impression on witnesses that everything said would go back to Novack.
The witness who said Brandman directed her to print material for him unrelated to the district said the DA’s approach left her feeling “intimidated.” She added that the scheduling of the interview by an attorney for the school district was “weird.”
Another witness said she also felt she couldn’t “speak openly” to the DA investigator because of the way the interview was setup. This witness dismissed the DA investigation as “simply to go through the motions.”
If the witness testimony is true, Carvo ignored the most basic tenets of conducting a corruption investigation, said Retired FBI agent James Wedick in an interview with Voice of OC. Every investigator knows that, to obtain the forthright answers, witnesses are to be contacted directly and confidentially, he said. No witness would feel comfortable otherwise.
“It’s bizarre,” Wedick said when told about the DA’s handling of the investigation. “Introducing a bureaucracy, you kill the case before it’s even started.”
According to the United Nations manual on public corruption investigations, protecting the confidentiality of witnesses should be among investigators highest priorities.
The DA’s investigative tactics during corruption probes have also come under fire in the past. During the DA’s recent investigation of Santa Ana Mayor Miguel Pulido’s questionable land swap with a city contractor, key City Hall witnesses weren’t contracted for months, which Wedick said could have allowed their memories to fade.
The DA’s office eventually cleared Pulido of any criminal wrongdoing.
And in an investigation of potential wrongdoing by members of the Orange County Fair Board who tried to sell off the public asset, DA investigators also failed to interview key witnesses in their initial investigation.
The status of the DA investigation into Brandman’s alleged wrongdoing is unclear. DA spokeswoman Roxi Fyad didn’t return a phone call seeking comment.
However, correspondence from Shinoff obtained by Voice of OC states that the report was shared with the FBI and federal Department of Education.