Live Like a God!

How Supervisor Bill Steiner used a phantom political campaign to fund his lavish lifestyle

Specifically, Caruso learned that Planet Hollywood in Santa Ana was padding Steiner's generous public-compensation package (then $82,000 per year, plus a free luxury car and numerous other taxpayer-supported perks) with $500 per month and a $1,500 bonus for luring charity fund-raisers to the restaurant. One of Planet Hollywood's local owners just happened to have a controversial real-estate-development deal (Saddleback Meadows) before the county at the time of the payments. The developers also gave two Steiner-connected charities $13,500 because of their "interest in helping children." At about the same time, Steiner inserted himself aggressively in the process, urging county planners to move the project through quickly.

After the transactions were revealed publicly, Steiner maintained the financial gifts were unrelated to his unusual intervention. The nasal-sounding, stocky supervisor was formally cleared of violating any specific law by Michael Capizzi's district attorney's office and posed wounded that anyone would doubt his righteousness. "To cast a shadow over that [his secret deals] does a disservice to my motives," he said.

Steiner's real motives were revealed in countless questionable transactions, including this dinner in late 1996. We know from Steiner's own disclosure reports a few of the facts-he was eating at Antonello Ristorante, a posh South Coast Metro eatery, and his tab that night ran to $721. The law governing such disclosure reports did not require Steiner to describe the event in greater detail-how many bottles of wine chased down which fabulous appetizers, which sugary desserts followed which entrées of veal or chicken or pasta, which guests entertained the affable politician as he poured out after-dinner port or sherry. We can only guess at the culinary magic behind such a phenomenal bill and allow our imaginations to do the rest of the work: the waiter appears quietly at Steiner's side to ask if there will be anything else this evening. "Just the check," Steiner might say, patting his Victorian middle. "And put it on my credit card."

That's in the realm of imagination. In the realm of documented fact, we know that when it came time to account for the $721 dinner, Steiner handed the waiter his American Express. Later, the credit-card company received a check from Friends of Bill Steiner-a bank account funded entirely by the county's most powerful developers, government contractors and corporate lobbyists for a campaign that never existed.

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