Stories That Made a Difference

And some we regret

"HB's Secret Santa" by Anthony Pignataro and Dave Wielenga, Dec. 10, 1999

Photo by Jack Gould
Injustice takes just a second; justice moves more slowly. This Weekly story revealed that Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo attempted to sell ads in his own newspaper to people with business before his City Council. It looked like a conflict of interest to us. Three years later, following a district attorney's investigation sparked by the story, Garofalo finally quit the council—and then pleaded guilty to one felony and 15 misdemeanor counts of political corruption. A judge barred him from ever seeking political office in California. By then, the Weekly had run some 30 stories on Garofalo. "My life has been in turmoil for over two years. I simply cannot take it anymore," he complained. "I know of no one in modern times more closely investigated than I have been." You're welcome.

"Condo-mania" by Nick Schou, Oct. 17, 2003
After Huntington Beach Mayor Dave Garofalo left office and narrowly avoided jail time thanks to the Weekly, you'd think his replacement would keep her nose clean. You'd be wrong. "Condo-mania" revealed that Pamela Houchen, who took over the mayor's job from Garofalo and doubled as a local real estate agent, had illegally converted apartment buildings into condos. For months, nothing happened. In July 2004, the Weekly kept the heat on Houchen with "Arrest Houchen Now, Ask Questions Later," an open letter to Surf City's police chief, Kenneth Small. That story pointed out that, while Houchen had violated a rather obscure city ordinance in illegally converting condos, hundreds of city residents had done jail time for drinking on their front lawns, which also violated an obscure city ordinance. Small never wrote back.

But Houchen's days in office were numbered; both she and Jan Shomaker, her planning commissioner—who doubled as her boss at Pier Realty—resigned last year. The Weekly's coverage led to an FBI investigation. On Aug. 29, the U.S Attorney's office announced it had reached a deal with Houchen: she'll plead guilty to eight counts of mail and wire fraud, pay restitution to people who bought her bogus condos, and could spend up to five years in federal prison. Such a deal.

"There and Back Again With Dios: Chris Ziegler spent 25 days on the road with Dios—maybe the 25 most important days of their career—and he ended up in a Detroit hospital" by Chris Ziegler, June 4, 2004

The crucial moment arrives: "We were leaving as soon as the Pixies song was done. Girlfriends and their clean soft beds were waiting 31 hours away. Dios was one of the bands that liked going home; other bands never went back, became homeless except for their van on tour for years at a time, sleeping on couches and floors and fist fighting at rest stops. Promoters talked about them like they were ghost ships. The merch girl from the headlining band gave me a little plastic pig—we'd been flirting like we were on a semester abroad; she'd run away from Alaska on a boat when she was 17, and she drank lots of whiskey. She'd been out for weeks, and she thought we were going home too early." Sappy closing paragraph makes at least four girls cry.

"I Would Have Nothing to Offer" by Gustavo Arellano, Nov. 28, 2003

Photo by James Bunoan

When my editor asked if I would investigate the Catholic Diocese of Orange sex-abuse scandal in late 2003, I did what any good Catholic would do: I prayed. I asked God for a sign, any sign, and God provided one. A sex-abuse survivor visited my newspaper's offices unannounced one afternoon. The survivor carried stacks of damning documents showing the relationship between former Orange County GOP chair Tom Fuentes and various characters in a pedophile-shuffling fiasco that had continued with little reprimand for 27 years.

For the next year and a half, I lived and breathed the scandal—taking time out to write a popular food column. Orange County survivors of priestly sex abuse credit the Weeklyfor exposing a church hierarchy that had long refused to hear their story or offer them a monetary settlement for their pain, even while Orange Bishop Tod D. Brown secretly drew up plans for a new multimillion-dollar cathedral down the street from South Coast Plaza and bought million-dollar homes for his priests. Church officials tried to discredit the Weekly at every opportunity—in parish bulletins and in public. But rarely did church officials speak to us directly. When we called him for comment on one story, diocesan spokesperson Joseph Fenton memorably screamed, "You must think I'm a complete and utter idiot!" But in January, Brown agreed to pay 90 victims of sexual abuse $100 million, then the largest settlement in the history of the Roman Catholic Church. He also released more than 10,000 pages of personnel files that showed what officials had long denied: church officials ranging from previous bishops to Pope John Paul II knew about the clerical sex abuse occurring in Orange County, and they did nothing to stop it.

"The Kid Is Innocent" by Bob Emmers, Sept. 17, 1999

Photo by Jack Gould
Arthur Carmona was just 16 years old in 1998 when police picked him up in a dragnet search for a Latino with a shaved head between 20 and 30 years old. This article by Bob Emmers revealed a chain of bad police work and prosecutorial indifference that shackled itself to Carmona and led to his 12-year prison sentence. It began with his original interrogation by Irvine police detectives. A transcript shows they repeatedly but incorrectly told Carmona they had evidence—including videotape—that he had committed a robbery. Witnesses and jurors told Emmers that police and prosecutors compounded their early mistakes by misleading them about evidence linking Carmona to the crime. There wasn't any. The "evidence" was a Lakers hat found at the crime scene, which police simply placed on Carmona's head to facilitate his prosecution—a move that not only violated basic police work but also permanently destroyed DNA evidence.

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