'Shadow of Suspicion'

OC consultant figures prominently in state report blasting school projects

In August 1996, Shambra concurred, asking the school board to authorize a separate contract with Vasquez, thereby allowing the architect to receive payment for his drawings, regardless of whether the ongoing negotiations over the school project were ever completed. Vasquez ultimately received $4 million from LAUSD-but not before he voluntarily resigned from his consulting job with the district to join forces with Temple Beaudry Partners, the Wedin-favored developer team that won the exclusive Belmont contract in September 1996.

In February 1998, the OC Weeklybroke another disturbing story about Wedin. In mid-1996, at the same time Wedin was sitting on the opposite side of the LAUSD negotiating table from Vasquez, the duo was also pursuing a separate project for the Republic of Panama-something neither Wedin nor Vasquez had bothered to tell LAUSD officials. Wedin's team won the deal, which called for the construction of new offices for the Panamanian legislature. With Vasquez, Wedin now stands to rake in millions of dollars on the project, which has been derided by local critics as the "Taj Mahal of the tropics" and stands to cost Panamanian taxpayers upward of $30 million.

That's still far less than the expected cost of LAUSD's Belmont project, which at a current price tag of more than $120 million ranks as the most expensive high school ever built in California. Controversy over the lavish project may help explain why Wildman's recent report on public-private partnerships began as a narrower probe of the Belmont deal. News of Wildman's upcoming investigation coincided with Shambra's decision in January to hand the LAUSD his resignation, which came shortly after the school board voted to revoke its $125-per-hour contract with Wedin.

Asked why the report focused so heavily on one individual-Wedin-Wildman explained that the OC consultant had almost single-handedly developed the concept of public-private alliances that the audit committee had decided to investigate. "There are no new incidences of conflict involving Wayne covered in our report," stressed Wildman. "We did look at Panama and found that it looked questionable. But the real issue for us is that we don't see how any of these school projects have come to fruition. In the past 15 years, we have seen no successful joint ventures. I don't think we can afford another 15 years of experimentation. Let's get the schools built."

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