Is Randy Morgan Laguna's Artful Dodger?

The creator of Laguna Beach's Waterman's Wall wants to make amends to the art world, but can he outrun his past?

"I was in favor of the concept of the wall representing Laguna and the ocean and the historical figures, but these people apparently were promising something that they didn't know was against the rules," says Bushard.

A bigger mystery, though, is what happened to all that donation money. . . . Apparently, all the cash went to Jesus.

Steve Smith, owner of the city's Taco Bell franchise on Coast Highway, was promised by people representing Morgan at the time that not only would Smith be thanked for his $2,500 contribution on the plaque, but he would also be included in a planned documentary about the making of the wall that was supposedly going to air on the History Channel. But after the wall went up, all Smith got was a thank-you letter.

"I'm not happy that I lost 2,500 bucks," Smith says. "I feel like I was used. I never heard from anyone from the History Channel. The whole thing seems like it was a scam to me."

Jared Boggess
Jared Boggess

Morgan claims he never knew about any law against plaques, but some say otherwise.

"He knew that," says Nick Hernandez, a sitting member of the city's arts commission. "Everybody knows that the only place where plaques are allowed are on the benches."

"He knew all along that there can't be a plaque; we discussed it," says Roger Butow, an outspoken environmental consultant and frequent Laguna Beach city-government irritant who helped Morgan with the Waterman's Wall fund-raising during the project's early stages.

A bigger mystery, though, is what happened to all that donation money.

Morgan reported to the city's arts commission that the wall cost an estimated $45,000. One source says Morgan told them he hoped to make a profit of around $100,000. Butow claims Morgan told him he collected $200,000.

Apparently, all the cash went to Jesus.

Morgan put his friend Greg Chastain in charge of fund-raising for the wall project, as well as the supposed History Channel film. Donors were asked to make checks out to the Chastain-headed group Committed Heart, a tax-exempt nonprofit 501(c)3 Christian ministry, of which Chastain is listed as its "executive lead pastor," according to the Committed Heart website.

Yet Committed Heart appears to exist only on the Internet. Thank-you letters received by Waterman's Wall donors listed an address that's actually a P.O. box at Mail Stop, a private mail-service business on Glenneyre Street in Laguna Beach. Tax documents for Committed Heart that were filed in 2009 list an address in Palm Desert—which is also not a church, but Shadow Palms Manor, an elder-care facility in a property owned by Chastain.

Contacted via email by the Weekly, Chastain avoided answering specific questions about Waterman's Wall funds, the plaque approvals or the film project; instead, he demanded to speak to the reporter's editors at the "OC Register" for the grievous sin of ringing up Shadow Palms Manor and asking prying questions. "I have no further comment for you," Chastain concluded.

Morgan claims to have been in the dark on all aspects of fund-raising and that Chastain was in charge of everything money-related for the wall.

"I didn't fund-raise other than ask people for money, like I was told to do by Greg," Morgan says. "He was telling me all I had to do was work on the art, which was what I wanted to hear. That I don't have to worry about my rent or food or electricity bill. It was great. Everything I told people about the plaque or the documentary came from what Greg was telling me the whole time."

Morgan is now trying to sever ties with Chastain, and Morgan and Cairns say they're beginning to explore legal action against him. Meanwhile, Chastain tells the Weekly that he continues to represent Randy Morgan Art and the Waterman's Wall project. Morgan says he'd like his website back, but that Chastain controls both the site and the documentary footage.

"Greg has a piece of Randy's business, but the bottom line is that he abandoned Randy after the wall went up," Cairns says, maintaining that Chastain, who was also responsible for paying Morgan, left him bereft, to the point at which Morgan had to rely on local food banks for meals.

"He pretty much left me to die," Morgan now says of Chastain.

"There are responsibilities on both sides, and part of Chastain's responsibilities are to provide a full accounting to Randy for the partnership for where the Waterman's Wall money went for 2012 and 2013," says Cairns. "We need to know what money went into the 501(c)(3), who gave money and where the money was spent."

*    *    *

While Morgan fingers Chastain as the flashpoint for much of his troubles involving the wall, others who've had sour dealings with Morgan in years past are just as quick to point their finger—often an extended middle one—at Morgan.

Carolyn Lundberg is the elderly matriarch of Lundberg Family Farms, headquartered in Richvale, just south of Chico. She commissioned Morgan to create a sculpture for the entryway of her business for an agreed-in-advance price of $35,000.

"By the time he finished, it was four times that—over $100,000," Lundberg says. "He just lied about the money part. I've never had someone take advantage of me on a large scale like that, and now I just don't trust anybody anymore. For somebody to not stay within the contract, and then keep gouging me . . . I never want to see him again. I have an orphanage that I support, and I keep thinking about what I could've done for the orphanage with all the money I spent."

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